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When Your Mother-in-Law Drives You Nuts

'Tis the season for family get-togethers. Many don't go as well as we'd like. Fights between spouses often result, but most can be avoided.

Remember when your husband or wife gets together with Momma, either of them can slip, unaware, into a role from their past. Your spouse may:

  • Become that 5-year-old whose adult responsibilities are all handled by Mommy
  • Compete like an 8-year-old for Mom's attention
  • Slip back into the personal confidante role that followed Dad's disappearance from the family
  • Continue trying desperately for approval from a woman who feels too threatened to give it
  • Or take back up the teenage battle to establish a separate identity with some different values from Mom

At the same time, your mother-in-law may be angling for:

  • Deference to her greater experience and hard-earned wisdom
  • The camaraderie of life as a single mom with an only child
  • Return to a caretaking role that made her feel a lot more useful than her empty nest
  • Attention and assistance now given more to you than her

When you interrupt these dream states, you'll be more successful if you treat the two of them as arising from a deep sleep where they've been in a very different dream world. Let me give you some examples:

"Sweetie, I love that you're having such a great time with your brother, but I need you to include your mother so I can get some things done."

"Phyllis, you are probably the only person in the world that Robbie would ever allow to say such a thing to me. You've hurt us both, and I believe we deserve an apology and a promise to refrain from such insults in the future."

"Honey, I'm feeling adrift and need some one-on-one time with you. Where is the best place to get some before dinner?"

"It's great that you are catching up with your mother, but I don't think I can feed this group on time without your salad prep and potato mashing expertise. How soon can you join me in the kitchen?"

"I'm so proud of what Chris has accomplished, Mama Jo. I hope you are, too. Your mothering surely contributed, so thank you."

You are in a much better position than either of them to see what each of them needs from their time together and to tell them what you need, too.

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Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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