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Mom-Zillas - By Chris Gearing

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Watch Dr. Sylvia Gearing discuss "Mom-Zillas" on CBS 11 by clicking here.

The Mother in Law Wars and What to Do About Them

There seems to be a new term in the wedding world—“Mom-Zilla.” Last week, a 29-year-old British bride- to-be received a scathing email from her prospective mother in law. The email criticized her table manners, sleeping habits and even her parents’ financial status. Someone popped the email on the Internet and the story has stirred a controversy on both sides of the Atlantic.

So, what's up with a mother in law who would attack like this?

Narcissistic Mother in Law: Obviously, this woman is emotionally challenged and behaved ridiculously. All emotional attacks seem logical when we dream them up. She felt entitled to speak her mind without regard to the effect it would have, which was incredibly short sighted.

Right Back at You: In this case, as in so many, the contempt toward this young bride has now boomeranged around and become an emotional grenade in this family. Somewhere along the way, this woman convinced herself that she was perfectly justified in reprimanding the young bride to be. She couldn’t have been more foolish.

Where are Her Good Manners?: Anything that she had to say could have been said with class and good humor, if she had a right to say it at all. However, the cardinal rule of in-laws needs to always be, “less is more.” The less you say, the more peace in the family.

Here's why this story created such a media sensation:

What woman cannot identify with the bride’s position? Most women who marry must navigate the politics of a new family and the mother in law is central in making us feel either welcome or rejected. If your mother in law doesn’t like you, you will feel it either directly as in this case or indirectly when you are excluded or ignored by the female family coalition. The story really struck a chord with two camps—those of us who have suffered from Mom-Zillas rampaging through our lives and people who resonated with the mother in law’s right to criticize.

Can this young woman ever reconcile with her mother in law after this attack?

Never say never but good money wouldn’t bet on it. The mother in law acted savagely and she hasn’t shown one moment of regret. She has vowed to attend the wedding in “dignified silence.” The bottom line is that if she did it once, she’ll do it again. The real tragedy is that the couple now has a huge emotional explosion to deal with—an issue that would tax even veteran couples. How the groom responds will be central to whether they actually marry and stay married happily.

So, why are mother in law issues so hard for young couples? Usually because the son refuses to say anything. There are a couple of reasons why:

Mom is Right: Research shows that men are often reluctant to “buck” their mothers even if their wife demands it. They see the wife as stronger and younger and the one who must make concessions to the older woman.

Empathy is Needed: Men have more difficulty talking about emotional matters than women. We initiate eighty five percent of relationship- focused conversations. A man becomes overwhelmed by conflict faster and he shuts down to prevent his discomfort from rising. When there’s a problem between the women in his life, he wants to escape into silence.

Closed to Reassessment: Many men refuse to look at things from their wives’ perspective. “She didn’t mean it like that” or “you’re too sensitive” are common excuses. Sometimes mother in laws do mean exactly what their daughter in law thinks they mean. On the other hand, some women can be oversensitive and inaccurate in how they’re interpreting their mother in law. Their husband needs to at least hear her out and help her reach a solution in her own mind.

Here's how mothers-in-law and their daughters-in-law can get along better today:

For Mothers-In-Law:

As I said earlier, “less is more.” Young brides are notoriously insecure and uncertain so anything and everything you say and do, good and bad, will be amplified.

Respect her relationship with your son but also request in a cordial way that your son includes you in his new family.

Don’t criticize her even if you disagree with her

Don’t criticize your grandchildren to her

Please do not compete with her mother

Keep your boundaries and focus on your special place as your son’s mother and the grandmother.

For Daughters-in-law:

Your mother in law is your husband’s mother and holds a sacred place forever in his life. Do not deliberately exclude her and become Wife-Zilla.

Hold your boundaries with grace. Please try to diffuse conflict by being overly gracious.

Lose that idealism about how things should be and focus on making things better as they are.

Most of the time, if you take the high road, he’ll figure out what his mother is up to.

Remember that you will be a mother in law someday and that you are teaching your children how to navigate differences in a family. Be kind because we always reap what we sow!


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