03/10/2013 07:13 am ET Updated Apr 24, 2017

5 Biggest Mother-In-Law Mistakes


What Your Daughter-in-Law Has to Say

No one knows better than a mother-in-law that the relationship between her and her daughter-in-law can be prone to hurt feelings and power struggles.
And while mothers-in-law have gripes of our own, we at did some research to find out exactly what upsets daughters-in-law the most. We figure that knowing the problem can help you fix it. Take a few deep breaths then take a look. Reading these could be the key to solving a bumpy relationship.

Mistake #1: You Stop By Unannounced

By far, this complaint is the most universal, says Terri Orbuch, Ph.D., a psychologist and research professor at the University of Michigan who has been the lead researcher on a National Institutes of Health study of marriage and divorce, following hundreds of couples for more than 26 years. "Daughters-in-law need autonomy, they need independence, and when you come by unannounced, you undermine that," she says.

And it’s not just the inconvenience of the visit, but it’s the presumptuousness of it, agrees Terry Apter, author of "What Do You Want From Me? Learning to Get Along With In-Laws." "It’s a lack of regard for the younger woman’s power and control of the family space."

"Avoid it," says Apter. "Apologize when you do it."

How to Make it Better: "Simply tell your daughter-in-law ahead of time that you would love to visit," Orbuch suggests. “Then say, ‘When is best for you?’ We all want control, and by doing this, you are offering it to your daughter-in-law.”

Mistake #2: You Want Her To Call You Mom

In an ideal world, you’d think of your daughter-in-law as your daughter and she’d think of you as another mother. But for some women that is very hard.

"I have heard this from many women who say, ‘What am I supposed to do? I already have a mom,’" says Orbuch who is also the author of "Finding Love Again: 6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship." "It sets up this unrealistic situation where you are asking your daughter-in-law to be as close to you as she is to her own mother."

How to Make it Better: Even though wanting your daughter-in-law to call you "mom" is simply your way of letting her know that she is part of the family, you can communicate that sentiment in other ways. "My research shows that if a mother-in-law could say, ‘I think you’re great. I’m so happy that you make my son happy. I’m here for you to support you if you ever need me. Whatever you feel comfortable calling me, I will answer to,’ it would go a long way with daughters-in-law," Orbuch says.

Mistake #3: You Give Advice She Didn’t Ask For

No one likes unsolicited advice. To a daughter-in-law, it seems like criticism, Apter says. "It’s heard this way: ‘I’m the one who knows. You need my input. You’ll be better off doing things my way.’"

How to Make it Better: Even if you’re advice comes from a place of love, chances are you’re going to be heard as threatening your daughter-in-law’s authority and challenging her role as a mom and chief caretaker in her family, according to Apter. Her advice: "Bite your tongue."

But if your tongue is bleeding from so much biting, try this: "I think you’re a wonderful mother/cook/housekeeper/person. You are so much more patient/adventurous/together than I ever was, but I’m just curious to learn more about your philosophy on x." Let your daughter-in-law answer, and if it seems that she’s open to discussion, continue to talk. But if she seems offended, you’re back to biting that tongue.

Mistake #4: You Criticize Her Kids

"You’re the grandparent; you’re supposed to think your grandchild’s wonderful," Apter says. "But if you’re saying, ‘She’s messy,’ ‘She’s impulsive,’ ‘She’s inconsiderate,’ then you’re daughter-in-law will certainly hear it as a criticism of her parenting. You can get annoyed at your own kid, but you don’t want someone else to find fault with her."

How to Make it Better: Orbuch agrees. "Here you have to tread very lightly. Even questions can come off as judgmental,” she says. "There will be differences in how your daughter-in-law raises her children versus how you did it. You have to recognize this. Lots of things are said from a place of love but are still deeply insulting." Better to focus on the things you appreciate in your grandkids.

Mistake #5: You Talk to Your Son About Her

Simply put, don’t. Complaining to your son about his wife puts him in a very difficult position, Apter says. In fact, your son should put a stop to it. He should say to you, "She’s my partner, I love her, and I don’t want to hear a negative story about her." Unfortunately, many sons don’t say that, and when your complaints come back to your daughter-in-law, they make her angry, and that doesn’t gain anyone anything.

How to Make it Better: If you have felt that your daughter-in-law has locked you out of her life--or the life of your grandchildren--then it’s best to approach her directly. Use statements that begin with "I," say things like, ‘I feel left out,’ or ‘I feel I’d like to see the children more frequently.’ Avoid "you" statements like, ‘You’re leaving me out.’ Or ‘You’re keeping my grandchildren from me.’ Then ask, "What can we do to make this better?"

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