Mother- in-laws can come to live with their children for many reasons, but many times it is due to financial hardship or when it has become too difficult for her to manage on her own. No one can really know what to expect, nor can you guess at how long this arrangement will last. After ten years of having my mother-in-law live with us, I find it no longer matters why she came. The fact that I have survived for ten years and still have my wits about me (at least somewhat) is quite an accomplishment. Here are some survival tips I have found helpful for coping when your mother-in-law becomes a permanent house guest.
Keep a Sense of Humor
This is first and foremost. When you notice your mother-in-law is actually holding a conversation with the message someone left her on the answering machine and you find this annoying, think about it, this is really funny. Look for the humor in the situation first and laugh together.
While you should never feel obligated to entertain her, there are things you can do together that you both will enjoy. If she likes to play cards or board games, plan for a game night and don’t be surprised if other family members want to join in. Take her out for lunch to a nice restaurant where the two of you can relax together and order a glass of wine with lunch. You will find yourself enjoying lunch and her company too. And if she offers to treat, let her!
Plan Family Time
If you have children, make sure they don’t feel slighted. Remember their lives were also affected by the decision to have Grandma live in, be sure to give them the attention they so want and need. Plan fun things with them and go to their activities. They need to feel and should always be your main priority. Grandma may even want to come to their activities and support them as well.
Get Out Often
At least once a week, plan for a regular night out with your spouse. Go out to eat, visit with friends, or see a movie. Keep the fun alive in your marriage. If you have young children at home, you already have a babysitter, so there is no excuse.
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
When she has rearranged the Tupperware cabinet, the pantry, and the dishwasher for the hundredth time, don’t despair. Besides, you really can find things easier when everything is categorized and facing the same direction. And if she insists on being the first one to the mailbox every day, in the grand scheme of things does it really matter who gets the mail? If you let little things annoy you, you will find yourself getting upset most of the time. Try not to sweat the small stuff.
The Less Said the Better
When she constantly wants to “help” you by reminding you of yet another thing you or some other family member did wrong, and here’s the hard part, the least said really is best. If you constantly take offense to her criticism by responding defensively to her every statement, she wins her point. If she comments that someone didn’t load the dishwasher correctly, try telling her in a calm matter of fact statement that if she doesn’t like the way the dishwasher is being loaded, no problem, she can take over the job permanently. Believe me, the complaining will stop.
Remember you took her in to assist her, not the other way around. If you need to discuss a comment with her that has upset you, at least wait until you have calmed down so you can speak calmly with her about it. You are an adult, and much the way you wouldn’t let your children undermine you, you shouldn’t let her get the best of you either.
After my youngest went away to college a few years ago, my husband and I became “empty nesters” and it was difficult to experience the alone time that we so desperately wanted and deserved. Communication and planning is essential. If she doesn’t go out much, ask other family members to help out so you can have some alone time. And If you know your mother-in-law is going to be visiting her sister ahead of time, be sure to put the date on your calendar as soon as you find out. Then go ahead and plan a romantic dinner for two or a dinner party with friends, without your mother-in-law being in attendance.
Seek Help If Necessary
If your relationship with your mother-in-law is making things unpleasant at home, you need to take action and address the issue. This may involve seeking help from other family members. Beware though, unlike yourself, other family members may be unable or unwilling to help out much and this could lead to increased feelings of resentment. If this becomes the case and things are deteriorating at home, it may be necessary to seek the help of a family counselor. By letting things built up, you harbor resentment. This will only hurt you in the long run. You deserve to be happy. You owe it to yourself and your family to have a pleasant home environment. Your home is your haven; you should never have to live in turmoil.
Make Time for Friends
Friends make you feel good and are fun to be around. They are also great listeners but don’t go on and on about your mother-in-law. Remember your friends have problems too; they shouldn’t have to constantly hear about your mother-in law issues. Have a good time and unwind instead.
Join a Gym
Working out is a wonderful way to vent your frustration and keep in shape at the same time. Most gyms are relatively inexpensive, costing as little as $10.00 a month to belong. What a small price to pay to get out of the house and develop strength at the same time.
Kindness Should Be Rewarded
I firmly believe that no kindness goes unrewarded. You took your mother-in-law in because she could no longer make it on her own. Not many people could do what you have done. You possess kind, caring, and loving qualities. Never lose sight of these attributes, even if you feel overwhelmed at times. You did a kind thing, you are a caring person, and you should allow yourself to be rewarded often!