How do you make peace with your mother in law?

Sally Shields, author The Daughter-in-Law Rules, offers advice for remaining on good terms — and happy — with your mother in law.

Q: What is the philosophy behind the Daughter-in-Law Rules?

The Daughter-in-Law Rules is a management strategy. The book gives simple techniques that anyone can use and get immediate results. It validates the Daughter-in-Law’s feelings while making her Mother in Law feel great. As you start to apply “calculatingly affable defenses,” you will no longer be looking for her approval. You will begin to co-exist.

For example, the top 7 Things to Do To Create a Happy Relationship with Your Mother in Law include:

1) Don’t expect her to share your interests (in movies, music, books, TV shows, etc.).
2) Keep all gifts for at least 4 seasons.
3) Try not to get defensive with your MIL (put that stubborn nature aside!)
4) Never criticize her son to her.
5) Allow her to take an active role as Grandma.
6) Supply her with lots of pics of the grandkids.
7) Don’t talk about religion and politics at the dinner table.

Q: Some people might not agree with your rules, because it seems like they focus on kissing butt? What do you say to that?

Yes, the philosophy does outline a principal of accommodation and agreeability, but it is really about avoiding those repeat DILZ (Daughter-in-Law Zings), feeling good about yourself, allowing your Mother in Law to feel good about herself, and allowing your husband to be happy as well. It is a win/win/win situation!

It is always important to remember one of the greatest spiritual laws of success: the quickest way to get what you want is to help others get what they want. Be a loving, kind, generous, openhearted sensitive person and the world will reflect that back to you. Your Mother in Law may just surprise you and turn out to be an ally and a friend!

Q: So does this mean that, when you are staying with your MIL, you should be polite and do stereotypically female tasks like offer to wash the dishes?

Yes! You should be polite and do everything you can to help her out, such as clearing the table, loading the dishwasher, making the bed, and offering to launder the sheets when you leave. It is also a nice touch to strip the pillowcases and fold the blankets neatly upon the bed upon departure. You should also empty the facility in the guest bathroom, and store all of your toiletries in your suitcase or under the vanity while you are staying there. These are things that you are doing in a willing and proactive manner, not only because it is the polite thing to do, but also because it is self-preservation! You want to give your Mother in Law as little ammunition possible for complaining about you — now and in the future.

Q: How can you gently get a MIL to stop offering advice about how to raise your kids?

You can’t! That is why I have developed the surefire strategy to preemptively asking her for her advice! Fire off a lot of questions about how she thinks you should do this or that, but keep your matters on the simple and inconsequential side, such as what kind of pajama material is the best for your little sapling to sleep in. Follow through so she’ll be proud that you took her advice.

Q: How do you respond to a MIL who keeps telling you how to mother your husband?

The best way to respond to the Mother in Law who keeps telling you how to “mother” your husband is to completely agree with her. Thank her profusely for her advice and say how you’ve been working on it day and night. Then, tell her what a great job she did as a mother. This will both make her feel great and also remind her of the fact that she was the one who raised him and shaped him into the man she is now complaining about.

Q: What are the three best ways to make a good impression on a MIL?

1) Call her once a week–preferably when your husband isn’t home. If you’re super busy, try to call when you know you will get her machine. Leave her a quick message if only to ask how she has been feeling!

2) Compliment her often. Mother in Laws can be just as self-conscious as we are, so take the time to notice how pretty, thin, healthy and young she looks, occasionally asking if you can borrow an item of clothing or an accessory such as a scarf or a purse.

3) Send her cards and flowers on her 3 special days—birthday, anniversary (if she has one), and Mother’s Day. But, here’s the trick. Make sure that your MIL doesn’t receive a note solely with your handwriting on it, or she may mistakenly get the impression that her son has forgotten her special day. Become a great ghostwriter and have your husband pen it from the both of you!

5 comments… add one

  • Brittany August 15, 2010, 9:24 pm

    Sorry, but if you want an open relationship with your mother-in-law you should be honest with her even if that means you dont agree with her. Let her know you appreciate her suggestions but…………………………

  • Conferences Leicester September 20, 2010, 8:17 am

    Im torn here. I think that we do need ot be considerate of our in laws and do our very bets to go along with them but I dont think that we should be “yes men” all the time.

  • Birthing Videos April 2, 2011, 11:25 am

    Really interesting thoughts, atleast I’m really good with my mother in law, no problems at all, your answers are amazing. Thanks! :P

  • Carrie July 7, 2011, 11:48 am

    I believe in being polite, cleaning up after yourself, and staying away from controversial topics, but I’m afraid the rest of this advice encourages women to stifle their thoughts and act disingenuous. This will only lead to resentment, or worse yet–a big blow up at some point. What has worked for me is to find things that I can honestly admire about my M-I-L and then freely compliment THOSE things. When issues of parenting come up that I disagree with, I will try to frame her opinion as one viewpoint. Something like “I have friends who have done it both ways successfully,” or “That sure seemed to work when you were raising kids.”

  • Sarie O March 14, 2012, 11:46 am

    You know, I’ve never really had a problem with my mother in law (or the moms of the various people I’ve been involved with). But getting along with my stepmother? Yikes, that’s been one of the greatest challenges in my life.

    My last visit with her ended with her texting my father (in front of me!) to tell him that it was time for him to ask me to leave, presumably because I was speaking with him about a topic that didn’t interest her from another room where I was watching my nearly two year old daughter.

    I bet that whole evening would have gone way differently if I had peppered her with questions about the best pajama fabric, the nicest smelling fabric softeners, the most exciting baby toys, or what to look for in a preschool.


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