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How to Deal With a Mother-In-Law Who Gives Unwanted Parenting Advice

by Liza Blau

"Everyone's a critic!" claimed the late comedian Jimmy Durante, and those words might ring particularly true about your mother-in-law. With all the challenges facing you as a parent, dealing with her unwanted advice might rank highest of all. Your mother-in-law might offer her unsolicited two cents on dressing, burping, diapering, feeding, educating and disciplining your kids -- even telling you where your newborn should go to college. While well-meaning, her unsolicited advice can come across as critical of your parenting skills. Setting boundaries without offending your intrusive mother-in-law requires tact -- and a boatload of patience.

Remain calm when your mother-in-law begins dishing out unwelcome advice. Count to 10 or take a few deep breaths to help keep any anger in check. Avoid becoming upset or defensive of your parenting skills. While it's understandable if you feel insulted when she insinuates that your parenting choices are wrong, avoid taking it personally. Be empathetic to your mother-in-law's background that might have shaped some of her outdated beliefs; many women were taught that it's harmful to breastfeed or were warned not to be overly affectionate with their children. Be empathetic -- your more modern parenting style might make your mother-in-law question her own mothering skills or lead her to feel inadequate.

Set clear boundaries when your mother-in-law continues to push her uninvited suggestions. Be polite, yet firm. Stress that you've made your decision and the topic is no longer open for discussion. If your mother-in-law keeps bringing up the advice, you might say "Once again, I appreciate your suggestion, but I've decided to stick to my way" or "I don't doubt that method worked for you, but I've made the best decision for my baby." Share with your mother-in-law any articles or books that support your parenting choices and philosophy. Always thank her for her concern, even though you might not like how she shows it, recommends Family Education.

Be noncommittal when your mother-in-law gives unsolicited advice. Let her know that you appreciate the suggestion and you know how much thought she put into it. Tell her that you'll discuss the advice with both your spouse and the baby's pediatrician. You might say "Interesting tip. I'll discuss it with Bob in the next few days and see what he thinks." Be positive when the talk comes to a conclusion. You might say "Thanks for the suggestion. I'll definitely think it over." If she becomes rude, angry or insistent that you follow the advice, claim to have another matter to attend to and walk away.

Include your spouse in a talk with your mother-in-law. Avoid confronting her in a noisy public place; find a time and quiet spot that will create a relaxed atmosphere for the conversation. Avoid making her feel ganged up on, which might cause her to shut down and become defensive. Express your concerns in a loving and honest manner. Allow your spouse to begin the conversation. He might say "Mom, we know how much you love our kids, but it's stressful when you constantly give us advice and then become mad when we don't follow it" or "We appreciate how much you want to help, but when we need your advice, we'll ask for it."

Warning

  • Your mother-in-law might begin acting out after you start drawing healthy boundaries, exhibiting behaviors such as crying, becoming insulting or accusing you of being a "bad mother" for not following her advice. Stick to your guns and don't back down. You might say "I'm so sorry you're hurt. But this subject is closed."

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