When His Mom Becomes Your Nemesis: A Guide For Women dealing with Serious In-law Issues


It seems every daughter-in-law (a.k.a. DIL) has a story about the maniacal machinations of a mother-in-law (a.k.a. MIL), along with a favourite expletive to describe her (“witchy hag” and “trollish hellspawn” are two of our fa

It seems every daughter-in-law (a.k.a. DIL) has a story about the maniacal machinations of a mother-in-law (a.k.a. MIL), along with a favourite expletive to describe her (“witchy hag” and “trollish hellspawn” are two of our faves).

The good news is that there is hope for reconciliation no matter how overbearing, invasive or confrontational your particular MIL may be. In many cases, reaching a peaceful resolution requires having the courage to summon the strength to detach yourself from your feelings, see the other side fo the equation and then be the first to wave a white flag.

Keeping a cool head about MIL issues takes Tibetan monk-caliber resolve, so after the Mount Baldy Zen Centre refused our phone calls we did the next best thing and enlisted Eden Unger Bowditch (co-author of the The Daughter-in-Law’s Survival Guide), Norman Epstein (family therapist), and Charlene Conley (relationship therapist) to provide insight into three saucy squabbles.


Jane (DIL) and Martha (MIL) got along well before Jane became engaged to Martha’s son. Then everything fell apart. Martha must have thought that she was the one getting married because she wanted to pick out the wedding dress, her son’s tux and even the song to be played for the first dance. She couldn’t understand how Jane could get married in a dress that didn’t have a train on it. Martha also didn’t see why the bride and groom needed a limo for their wedding day; she thought they could use her new Oldsmobile instead. Jane was irritated to no end, especially since her family was financing the wedding. Now that the wedding is over, things are still strained because Martha has never offered an apology to Jane. In fact, Martha claims not to understand why Jane doesn’t like her.

According to Bowditch, “Problems arise when a mother-in-law does not take into account that the daughter-in-law is the number one woman in her son’s life. Because women are the kin-keepers (they pass on tradition) in families, the daughter-in-law will bring her own ways into her own marriage. Also, what is seen as helpful from a mother may be seen as invasive from a mother-in-law. Martha needs to appreciate that she is not the boss and that Jane’s decisions, although different from her own, are the ones that make her most comfortable. Jane needs to let Martha give her input without resenting everything she says. Both must look back at what worked before the wedding and figure out how to move on.”


Everything was peachy between Tanya (DIL) and Patricia (MIL) until they found themselves in the same kitchen. Tanya and her husband invited his parents for a house warming dinner. Patricia, who arrived early enough to supervise the preparation of the turkey and was unwilling to wait in the dining room, hovered over Tanya, criticizing her cooking skills. The conflict exploded at dessert when Patricia complained that the cheesecake wasn’t sweet enough. Tanya responded by emptying a jar sugar onto Patricia’s plate. Now Tanya refuses to cook for Patricia. When her in-laws come over for dinner, Tanya always orders take-out. While this has stopped Patricia from directly insulting Tanya’s cooking, Patricia still chides her occasionally for her choice of restaurant.

According to Conley, Tanya owes Patricia an apology for her childish behavior over the cheesecake. Even though that was the culmination of her frustration, it was not the appropriate way to handle it. She also needs to have a private conversation with Patricia, saying first how she appreciates their relationship. Then she needs to express her hurt feelings about the criticism she’s getting and ask Patricia to be more sensitive about her feelings. When her MIL criticizes her again, which she probably will, Tanya needs to address the problem right then.”


As an ardent Catholic, Karen(MIL) always felt anxious about her son marrying Enid (DIL), who, though Catholic by birth, hadn’t stepped foot in a church since she was a child. Karen always hoped that Enid would change and find her faith again. In an effort to reach out to her daughter-in-law, Karen bought Enid a large cross to hang on the mantelpiece. Enid politely feigned gratitude on receiving the present but then promptly re-gifted it to a friend. When Karen learned from her son what had happened, she was furious. Now the two keep their distance from each other. When they are forced to be together on family occasions, they exchange cold glances.

Advises Epstein, “I think Enid should try to get across the message that her not putting up the cross does not mean that she is disrespectful of her mother-in-law. But it just doesn’t reflect her own personal beliefs. Certainly this doesn’t mean that t hey can’t celebrate holidays together. They probably have a lot more in common than they think.”

Copyright © Mike Dojc, 2006

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