My wife and my mom: It’s war!

Ever since my son was born, my wife and my mom have not gotten along. How can I help?

Support your wife, says our elder, and have a quiet talk with your mom. It will all get better in time.

Dear EWC

My wife and I had our first child (a son) in May. It seems that everything my mother said to my wife during the pregnancy was interpreted as criticism. ‘How much weight have you gained?’ was seen as a criticism of her weight. Encouragement to breastfeed was seen as additional pressure to succeed at something that is not necessarily an easy skill and is even impossible for some. Shortly after birth, my parents came to visit and this tension resulted in a blowout that is not resolved now about five months later. My mother has always been very close to her other grandchildren, partly because of geography, but I think also because I only have sisters and my mother got along fine with my ex-wife. I think she had expectations she would have the same sort of access to our son. My wife, already on the defensive with regards to my mother, kept her at arm’s length. All of this translated to animosity between my wife that boiled over during the visit I mentioned above. Everything my mother says is interpreted as my mother trying to co-opt our son to her way of thinking he should be raised… and therefore a challenge to my wife’s position as the mom. How can I help them to respect each other?

Roxie replies

As the mother of two sons, a mother-in-law, and a grandmother, I really identify with the situation that you are describing. And, I know from conversations with my friends how common this problem is.

Unfortunately, despite the best of intentions, women often don’t have the same relationship with their daughters-in-law that they do with their biological daughters. This can become particularly apparent in the early months after a first child is born. The daughter-in-law is learning how to be a mother and may be feeling insecure about her parenting skills. Any comments from the mother-in-law come to be seen as criticism.

As a husband, your first loyalty has to be to your wife. I suggest that you talk to your mother quietly and explain that you need her help in restoring peace. The “olive branch” should come from her. Hopefully, your mother will be responsive to your appeal, in part because she loves you and in part because she has the most to lose from a breach in her relationship with your family. Going forward, the saying “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” will have to serve as your mother’s mantra. With my own daughters-in-law, I constantly look for ways to praise them, and if I see something I don’t like, I keep it to myself.

I don’t think that you need to be concerned that your mother won’t be close to your son. He is only an infant, and there is plenty of time for things to change. Your wife will become more confident and secure in her relationship with her new child. You and she will probably want babysitting help, and your wife may start to see the positive attributes of your mother. Urge your mother to be patient, and reassure her that the time will come when her contribution will be valued.

Letter #: 431186
Category: Children

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