Is the discord with mothers-in-law truly so dire? Insights from research — and guidance from a counselor to ease familial strains.

Vicky, who resides in Georgia with her two grown offspring, both wedded, boasts a harmonious, drama-averse rapport with her daughter’s spouse. Her tie with her son’s wife stands in stark contrast as a mother-in-law.

“Upon my son encountering his now-wife, things started off smoothly,” related Vicky, preferring to keep her surname private, in a discussion with Yahoo Life. “A marriage of 18 years has since passed, and regrettably, the adage rings true: A son belongs to you until he espouses another. While I steer clear of their marital issues, my son endures mistreatment from my daughter-in-law, akin to that of a lackey; she harbors scant empathy for others. I’ve trained myself to overlook her actions, though she has estranged us by favoring her own kin excessively.”

Amidst this friction, Vicky maintains her composure as a forbearing in-law, ensuring only acclaim of her daughter-in-law filters through to her son and grandson. Yet, her lived experience leads her to find the caricature of the meddling, irksome mother-in-law wearisome and unjust. Often, she points out, the mother-in-law is not the root of familial discord.

The extent of such discord indeed varies. According to Today’s reportage, research from the 2020 title by Geoffrey L. Greif and Michael E. Woolley, In-Law Relationships: Mothers, Daughters, Fathers and Sons, indicated merely around 15% of surveyed mothers- and daughters-in-law acknowledged having strained relations; over half perceived their bond positively while the rest positioned themselves neutrally. Mothers-in-law, in particular, tended to view their connections more optimistically than daughters-in-law did. For instance, 33% of mothers-in-law “firmly concurred” with enjoying a close relationship with their daughter-in-law, yet only 18% of daughters-in-law felt the same way.

This indicates improvement from a 2011 survey by U.K.’s Netmums parenting site, wherein 24% out of 2,000 surveyed ladies reported poor or horrible bonds with their spouse’s mother. Additionally, 35% labelled their mothers-in-law as “overcritical”, and accusations of being “meddling” (32%), dominant (25%), and discourteous (22%) were prevalent.

“Indeed, numerous mothers-in-law share amicable ties with their offspring’s mates,” Barbara Greenberg, a therapist specializing in family matters, shares with Yahoo Life. “Yet, accounts of in-law relationships laden with various stresses are what I encounter more commonly. Many of these women fail to realize their intrusiveness, believing their unsolicited counsel stems from concern.”

Greenberg proposes for mothers-in-law to mitigate negative perceptions by refraining from dispensing advice — advocating for moderation in such instances. Her further recommendation includes adopting a gentler stance during disagreements. Instead of hastening to criticize an in-law’s actions, adopting an inquisitive demeanor and understanding their standpoint is encouraged.

She further councils mothers-in-law to allow the marital couple to mature independently, accepting their mistakes as normal. Should advice be imperative, seeking consent is courteous; otherwise, deference to their autonomy is to be respected.

Patti Jones from Nevada, another mother-in-law, echoes this sentiment, as she tells Yahoo Life. She consciously abstains from meddling in her progeny’s spousal squabbles.

“I aimed to cherish my offspring’s partners equally when they wed,” remarks Jones. “As their parent, my purpose is to smooth, not complicate lives. I withhold criticisms. Do our opinions always align? Certainly not.” Cherishing their spouses proves arduous but is it merited? Undoubtedly, she affirms.

Just like Vicky, Patti chooses not to emphasize adverse stereotypes casting mothers-in-law as invariably problematic. Nevertheless, she acknowledges some tensions. “One of my daughters-in-law maintains her distance from me, despite shared interests,” says Patti. “She seldom returns texts or calls, distancing not just herself but also my grandchildren from me. My understanding of their lives relies heavily on my son’s communications. Her reasons to keep me at bay remain a mystery.”

Turning the lens back to the in-laws who find themselves at odds with their spouse’s mother, what guidance does Greenberg provide? They ought to “perceive their mothers-in-law through a lens of compassion,” she posits. “Her accumulated wisdom holds value and arises from an earnest desire to assist. She too seeks to retain significance.”

While familial navigation may not always be harmonious, both Vicky and Patti uphold that the family’s collective happiness prevails above all. “The paramount joy for me is seeing my children robust and autonomous, and rightfully so,” concludes Vicky.

Marcia Kester Doyle contributes as a freelance writer for Yahoo Life and penned Who Stole My Spandex? Life in the Hot Flash Lane. Her pieces have been showcased in mediums such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Huffington Post, the Independent, USA Today/Reviewed, Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, AARP, Woman’s Day, Country Living, House Beautiful and numerous more.

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