Dear Family Whisperer,
"How can I get my in-laws to mind their own business regarding my child-rearing philosophies?"
- Annoyed Daughter-in-law
In-laws! An age-old family dilemma. We don't marry them, but they go with the territory, for better or worse. At best, they're like parents (assuming you get along well with your parents!) At worst, you feel they're casting a watchful eye in your direction. Think Robert De Niro as Ben Stiller's suspicious and judgmental father-in-law in Meet the Fockers.
Parenting is a high-stakes occupation. If you're like most moms today, you're already self-conscious and stressed out. And then along comes this stranger, telling you what to do. She doesn't necessarily say it out loud, but you know she's thinking, That's not how I'd do it. Even if you mostly get along, the mere hint of disagreement can tap into your worst fear: I'm not doing this right.
Instead of worrying about your mother-in-law's judgment, focus on improving the relationship. The key to making and maintaining any relationship -- with our partners, our children or our "other significant others" (parents, siblings, in-laws) -- is to get "REAL."
REAL, which stands for Responsibility, Empathy, Authenticity, and Love, reminds you to....
1) Take responsibility. All relationships are the "co-creation" of two people. The connection between you and your MIL isn't just about her. You also bring something to the table. Figure out what it is. Then, try to slow yourself down and before you say or do anything, ask yourself, Is this going to better our relationship? If the answer is no, edit yourself.
2) Be empathetic. Step in her shoes; understand where she's coming from. You might discover kernels of truth and wisdom in your MIL's perspective. Also, show her that you want to connect. Researchers have also found that when you "accommodate" during conversation -- she leans in, and you do, too -- that can help diminish the "social distance" between you.
3) Be authentic. Talk about what matters to you and how you came to be who you are. In short, be a real person whom your MIL can get to know. You don't have to apologize for the way you parent. Just calmly state how you do things.
4) Lead with love. Give her the benefit of the doubt. Come from the wisest, most mature part of yourself -- the part that wants a good relationship. Also, cut her some slack. She "mothered" at a different time. Older generation parents often criticize what they don't understand.
As you get to know each other, you'll find common ground, and it won't feel like you're on opposite sides. It will never be "perfect"--no relationship is. But if you work at the relationship, you just might learn from each other.
Have a family question for Melinda Blau? Tweet #DearFamilyWhisperer or email us at DearFamilyWhisperer@familywhispering.com. Check back next week to see if your question is featured here and on the Huffington Post! Real names will not be used, no topics off limits. Adults and children welcome. These columns are brief. You'll find more in FAMILY WHISPERING, co authored by Melinda and (the late) Tracy Hogg. Also check out the website: FamilyWhispering.com and follow @MelindaBlau.