Avoid these habits to have a healthy, long-term relationship with your family.
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mother in law
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In a perfect world, you get along swimmingly with your daughter- or son-in-law. But, in practice, butting heads happens—and that's okay. You're two very different people who were raised in different times by different people. Two important things to remember is that you both love the same person—your son or daughter—and want to have a healthy relationship with each other for the sake of your family (and, potentially, your future grandchildren).

"There will likely be family events, holidays, vacations, grandkids, and many things that link the two of you, so it's helpful if both of you can learn to communicate respectfully and directly so issues can be addressed and resolved in adult and healthy ways," says Paulette Sherman, Psy.D., a psychologist, relationship expert, and the author of Dating from the Inside Out. For starters, avoid these potentially damaging habits that can cost you a close relationship not only with your son-in-law or daughter-in-law, but also with your son or daughter. 

Don't Disrespect Parenting Styles

Are there already grandchildren in the mix? If so, know that everyone parents differently—but it can be hard to see a little one parented differently than you'd like. Still, it's important that you respect the rules and boundaries set by your son or daughter and their spouse. If your daughter-in-law, for example, has a rule against watching more than two hours of television per day, honor it as best you can (even if you disagree with it). Not following suit could spell big consequences for your future babysitting sessions. 

Don't Criticize

The overly-critical mother-in-law, who constantly wants you to do things her way, is a tale as old as time. Simply don't be that person. "No one likes criticism, especially when it's not constructive and balanced out nicely with praise and compliments," says Dr. Sherman.

She recommends being careful with your advice—solicited or unsolicited—and making sure that you notice all of the good things your daughter-in-law does so she feels less defensive. And try your best to mean it. "It will foster more positivity in the relationship if it's authentic," says Dr. Sherman.

Don't Exclude Your Relatives at Family Events

"It is passive aggressive to exclude your son-in-law or daughter-in-law at events by sitting elsewhere and giving them the cold shoulder in favor of other family members you would rather see," says Dr. Sherman. "If you want to develop a good relationship, snubbing them in public is not a good way to go."

Instead, she recommends strengthening your relationship by making an effort to treat your son-in-law or daughter-in-law at public events the same way you do when the two of you are alone so it doesn't feel divisive or inauthentic. Additionally, try to include him or her in as much conversation as possible, so he or she feels comfortable around extended family members. 

Don't Interfere with Their Marriage

While you are very much still the mother of your child, you take a different position once your son or daughter is married and living his or her own life. It's important to respect that life he or she chooses to build and live—especially when there's a son- or daughter-in-law involved. "Your child needs to make primary decisions with his or her wife or husband, so the dependency that once existed should shift," says Dr. Sherman. 

Never Gossip

"No one wants to hear that someone is saying negative things behind their back—it feels sneaky and hurtful," says Dr. Sherman. "It definitely won't foster trust or closeness in a relationship."  Instead, when there's a problem, she recommends that the two of you get together, or get on the phone, and work things out as adults—without adding negativity or involving outsiders.

Comments (2)

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September 12, 2022
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Martha Stewart Member
September 12, 2022
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