Dear Emuna

My mother-in-law isn’t very nice to me. She is constantly criticizing me to my face and to my husband. In fact she isn’t very nice to him either and does the same with respect to her son; her only one I might add. It’s very frustrating and painful to both of us and sometimes we let her know how we feel. She gets angry and doesn’t speak to us for a few days and then resumes the conversation (usually via text) as if nothing has happened. I really want her to acknowledge her mistakes and apologize. Otherwise I find it difficult to have any kind of relationship with her or to bring my children over to visit. What do you think I should do?

So Frustrated

Dear So Frustrated,

While I completely empathize with your situation, your options are, unfortunately, limited. As I mention to almost everyone who writes to me and most particularly to those involved in the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law dance, don’t expect the other person to change. Chances are she won’t.

She’ll continue to criticize, she’ll continue to be (mostly) oblivious, she’ll continue to text as if nothing happened and she’ll expect her grandchildren to come visit. So your choices are pretty simple – the high road or the low.

The low involves limiting contact which will certainly be painful to her but will also most likely be painful to your husband as well. Even though he is also the subject of her criticism, he remains her son and doesn’t want to lose the relationship. If you push him to break off or severely limit contact with his mother, he may come to resent you – the worst possible outcome. Additionally you probably don’t actually want to deprive your children of the opportunity to have a relationship with their grandmother. With all her faults (and don’t we all have some?) I’m guessing she spares them criticism and showers them with love and attention.

And of course, if you take the low road, ultimately you will be frustrated with yourself for not lifting up and choosing better. So I suggest taking the high road. You can end conversations as soon as she starts criticizing (for some people being critical is like a nervous tic; they can’t seem to stop themselves!). But afterwards you can also behave as if nothing happened.

As cruel as she may be, don’t take it too seriously. It’s clear from her repeated contact and desire to see you that she doesn’t take it very seriously herself. Be kind and considerate and give her time with her grandchildren, time that they will both enjoy and benefit from (and maybe even time when you will get a break!).

I always quote Rabbi Dessler to my students (and myself!): We have the choice in life to be either a giver or a taker. If we choose to be a giver we may not always get back in kind, but we will always be proud of ourselves and our actions and the person we have become. The same choice is available to you here.

Unreciprocated Kindness

Dear Emuna,

It’s been a long summer. During those few weeks between camp ending and school beginning, I was busy entertaining my kids. To help me with my children I frequently brought a friend along. It was actually much easier and usually kept my child more entertained and better behaved. My challenge is (among others) that I brought one friend along repeatedly and this mother never reciprocated. I know they took trips also and I’m feeling a little frustrated and resentful that it was all one-sided. Any advice?

Annoyed Mom

Dear Annoyed,

Don’t be. You didn’t do this act of kindness to help the other mother; you did it to help you and your son. And your goal was accomplished. So you have nothing to resent.

It would be nice if she expressed appreciation (maybe she did, you don’t mention it) and even nicer if she reciprocated, but again that wasn’t the goal.

Like the previous writer, you are making a choice to be a giver. Don’t spoil the pleasurable memories of the trips with your family and your giving character by allowing yourself to drift into needless resentment. You enjoyed your trips, your kids enjoyed their trips and that’s all that really counts.

Take pleasure in being the great mom that you are who spent her summer days with her children – and even let them bring a friend along!