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How to Communicate with Distant and Uncommunicative In-Laws

By Pamela Reynolds October 27, 2022 Family

There are many reasons why a mother- and a daughter-in-law are quiet or reserved around each other. At times, people overstep the boundaries others have set up for them. That causes one party to be angry with the other.

The resentment occurs when we believe someone has unrightfully entered our space and we want justice. Sometimes that can mean atonement.

None of us think about the times when we tread on others, but if it happens to us it becomes a different and powerful story. It can lead one down the path of unreasonable behavior and sometimes revenge.

When Mothers-In-Law Say Too Much

Have you ever gone to a party and spoken your mind? Did you later regret some of what you said? The words that mothers-in-law use are sometimes loaded with an instructive, controlling tone.

They don’t mean to sound this way, but mothers have been teaching their offspring for so many years that it is difficult to stop all the advice at once. Yet, stopping is what must be done if one is to keep peace and allow their son to be liberated.

Daughters-in-law resent most – or all – unwanted advice and don’t want to be told they are wrong. In all actuality, nobody likes to be told they are wrong.

As hard as it is, the mother-in-law must learn to let her adult children make their own way, even if to her it is plain clear that they are making mistakes.

We can’t keep our adult children from each and every mistake no matter how hard we try. It is important, therefore, to let go and allow them to live their life the way they choose. Nothing will irritate a daughter-in-law more than interfering with her and her husband’s business.

Mothers-In-Law Can Say Too Little

There is the other extreme for mothers-in-law – to say too little. This happens when a mother-in-law is hurt with all the insults that result from her mild, or not so mild, interference.

As a result, she is wounded and reacts by staying outside of the normal conversation people are having. This only upsets her son and his wife even more. They take her behavior as a strategy to place them on the defensive. It’s universally true, however, that nobody wants to defend their actions or words.

We may not notice that we are building borders around ourselves and hiding behind a tall wall of good intentions. In the meantime, our son and his wife are constructing their own fences and keeping us out.

Is that what we really want? Saying too much does cause issues, but saying too little makes people assume you are thinking the worst. After all, neither of these scenarios counts as cooperating with your in-law.

Being a Martyr Doesn’t Work

As an extreme strategy, many mothers- and daughters-in-law become the martyr and assume they will gain attention. There is no positive outcome to be found, however. Everyone sees through the acting, and they resent the attempt to garner support in such a manner.

The bond in an in-law relationship is found at a place in the middle, where both parties need to meet. Unfortunately, that is the hardest area for us to visit because it’s important for us to think that everything we say and do is always correct.

Our perception of our own rightfulness might be rooted in childhood when we were often told that we were wrong. Or it could be based on being told we’re right even when wrong. Yet at the end of the day, neither makes any difference.

As we grow into adulthood, we discover that throughout any given day we are wrong and right many times. Who cares how many times we were wrong? That is the question we should ask.

Atonement Can Equate to Punishment

The trouble appears when a mother- or daughter-in-law is punished for speaking too much or too little. Once we have offended an in-law, we must pick up the pieces of the relationship and try to put it back together. If we refuse to forgive or apologize, we only add to the pain that has already been experienced.

I have often heard people say, “I know I am not always right but…” If we truly believe that is true, then we can all agree that we do make mistakes and require forgiveness.

Likewise, there are times when each of us has been correct, and that leaves us with the job of offering forgiveness to someone else. If we want forgiveness, we ought to be willing to offer it to others.

Making a mother-in-law or daughter-in-law pay over and over for something she did can add to our own baggage and leave us exhausted in the end. It is far better to dump the anger, anxiety and bad feelings. Nobody wants to carry that baggage around.

Mistakes Grant Us the Opportunity to Learn

We learn the most when making mistakes. The next step is to choose to walk a different road when again confronted with the same problem.

The desire to say or do something when you are not asked to contribute is a lesson better learned early. It gets easier every time you are successful at maintaining neutrality. Even if you slip up, it is better to just acknowledge it and walk away before saying anything else.

You don’t have to be angry with yourself. After so many years of teaching – because you are a parent – it is not easy to let go of your instinct to give advice. It is still relevant that you keep trying until you succeed.

Courage and Compromise Allow Us to Make Peace

It takes honesty and courage to see and accept our errors. It takes compromise from both sides to make amends and bring about peace. When countries make peace, they gain and lose, but the powerful result is worthwhile to all because they have gained harmony.

Likewise, none of us can make our mother- or daughter-in-law disappear, nor would we want our son or husband to suffer the pain if we could.

What we can do is gather our courage and work on a solution that leads to peace for everyone. If we expect our world, country, city or community to find peace, then we must begin within our homes and, especially, within ourselves.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

How do you keep the communication positive and open with your in-laws? What are the most difficult conversations you have had with them? Please share your experiences below!

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Sarah Hendricks

This isn’t about a mother-in-law, but is about my nephew’s wife. She fills my email box with forwarded cartoons political commentary, copies of things she received from her friends, etc with filthy language on them. I really don’t want to receive this type of email, but I open them because sometimes she does post something about her family and since they live a long way away from me, it is nice to hear about their lives and their children’s lives. Just yesterday, I got a forward from her whidh the “f” word liberally. I sent her a return email and asked as politely as I knew how for her to take my name off her list of people she sent forwards to. I told her I enjoyed hearing about their family, their jobs, their vacations, etc. but prefer not to receive forwards of this kind. She responded that I could block her if I didn’t like her vocabulary, but that cursing was commonplace in her vocabulary and she was NOT about to change how she speaks just for me. And, now I am “the bad guy” for trying to “correct” her.

Is there a proper way to inform the younger generation that ‘m not of the generation who enjoys crude language, sexual commentary or unwelcomed political opinions? .


You tried, politely. I might have asked her not to forward because your inbox is overwhelmed rather than citing her bad language, so she wouldn’t feel judged. Because she is just your nephew’s wife you could take up her offer to block her, or just delete all those forwarded messages, if you prefer.


I live a min. of 1000 miles from all of my in-laws. I find that simple birthday and anniversary cards, as well as Christmas cards w/ a brief personal note helps a lot to keep communication flowing. Also, if you hear of any illness, a get well card.

The Author

Pamela Reynolds is a Connecticut-certified teacher in elementary and Special Education. She taught for over 20 years in public and private schools and is now retired. The author of The Princess and the Queen, Pamela also writes about relationships on her website She is married and has four children, three daughters-in-law, one son-in-law and nine grandchildren.

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