Nasty Mother-in-Law Remarks


My mother-in-law is constantly making disparaging remarks about my mother in front of the kids. I usually cut her off rather abruptly. We do not have a close relationship, so I how do I start a conversation with her about stopping this behaviour? We do not speak on the phone or see each other separate from family events.

Sara answers

From the sounds of it, your mother-in-law has very loose boundaries as talking about your mother in front of the kids is bad enough, but talking about her in a disparaging way in front of you may be even worse. If she had any hope of a semi close relationship with you, I’m sure that this window closes even more tightly every time she makes these types of comments. What does she hope to accomplish by doing so? Does she think that you will join forces with her? Is she trying to hurt you in some way?

I hear that you take action by cutting her off abruptly, but I’m sure your anger and resentment continues to rise each time you are in her company. Even though you don’t speak or see each other any more than you have to, I’m thinking that it would be wise to call or pull her aside in an effort to make her aware of the impact of her words rather than putting out one fire at a time. “I” messages, constructed by filling in the blanks between the following words is a helpful form of communication, especially when the topic is heated: “When you……I feel…..because……..”. So, for example, you might say “When you say that my mother is lazy and fat, especially in front of my kids, I feel hurt and angry at you because I am protective of my mother and would prefer that my children form their own opinion of their grandmother.” Then, you can tell her what you’re hoping for in the future. “I would appreciate you not talking badly about my mother in front of me or the kids.”

If, despite your calm feedback to her, the behaviour continues, perhaps your husband can speak to her too and establish consequences, such as you and the kids not spending time with her in the future, should she continue to make these comments.


About Author

Sara Dimerman is a psychologist and author in the Toronto area who has provided counselling to individuals, couples and families for more than twenty-five years. She is the author of four books - two for parents and two for couples - the most recent of which is "Why Married Couples Don't have least not with each other!" and is a columnist and podcast producer/host for sites and print media across North America and internationally. Sara is a regular guest on radio and television and is interviewed frequently for articles online, in newspapers and magazines. She is married and has two daughters. Visit Sara's website: