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Carolyn Hax: Try to limit MIL’s emotional impact

Fri., Jan. 10, 2014

Dear Carolyn: My mother-in-law asked me for Christmas gift ideas for my 4-month-old son. I said I thought he was too young for electronic toys and asked for something simple, like blocks or a teddy bear.

She bought him a “baby laptop,” saying, “Well, I didn’t have time to travel back to the 1950s to buy him blocks.” I am very upset that she not only completely disregarded our wishes but also insulted our choices. My husband agrees with me.

I feel this situation is symbolic of a much larger problem. She questions every decision we make as parents and is constantly making snide comments about our choices. Any advice? – Tired Mom

Yeah. Duck.

You’re right about a larger problem, but it’s larger even than the snide-comment problem. She could so easily just accept your child-rearing approach at face value. I mean, you’re asking for blocks, not explosives. Instead, she’s reacting to your choices.

Such lashing out reveals that she’s in shaky emotional health.

Your new family unit is what threatens her, of course, not blocks. She’s feeling obsolete; or beneath your (perceived) hoity standards; or the loser in a (perceived) competition for her son’s attention.

So she elevates herself by sticking pins in your Fancy Pants Parents balloon.

You can neutralize this.

• Gently draw a baseline. “These are exciting times for us. We’ll mess up – but praising successes would help me so much more right now than trying to fix nondangerous mistakes.”

• Include, include, include his mother, however you can abide, unless/until she crosses uncrossable lines.

• Ignore minor affronts …

• To save your strength and accrued good will for enforcing those lines she can’t cross. You’ll need it, whether you return gifts, call out her sniping, or, worst case, limit visits.

You and your husband are in charge. Good bosses are flexible, fair, fierce.


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