Just Ask Joyce: My Mother-In-Law is Unlikeable

Oct 25, 2020 | Family, Just Ask Joyce

Q: “There’s nothing about my mother-in-law I like. I tolerate her because she is my husband’s mother, but we are like oil and water when we get together. She’s not a pleasant person to be around. She’s had a difficult life and, apparently, is very bitter over the loss of a child and an eventual divorce. My husband feels I should be more sympathetic toward her. We are arguing more because when my baby comes in October, I certainly don’t want his mother’s negative, sour attitude influencing my child. How can I convince my husband of our need to pull back from her?”

Joyce’s FIX: It’s difficult for me to decide whose attitude might be more harmful to the child — yours or hers. After all, your son belongs to your husband, as well. I’m not dismissing your analysis of your mother-in-law at all. I am wondering, however, if perhaps a little more patience and understanding might be appropriate on your part?

Now that you will be a mother, you should have a keener sense of the gravity on one’s heart when a child predeceases the parent. It is a huge loss. However, it’s not a rite of passage that allows one to become embittered and allow resentfulness to affect others, nor to permit it to destroy one’s peace of mind. Many loving couples have parted ways after the death of a child. Most of us would be challenged in a battle of this magnitude.

I would encourage you that honey attracts more flies than vinegar. Why not make some surprise one-on-one visits to your mother-in-law? Sit down. Share a cup of coffee and a piece of the pie or cookies you bring along. Engage in meaningful conversation. Ask her to share her feelings about her tremendous loss, how she found the strength to walk through the storm, what it did to her emotionally, how she managed to carry on in rearing her other children while going through such a state of grief. Now that you’re going to be bearing one of her grandchildren, you might help her heal after so many years so that she will be an effective grandmother. Encourage her. Assure her that you and your husband’s child — her grandchild — will depend upon her to be a positive force in the child’s life. Work on building a relationship with your mother-in-law rather than dreading time with her.

Imagine how this approach could only serve to enhance your marriage. It’s a difficult position to put any man in— choosing loyalty to his wife or his mother. Both deserve it. I know not all moms are stellar examples of parenthood, and we have to look at those on a case-by-case basis. The complaints you have presented, however, do not lead me to believe she doesn’t deserve a second chance at life, and you could be the instrument for helping her step into a newfound peace after many years of pain. It could work; it might not. You will never know unless you try, and it will endear you to your husband for a lifetime knowing you at least put forth the effort.

Struggling with a relationship issue? Email Joyce Oglesby, Family Life FIX-IT Pro and find a solution for life.

P.S. See more advice from Joyce Oglesby.


  1. Jean Peterson

    Thank you for sharing this letter and your answer. I can tell you from experience having lost my oldest son when he was 21 1/2 from no apparent cause, It is a choice whether you continue to love laugh and live or whether you get buried in anger And bitterness. I chose to live laugh and love because when I meet my son the first thing he’s going to say to me, if I had live my life with better and anger, is that is not what you taught me mom. This young woman has a chance to not only help Her mother-in-law here but also to build an amazing relationship with her.

  2. Linda

    It sounds like she’s clinically depressed. I grew up with my mother and grandmother that were depressed. It effected my whole life . There was no help by drs back then . But now she has resources to help . Please research depression and share the info with your husband. Our bodies Can’t replace the seritonion or dopamine. We need those to calm us . I hope he understands . I also lost a child and the depression was horrible . The tears are always there . Please give your heart to her . She doesn’t want to be angry . I hope she can find her joy again when she sees your baby . This might be the perfect time to address this . But gently . Best wishes

  3. Ursula

    My opinion of the fact still is let your husband handle your mother-in-law. It’s your husband but seriously he loves his mom. Open communication is always best an being non argumentive. She’s not married to you an neither is her son.

  4. Loretta

    My mother-in-law is driving me nuts and putting a strain on my relationship with my husband. She is sneaky and just plan rude as time s actually all the time. If something dont change ill be leaving and oh she moved in with my husband and I it was a year ago in July…


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