My Horrid Mother-in-law


Horrid Mother-in-laws may be a well-used resource for comedians, but mine isn’t the least bit amusing.   From the time my husband introduced me to her twelve years ago, when we were already secretly engaged, she’s relentlessly criticised and tried to undermine me.   I come from a warm and close family and it’s been a real shock just how awful a mother can be.  The irony is she works as a counsellor for Relate and spends her days advising couples how to behave.  She is also a trustee of two family-based charities, a member of several women’s groups and seems to have lots of friends. 

Despite this her coldness towards me is never ending. The crunch came last month at my eldest daughter’s 10th birthday when she decided to mock my behaviour as a mother in front of all four of our children.  My husband faced up to her, no easy task, and told her she was not to behave like that again.  He also spoke to his father who just shrugged his shoulders and said: ‘You know what she is like.’ We both feel we would have no contact with her at all if it weren’t for the children, but it’s a difficult step to take because family life is so important to me.  Before we make up our mind can you  explain why someone can appear to be so positive and helpful at work and with friends but be the opposite with their own  family.  It just doesn’t make sense.   



You are right, it is not at all funny to have an unkind mother-in-law. There are many different reasons why she can maintain a pleasant and helpful front in public and yet be so mean to her own family.   

It is surprisingly common to find a horrid parent working in a caring capacity such as nursing and teaching. It is hard to understand their hypocrisy but somehow they maintain a pleasant front in public but switch it off as soon as they close their front door. Sometimes their work offers them an opportunity to present a nicer part of themselves at least for a while, enjoy the chance to be looked up to as  an ‘expert’ and receive the appreciation they believe they deserve.   Perhaps as a Relate counsellor your mother-in-law can  provide some help and support to others even if she is doesn’t use the same advice for herself. Unfortunately there are also some controlling and bullying individuals who  work in these fields.

You quote your father-in-law saying: ‘You know what she is like’ , probably because he accepts she is not going to change. Among the options to consider is  testing the water by stepping back and seeing her less often and for shorter periods.  

Luckily you have your own loving and warm family and a supportive husband which are invaluable in situations like yours. Remember too that however cold your mother-in-law is to you, your husband has had to cope with her behaviour all his life and the impact may be worse for him.  So try to be objective as possible, don’t take it personally and relish your wonderful family.