"If you think business and manners don’t mix, try talking with your mouth full.” - Diane Gottsman, Modern Manners & Etiquette Expert, Author, Media Resource

Mother-In-Law Dilemma

June 30th, 2017 by

Dear Diane,

My mother-in-law is recently divorced. She’s been spending a great deal of her free time going out with new friends from her meet-up groups. I’m happy she’s happy, but my husband feels as if his mother has forgotten all about her grandchildren and us. He wants to confront the situation and ask her to redirect her time. I understand both sides but hate being caught in the middle.

What’s the thing to do? Please help!


Family Etiquette

Dear Jamie,

Your family dynamic is not uncommon as the divorce rate continues to rise for baby boomers. The Pew Research Center shows the divorce rate for people over 50 has doubled since the 1990s. Your mother-in-law has found herself in a new life situation and is likely grappling with a new set of circumstances and routine. Your husband may have a certain definition of how his mom should behave, and it may or may not be the same as hers.

Today’s grandmother is different than in years past. She can be loving and maternal but still has a vibrant and successful life. She often works in a dynamic environment and has to still juggle multiple personal and professional duties. Your husband wants his “mom back” and his feelings are understandable. However, you both can take steps to keep your mother in law close and close at heart.

Here are few ideas when it comes to negotiating how to interact with your mother-in-law’s changing lifestyle.

Talk It Out

Let your mother-in-law know you miss her and would like to see her more often. Do not, however, expect her to be a built in babysitter. Both you and your husband should respect her freedom. You did not mention it, but I wonder if your husband is upset she is not as readily available to take care of the children as she might have been before? I suggest you both take a hard look at the reason you and your husband are struggling. You may find it is for (unintentional) selfish reasons.

Schedule in Advance

Be respectful of your mother-in-law’s time. Ask her a week in advance if there is a good night for her to come over for dinner. You can’t expect her to sit at home waiting for someone to pop in for a visit or her phone to ring. Get on her schedule and establish a weekly routine. I’m sure your mother in law would love to see you and the kids. Plan an outing or a weekend at the beach. Stay respectful of your mother in law’s finances. If she has to keep a tight eye on her budget, be ready to cover the cost of the excursion.

Be Open to Change

You mother-in-law is carving out a new life. She is meeting new people at yoga, networking events and through her friends. Life requires adjustment and there is room for everyone with proper planning. If she has taken up a new hobby, ask if you and you’re your husband (and the kids) might be included. Take a cooking class with her or join her on a hike. It’s a great way to connect and get to know her better as she continues to evolve.

Divorce is often difficult, especially as people adjust to the changes with their kids. Reach out to your mother-in-law and understand when she does not always accept your invitation. Show her grace and jump out of “the middle.” She’s in an important life transition, and your support and love will go far in keeping your relationship healthy in the future. Support your husband but let him know he needs to give your mom-in-law a little space to grow her new life.

Best of luck,

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