Part of Achieving a successful relationship with your in-laws Series:

Achieving a successful relationship with your in-laws 1

Achieving a successful relationship with your in-laws 2


My mother-in-law is extremely controlling.  She disapproves of my parenting style and criticizes me in front of my husband and our children.  I’ve put up with this kind of treatment for years, but I think I’ve reached my limit.  What can I do?



Before addressing your question directly, it’s important to set the stage with a fundamental biblical principle.  Genesis 2:24 says that “a man shall leave his mother and father and cleave to his wife.”  Jesus repeats this command in Matthew 19:4-6 and Mark 10:6-8.  In this context, the word “cleave” refers to the establishment of a “one-flesh” union between husband and wife.  It means that when a couple marries, they are given the task of founding a new family unit, distinct and separate from their families of origin.  They are further required to grant this new family unit priority over the old.  If they cannot do this, their marriage will be jeopardized.


The scriptural principle is clear.  Your mother-in-law has no right to treat you with the disdain and disrespect you’ve described.  According to the Bible, your husband has a responsibility to you and to your children to step up to the plate and defend you.  If he’s hesitant to take this step or simply doesn’t want to rock the boat, we suggest that you make a date with him – dinner at a restaurant, perhaps – and tell him you have some important things to discuss away from the kids.  Lovingly and patiently explain that you’ve had it with your mother-in-law’s criticism, and that it’s time for both of you to start setting some firm boundaries with her.  Explain that you can’t do this alone and that you are counting on his support.              


Since this is your mother-in-law and not your mother, it’s crucial that your husband agrees to take the lead.  He should sit down with his mom and let her know that you want a better, more respectful treatment from his mother.  He should also tell his mother that her constant sniping at you hurts him deeply, and has a negative imprint on his marital life. 

Your mother-in-law may react in anger or make you feel she is victimized in an attempt to make you and your husband feel guilty for confronting her. 

Please know that while you have all the right to reject this type of treatment, you should continue respecting your mother-in-law even if all this does not result in a significant change in your relationship.  Demonstrate love and forgiveness.  Let her know that you respect her parenting style, but that you and your husband have agreed upon the most suitable parenting style for your family. It may also be beneficial to mention that you don’t mind, and may very well, choose to seek her parental advice in particular instances.

If the problem persists, we highly encourage you and your husband to seek the assistance of your spiritual mentor or an experienced Christian counselor. 

Copyright © 2010, Focus on the Family. Used by permission.

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