Don’t have it out IN-LA With modern life putting more pressure than ever on the mother- and daughter-in-law relationship, finds ways to thaw the frost and avoid a Christmas showdown
I L L U S T R AT I O N S JASON FORD
For the first few years of her marriage, Mel’s relationship with her mother-in-law was perfectly amicable. ‘We weren’t regular fixtures in each other’s lives, but we got together for family occasions,’ says Mel, 38, a marketing manager. ‘She could be a bit full-on and my husband could do no wrong in her eyes, but our relationship was fine.’
Then, two years ago, when Mel had her first baby, their relationship became strained, especially after Mel returned to work and her mother-in-law stepped in to provide some of the childcare. Tensions were soon bubbling, and Mel recites a catalogue of complaints. Her mother-in-law feeds her daughter too much, too often. She leaves her in front of the TV for hours, or lets her nap too long, so that by bedtime her daughter is either bored and fractious, or wide awake. She constantly tidies Mel’s house, sorts through her fridge, rearranges cupboards and makes loaded comments about the general state of their domestic arrangements. Her social media is plastered with posts about Mel’s daughter – but nothing about Mel. ‘I could go on for ever, it winds me up,’ says Mel. ‘So far, we’ve avoided a showdown but I do wonder how much longer before it happens.’
Christine, 66, expresses similar sentiments about her daughter-inlaw – in fact, her ‘issues’ sound similar to Mel’s, except told from the opposite point of view. ‘We got on really well until my son and his wife had children, then it became very difficult,’ says Christine, a retired teacher. ‘My daughter-in-law is obsessive about how the children should be raised. She and my son both work full time, they’re busy, super-stressed, the house is chaos, but any genuine attempts to help are taken as criticisms.
‘I can’t say or do anything right, yet they still expect me to look after their children two days a week. I am delighted to be able to spend time with my grandchildren, but if I don’t follow my daughter-in-law’s instructions to the letter I’m in the doghouse. I managed to raise three children, including a son she liked enough to marry, so my parenting skills surely can’t be that disastrous. I worry that one day the relationship will break down completely and I’ll