Resenting My Mother-in-Law — Even More Than Usual

How mom’s death complicated one reader’s relationship with her husband’s mother. Our advice guru explains how to keep the peace.

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My mom died three years ago, when I was 27, from breast cancer. We were extremely close. Last year I married a guy I’d started dating when she was sick. His dad is fantastic but his mother has a very strong personality and specific preferences. I find myself becoming increasingly pissed off that she’s my only living “mother” figure and resentful to spend holidays (including Mother’s Day) with her, not to mention a few dinners each month. My husband is generally aware of my feelings but doesn’t want to get in the middle, which makes me resent him. How can this play out with everyone being happy in the long run?


A still from the 2005 film “Monster-in-Law”

This is hard, but let’s try to give everyone a break all around (yes, mothers-in-law included, because this really isn’t about her at all). Your mother is gone, too soon, and she was irreplaceable and that absolutely sucks. It is understandable that you are angry. But, as it turns out, your mother-in-law is only your only “mother” figure if you let her be.

What you need to do is to find other mother figures. Lots of them. It is a big job, and even if your mother-in-law and a bunch of other people were attempting it, they still wouldn’t add up to your mother. That’s just the way it is. Start by getting a tiny bit from your neighbor and aunt,and co-worker (or fill in the blanks with other people you care about). After you get a little from these people (or people like them), you might realize a person doesn’t even need to be a mom, or even a woman, to provide some mothering, so you can get it from unlikely sources like baristas or brothers-in-law or whoever else you encounter regularly.

Once you build up a network of people to support you in the ways you need, you’ll realize that from here on out you kind of have to be your own mother. (Which is both sad and ok and undoubtedly what your mom would want you to be able to do).

Ultimately, perhaps you’ll even be able to appreciate how mothers-in-law with strong personalities and specific preferences are good role models in their own way (or, at the least, provide you with opportunities to care for yourself). Really, what could be nicer for a mom on Mother’s Day than brunch alone with her child? This is what all reasonable people believe. Send a beautiful card that says, “Thank you for raising such a good man,” then go get your nails done and watch a movie while they eat frittatas.

Finally, since you’re the one who mentioned the long run, I will just say flat out that if you plan on having kids, make a downright heroic effort to work this stuff out in advance. Because if you thought you were pissed when she was your only mother figure, you don’t want to find out how pissed you’re likely to be when she’s your kids’ only grandma. And that’s not fair or good for any of you.

Meg Tansey hails from New England, where talking about your feelings is frowned upon. She has lots of life experience but is not an actual therapist. Meg has a MFA from The New School and currently lives and writes in New York City. Send Meg your questions at (subject: Ask ML).

Please note: Questions may be edited for length or clarity. Modern Loss is not a therapeutic adviser; this category should only be used as a guide. Users should verify the veracity and appropriateness of the information posted on the site with his or her own therapeutic adviser. 

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