Having an overbearing, judgmental control-freak of a mother-in-law is unfortunately all too common. Having a pleasant relationship with one’s in-laws seems to be the exception, rather than the norm.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many options available to us to help us deal with our “monsters-in-law”… we can’t simply cut them out of our lives, and confronting them directly tends to make matters worse. If you want to get through to your MIL, you absolutely, undeniably need the full support of your spouse.
Take a step back to consider why your MIL acts the way she does – it will help you realize how best to approach the situation. She could be worried about being cut out of her children’s lives now that they have their own and thus forces her presence on everyone as often as possible. Maybe she’s used to being the Queen in charge and has a hard time giving control over to someone else. She might miss the closeness she used to have with your spouse before you were in the picture. Or maybe she’s a horribly toxic person who can’t stand to see other people be happy.
Whatever the reason, if she’s driving you crazy, feedback on her behaviour will go over a million times better coming from her own child than it would from the main competitor for her child’s affections.
When talking with your spouse, try not to attack their mother’s character traits or her motivations. They likely don’t see their mother the way you do, and they may not appreciate you attacking them. Instead, identify specific behaviours that you don’t want to tolerate any longer. Inform your spouse exactly what needs to change and why. Including the ‘why’ here is important; you need your spouse to understand where you are coming from, so that they can explain to their mother in their words what is bothering you, instead of repeating your feelings directly.
Before your spouse confronts their mother, coach them on what to say. The message has to come from your spouse, so no “my wife doesn’t want you to come by unannounced.” Try to phrase your wishes in a positive context, explaining what they should do instead.
For example, try saying, “I love having you visit, but I need you to give me a day’s notice before you come by.” This is precisely why you need to explain yourself well to your spouse; when your MIL asks “why?” or “did your wife/husband tell you to say that?” your spouse can coolly respond, “No, this is coming from me. I need time to arrange my responsibilities and my schedules so that I can accommodate you.”
Remind your spouse not to back down, to be loving but firm. Hopefully, if your spouse can calmly set boundaries, your MIL will respect them. It’s possible that your MIL doesn’t realize that she’s inconveniencing your or over-stepping her bounds.
If that doesn’t work, try to identify triggers for your MIL’s unwanted behaviours and avoid them to preserve your sanity. Throw a little passive-aggressivity right back at her- if she talks the talk, make her walk the walk. If she criticizes you cooking, compliment her cooking and ask her to cook for you instead. If she looks down on the way you’re raising your children, tell her that you wish you had her energy and spirit, and ask her to babysit them for you while you take a long bath and have a glass of wine. At least you’ll be able to get some time for yourself.
What’s important to remember is that your MIL loves your spouse and your children and wants what’s best for them. Try not to dwell on the negative things that she says or does; focus on being the best partner and parent that you can be. She will be around for a long, long time, so it’s best for your relationship and your mental health to learn to live with her.