Confronting a Disrespectful and Controlling Mother-in-Law

How should I respond to my spouse's mother when she expresses disapproval of my parenting style and speaks to me disrespectfully in front of my husband and our children? I've put up with this kind of treatment for years, but I think I've reached my limit. What can I do?

Share:
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email

Before addressing your question directly, it’s important to set the stage with a fundamental biblical principle. Genesis 2:24 says that “a man shall leave his mother and father and cleave to his wife.” Jesus repeats this command in Matthew 19:4-6 and Mark 10:6-8. In this context, the word “cleave” refers to the establishment of a “one-flesh” union between husband and wife. It means that when a couple marries, they are supposed to found a new family unit, distinct and separate from their families of origin. They are further required to grant this new family unit priority over the old. If they cannot do this, their marriage will not be successful.

The scriptural principle is clear. Your mother-in-law has no right to treat you with disdain and disrespect. According to the Bible, your husband has a responsibility to you and to your children to step up to the plate and defend you. If he’s afraid to take this step or simply doesn’t want to rock the boat, we suggest you talk to him about it. Make a date with him – dinner at a restaurant, perhaps – and tell him you have some important things to discuss away from the kids. Lovingly and patiently explain that you’ve had it with your mother-in-law’s mean-spirited attacks and criticism. Tell him that it’s time for both of you to start setting some firm boundaries with her. Explain that you can’t do this alone and that you are counting on his support.

Since this is your mother-in-law and not your mother, it’s crucial that you and your husband agree on a course of action. The two of you should sit down with his mom and let her know that things are going to be different in your relationship from this point forward. Your husband should take the lead in this conversation. He should tell his mother that her constant sniping at you hurts him deeply and that he is no longer willing to accept it. He should make it clear that unless she can make a sincere effort to change her attitude and behavior, she will no longer be welcome in your home.

Given her past record, it’s likely that your mother-in-law will react in anger. She may play the martyr in an attempt to make you and your husband feel guilty for confronting her. Stand your ground and refuse to be manipulated. Unless she is prepared to admit her faults and make some significant changes, you may also want to consider limiting her access to your children. It can’t possibly be in their best interest to spend much time with a woman who is so hostile and demeaning. Perhaps her desire to see her grandchildren will motivate her to examine her actions and attitudes more carefully.

In the event that your husband can’t find the courage to back you up, we suggest you seek the assistance of an experienced family therapist. Among other things, that will show him that you’re in earnest about dealing with this issue. Call our Counseling department to get started. After discussing the situation with you over the phone, our counselors will be happy to provide you with referrals to licensed family counselors in your area.

 

Resources
If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.

Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No, to Take Control of Your Life

The Mother-in-Law Dance

Peacemaking for Families

Establishing Healthy Boundaries with Your In-Laws 

Articles

In-Law Relationships

Share:
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email

Thank you [field id="first_name"] for signing up to get the free downloads of the Marrying Well Guides. 

Click the image below to access your guide and learn about the counter-cultural, biblical concepts of intentionality, purity, community and Christian compatibility.

(For best results use IE 8 or higher, Firefox, Chrome or Safari)

To stay up-to-date with the latest from Boundless, sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter.


If you have any comments or questions about the information included in the Guide, please send them to [email protected]

Click here to return to Boundless

Focus on the Family

Thank you for submitting this form. You will hear from us soon. 

The Daily Citizen

The Daily Citizen from Focus on the Family exists to be your most trustworthy news source. Our team of analysts is devoted to giving you timely and relevant analysis of current events and cultural trends – all from a biblical worldview – so that you can be inspired and assured that the information you share with others comes from a reliable source.

Alive to Thrive is a biblical guide to preventing teen suicide. Anyone who interacts with teens can learn how to help prevent suicidal thinking through sound practical and clinical advice, and more importantly, biblical principles that will provide a young person with hope in Christ.

Bring Your Bible to School Day Logo Lockup with the Words Beneath

Every year on Bring Your Bible to School Day, students across the nation celebrate religious freedom and share God’s love with their friends. This event is designed to empower students to express their belief in the truth of God’s Word–and to do so in a respectful way that demonstrates the love of Christ.

Focus on the Family’s® Foster Care and Adoption program focuses on two main areas:

  • Wait No More events, which educate and empower families to help waiting kids in foster care

  • Post-placement resources for foster and adoptive families

Christian Counselors Network

Find Christian Counselors, Marriage & Family Therapists, Psychologists, Social Workers and Psychiatrists near you! Search by location, name or specialty to find professionals in Focus on the Family’s Christian Counselors Network who are eager to assist you.

Boundless is a Focus on the Family community for Christian young adults who want to pursue faith, relationships and adulthood with confidence and joy.

Through reviews, articles and discussions, Plugged In exists to shine a light on the world of popular entertainment while giving you and your family the essential tools you need to understand, navigate and impact the culture in which we live.

Have you been looking for a way to build your child’s faith in a fun and exciting way?
Adventures in Odyssey® audio dramas will do just that. Through original audio stories brought to life by actors who make you feel like part of the experience; these fictional, character-building dramas use storytelling to teach lasting truths.

Focus on the Family’s Hope Restored all-inclusive intensives offer marriage counseling for couples who are facing an extreme crisis in their marriage, and who may even feel they are headed for divorce.