Dear Ovia, How to deal with my mother-in-law?

Dear Ovia is an ongoing series where we answer your love and relationship questions. To submit a question, send us a message on Instagram. We answer all questions anonymously.

Dear Ovia, How to deal with a controlling MIL who says horrible things to her son?

First of all, let me just say that I am so sorry you’re dealing with this. Pregnancy is challenging on so many levels (even if everyone is healthy), and having conflict within the most important part of your family must be super stressful. Let’s talk about your role in this. 

One of the biggest things that pregnancy and parenting changes is your primary relationship. Even though this question is about your mother-in-law, the solution can be found within your relationship with your husband. It’s his responsibility to set boundaries when it comes to his mother. This is obviously easier said than done, but at a bare minimum she should not be permitted to be hurtful to you or him in word or in action. And he has to lay that out for her.

She is going to need to hear what behavior is and is not OK when it comes to her relationship with him, with you, and with your growing family. And, unless you have an excellent relationship with her, she needs to hear this from him. I can imagine it’s going to be very difficult for him to set boundaries and consequences with her (especially if he hasn’t done this before), but I imagine this pattern is something that he wants to change as well. 

This shouldn’t be your burden! But it is your burden to get the conversation going with your husband and separate yourself from your mother-in-law as much as possible until that’s accomplished. 

If she is being verbally abusive and controlling, they may need more support than just talking as two adults. If therapy isn’t accessible to the two of them, is there a family member who is great with conflict resolution who could act as a mediator? A member of the community or a religious leader who could be present for this conversation? Now is the time to act on boundary setting for the wellness of your family.

Cycles of mistreatment can be broken, and hopefully your husband sees that there is some work that must be done — ideally as soon as possible.

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