|be advised | October/November 2016
Help! I have a nitpicking mother-in-law
by Chris Aman
My mother-in-law has a habit of nitpicking. Everything I do (including how I dress, how I raise my kids and how I cook) seems to upset her. She always thinks she could have done it better. My husband says she's just trying to share her wisdom with me, but I think it's past the threshold of friendly advice. How can I tell her to stop the behavior without insulting her?
Fortunately, you are not alone. Unfortunately, now you need to stand up for yourself.
The thing is, all of this is likely unintentional and not meant to harm.
When we "nitpick" at others, it really has nothing to do with that person in particular. It often has to do with our insecurities or our need to control.
As a mother of boys, who wants their son to ever look up to another woman or think that she is his world? After all, the mother has been his world since conception. This can often cause a great deal of insecurity and bring out the criticisms.
Another part of this is control, and this may or may not be a conscious or "planned" nitpicking. You will do things differently than she does and in her mind, her ways work. In a roundabout way, she may truly believe she is providing you with invaluable advice. However, you were raised in a different environment and, quite frankly, you are your own person. This means that you have your own morals, values, style, tastes, ideas, goals, etc. If you think about it, the things that she is "nitpicking" are motherly type things. As mothers, we provide this advice to our children throughout their lives. You are now her daughter and the only role she continues to fill is mother. If she were not providing you with advice, what would be her usefulness?
Does she think she could have done it better, or is there some jealousy? In a way, your husband is correct; she is trying to share her wisdom. Her methods, on the other hand, sound as though they need some refining.
Not knowing her particular personality, her motives or really anything about her there is no specific information that I can give. I can say that when it comes to situations like this, it can often be broken down to feelings of jealousy, worthlessness, loss of control or simply the need to be needed. Whatever the reason is, you need to talk with her.
Basic communication skills are going to be your best route and fostering a conversation that will not bring about a defensive stance from her is going to be key. This woman is a big part of your husband and your children's life and she can be a big part of yours.
If the two of you can work out a way to teach each other how to treat each other respectfully it could be one of the most fruitful relationships you have.
Approach the situation in a non-accusatory manner. Let her know how you feel without accusing her of being the cause of your feelings. Your feelings are how you are choosing to respond based upon your history. Keep in mind that when and if you do have this conversation, her response is hers. You have no control over how she will respond or interpret what is said. You can't make her feel anything other than what she chooses to feel. The reaction can go one of two ways so you will need to be willing to accept whatever her response is to the discussion, good or bad. The best response will come if you are open and honest about YOUR feelings and not blaming her for them.
Choose your words wisely; this is not a confrontation, it is a conversation. I wish you well!
Chris Aman, MBA, MSN, APRN, NP-C, is the co-owner of Inspired Life Wellness Clinic, where she is a psychiatric provider for teens and adults. She and her husband, Jason, have six children and live in Bismarck. They enjoy outdoor activities in the summer and hibernating in the winter.