Life Lessons from My Difficult Mother-in-Law

Life Lessons from My Difficult Mother-in-Law

Erin Burt

I always dreamed of the relationship I would have with my mother-in-law. She would pass along mothering advice as we lunched at local delis and got pedicures. We would share a love of books, running and coffee. She would be a mentor and best friend. Cue idyllic whimsical music.

Enter the man who would be my husband.

Since it’s not typical to screen potential mothers-in-law during the dating process I didn’t question when my husband admitted to not having much of a relationship with his mom and that he only saw her a couple of times a year. I still held out for my MIL unicorn. I knew it wasn’t a good idea to think I could change a guy once we were married, but a MIL? Everyone likes me! I could do it!

The first couple of years of marriage we briefly saw my in-laws at holidays. Things were always cordial so, when we started having children and my MIL asked if they could set up a standing weekly visit to see grandchildren, I said yes. Now, we could form the relationship I had always wanted. What’s once a week?

A once a week visit is, ostensibly, a lot. Especially with someone with whom you have zero relationship. It never occurred to me to dig deeper as to why my husband didn’t have much relationship with his family but, as I sat there nursing a newborn across the living room from these strangers, the reasons became increasingly evident. Tempers flared. Insults were hurled. Each and every parenting decision I made was passive-aggressively questioned.

So, we awkwardly rescinded the weekly visits for an occasional monthly visit. And while my MIL isn’t the mentor I hope for, here are a few things she HAS taught me…

  1. You cannot force relationship simply for the sake of children. Actually, adding kids further complicates relationship-building.
  2. It’s easier to loosen reigns than it is to tighten them. Transitioning from weekly visits to sporadic bimonthly visits was hurtful but necessary. I wish we would have started with fewer visits and slowly increased frequency.
  3. No matter how difficult my relationship with my mother-in-law, she is still my kids’ grandma. I never speak ill of her in their presence and I cannot cut her off from seeing my kids, no matter the toll on me.
  4. No matter how clearly I feel I am articulating myself, I will not always be understood. Especially when it comes to how I’ve chosen to parent.
  5. I am my kids’ mom. At the end of the day, I have to put them above being liked by my MIL.

Kara Garis is a cloth diapering, baby wearing, semi-crunchy mama to two active boys and a baby girl. She lives with her husband in Oklahoma and loves running, cooking, traveling, reading and teaching herself how to braid. She blogs very infrequently at

Leave a comment