How to manage a disrespectful son-in-law or daughter-in-law (without alienating your child)

September 15, 2015 at 3:59 pm in Family & Relationships by VN Editors


Not getting along with your disrespectful son- or daughter-in-law? Many, many mothers have experienced this misery, but that doesn’t make it any easier to find the answers. Learn how to manage your disrespectful in-law without alienating or angering your own child.

Becoming a Mother-in-Law

Many mothers want to see their children get married and start families of their own, but sometimes it’s not always easy to stomach the mates those children choose for themselves. If you aren’t getting along with your in-law – or worse, they’re disrespecting you – you’re going to have to walk a delicate balance. It’s necessary to stand up for yourself, because you should not tolerate poor treatment. But you’ve got to find a way to do it without upsetting your child, who is likely to rush to defend their mate. This is a dangerous dynamic that could easily turn into a two-versus-one scenario that won’t make anyone in the family happy.

Lots of moms make mistakes with their children’s mates, and you may not be innocent. If there’s a rift between you and your daughter- or son-in-law, try examining some of your own behavior to see if you’ve made any of these common mistakes.

KGrandma, VN member, talked about the mistakes she made with her own daughter-in-law, an exotic woman from a very different background. “So without delay I set about changing her,” KGrandma recalls. “Seemed right and good to me.” KGrandma didn’t like the way her daughter-in-law was keeping house, and felt a little angry when she got pregnant – an event KGrandma didn’t think was at all accidental.

“I genuinely felt somehow obligated to set her straight on all sorts of things. I must have been nuts.” KGrandma realized that her son had married this woman, and “loved and adored her.”

It was a hard pill to swallow when KGrandma finally realized what her own role was in all of this family drama. “My job was to find a way to love her, too; not to fix her, bring her around to our way of doing things, and solve HIS problems.”

VN member MiMi agrees with KGrandma’s new, keep-your-mouth-shut attitude. “I have made enough mistakes in my own relationships,” she says. “No right to interfere in [my children’s].”

Being a Mother-in-Law

Maybe you haven’t made those sorts of mistakes. It’s possible that you’ve never inserted yourself into your child’s marriage, or ever set about trying to “fix” their mate or get them to behave more in “your way.” Sometimes, your child may ultimately be behind the rift between you and their spouse. VN member Vee had an experience with this.

“My adult son’s girlfriend seemed super-sensitive to what I do, and I realized my son had been talking admiringly about some of the things I did as a parent and she was trying to do the same things,” she wrote. Once the kids move out of the house, they start seeing the past through the eyes of nostalgia. Comparing you to their new spouse can create all sorts of troubles that aren’t your fault. But, there is something you can do about it.

“I sat with her a couple of times and mentioned some of the embarrassing mistakes I had made and it seemed to help our relationship. I think there’s something about being a man’s mother that puts women on the defensive with us.  I also noticed once I detached from them and gave them more ‘space’ to live their lives and make their own mistakes, we got along better.”

Identifying the Problem

“I have a totally disrespectful son-in-law. Whenever I’m around him, and no one else is there, he does or says whatever he can to purposefully humiliate me. He’s arrogant and knows that he can get away with it because of my love for my daughter and grandchildren. I have wiped him out of my life. I want nothing to do with him.” This story was shared by VN member Unique One. “Am I right to stay away from him and totally ignore him?” She asked.

The answer? No, absolutely not. “Swallow your pride and do not go against those whom your kids love. You will lose,” advises VN member grannyinlongjohns.

However, it’s not right for Unique One, or any other mother-in-law, to suffer any sort of abuse at the hands of a disrespectful son-in-law or daughter-in-law. In some cases, the issues may be much deeper than your relationship with your in-law. Some spouses end up being abusive, and it is a possibility that your child is in a dangerous situation. If you believe that your child or grandchildren are in some sort of physical danger, try to address this issue with your child. Report it to the police. And go talk to a family counselor who will further advise you.

In most cases, the rift between you and your child’s spouse is not at all this explosive. Usually, problems like this can be traced to petty differences and little resentments. Try reaching out to your in-law, and try spending time with them on a one-on-one basis. Ask them where the rift is, and what you can do to improve your relationship. Simply showing a willingness to communicate and connect with this person can go a long way toward healing your combined families.

Don’t complain to your child about their spouse, advises Hitched Magazine. Talk directly to your in-law. Tell them – in a calm and controlled fashion – that you feel disrespected. Cite specific examples of this disrespect, and outline what you won’t tolerate about it. You don’t know how your in-law was raised, or what their family life was like. It’s very possible that what you view as disrespect is very normal behavior for them. Call their attention to it, or else it may be impossible to fix it.

And then, back off a little. Don’t ever try to force yourself on your child or your daughter- or son-in-law. VN member M, who herself is a daughter-in-law, felt suffocated by her husband’s mother.

“Although I felt accepted by her I felt suffocated by her attentions and efforts which I felt she was doing to prove how great a mother she was,” she wrote. “I felt the relationship with her was forced and unnatural.”

A Good Relationship

In other words, it’s a delicate balance. Keep reminding yourself of some key points to keep your relationship with your daughter- or son-in-law strong:

  • Keep your opinions: Don’t like the way your in-law cleans? Cooks? Raises the kids? Keep your opinions to yourself! Stay quiet until you are asked for advice, or until you can no longer do so. It’s only okay to interfere if you honestly believe that your child and/or grandchildren are at risk in some tangible way.
  • Keep an open door: Unless something intolerable has occurred between you and your in-law, keep your door open to them despite any differences. Remain kind, remain loving and let them know that your door remains open. With time, they may eventually feel more comfortable walking through it.
  • Keep strong: If you’re being treated poorly, raise this topic with your in-law – not with your child. Do not put your child in the middle of your problems with their spouse, because in almost all cases your child will not take your side.

And above all else, continue to give your in-law and your child respect even when you do not get it back. You’re older, you’re wiser, and you may be the best example of mature behavior they’ve got. Make sure you’re setting a good one, and in time the kinks in your relationship may smooth over.