I love my mother-in-law. We get along great, and talk often, and things have seemed almost too good to be true with her. But lately, I’ve felt as if she’s been very subtly criticizing me. For example, she needed to do something strenuous to test her new blood pressure medicine, and the strenuous thing she decided to do was clean out the cupboards. (We live in my husband’s house, so it wasn’t the first time – just the first time since we’ve been married.) And then the other day, she spent ten minutes telling me how to make my calves appear more slender. I didn’t know they were fat! How should I respond, and how can I make her stop these slight little jabs?
Don’t respond at all now. It’s happened, it’s over, and the time to respond has passed. I know it’s hard, but just try to keep from saying much about any of it. It’s over, let it go. Remind yourself that she’s grown used to being the only “woman of the house” at your husband’s place. It’s going to take her a little time to get used to the notion that it’s your place now.
Next, remember that how you feel doesn’t depend at all on what she (or anyone else) thinks, does, or says. It depends on you, and you alone. Choose not to let it bother you. And don’t gripe to your husband about it. The last thing you want is to make him feel tugged between the two of you.
Now that it’s over, here’s what to do. Go to your cupboards and put everything right back the way you had it. When she comes again, she’ll notice that, and she’ll probably take the hint.
Next time she says something passive-aggressive, that’s the time to respond, and it doesn’t have to be complicated at all. Just straight up honest. If she offers to clean out your cupboards again, thank her for the offer, but tell her no. Say something like, “I really have my things arranged just the way I want them, and I’m kind of particular about my kitchen.” (the use of “my” will remind her it’s your domain now.) Next time she mentions ways for you to improve your calves (or any other body part) respond without any pretense at all. Say, “Oh? You think my calves are too big? I think they’re just right.” And I bet she’ll never step into that territory again.
Most of all, though, be patient with her. She might feel as if she’s in competition with you for her son’s attention and devotion for awhile. The transition for mothers of males when those males marry, is a tough one, and it’s best done gradually, and gently and with great love and lots of patience.
And remember every moment of it, so that if you happen to have a son one day, you’ll be a little bit easier on your future daughter-in-law.