Dear Mr. Dad: My mother-in-law has an opinion on every conceivable parenting topic. The problem is that those opinions are usually unwelcome and unhelpful. Besides that, every time she’s at my house, she insists on telling me (and my wife when she’s there) how we should raise our children. What can I do before I snap?
A: I know this is going to hurt, but try to think about things from her perspective. Like every other human being, your mother-in-law has a wide variety of life experiences. But does she have any reason to feel that her advice is better than anyone else’s? If, for example, she is or was a child psychologist or a professional in another parenting-related field, she may feel that her training and experience make her advice especially unique and important.
However, in your question, you mention that she “has an opinion on every conceivable parenting topic.” Regardless of her training and experience, the odds are pretty small that she’s an expert in all of them.
Unfortunately for her, the fact that she successfully raised at least one child (you wouldn’t have married her daughter if you didn’t think she was pretty terrific, right?) doesn’t necessarily give her any special status. But it does mean she has more experience than you do and it’s likely that at least some of her input is worthwhile.
Okay. Now what?
Your number one goal should be to avoid as much conflict as possible. So keeping a cool head and thinking through strategies is key to successfully navigating this issue.
One approach is to completely disregard her advice. All of it. What would she do then? If you ignore her pearls of wisdom long enough, she may eventually get the message and stop. But it could be a while. There’s also a chance that she could take your ignoring as a challenge and get even more aggressive with those faux pearls. It’s super important that you know what kind of person she is. Some people take hints well, others are looking for any excuse to fight.
Another approach is to sit down with your mother-in-law and have a (hopefully) calm conversation. Are there certain categories of advice you’re interested in hearing? Some you don’t ever want to hear at all? If mom-in-law is a reasonable person, she may have no idea that she’s causing you so much grief and she may change her ways immediately. In all fairness, some of her behavior isn’t really her fault. Society has done all of us a great disservice by encouraging people from older generations (mothers-in-law aren’t the only ones who annoy) to behave in potentially inappropriate ways by giving them a green light to stick their noses in anytime they want to.
Two other very important issues: One is your children. Having a relationship with a grandparent—especially one who obviously lives close by—is wonderful for kids. So in the interests of supporting that relationship, you might want to take enough of grandma’s advice to keep her feeling valued—even if she’s driving you nuts.
The second is your wife. How is she responding to all of her mother’s advice? If your wife isn’t willing to support you, or she thinks mom is brilliant and wants to follow her every word, you could be in for a rough ride. In this situation, you may need to work extra hard to ensure that your vote is being counted. Two of the most important pieces of parenting advice apply here too: Think before you speak and Choose your battles.