All Things In-Law...

Dr. Deanna Brann's Blog

Setting a boundary for your child is one thing, but setting a boundary for your mother-in-law? Yikes! When I talk with women on the phone about having to set boundaries I can almost feel them cringe. It doesn’t seem right to have to set boundaries with an adult. Adults are supposed to know the basic rules and social norms. Most do, but unfortunately there are some adults who either don’t know the rules and norms or, as is the case most of the time, choose to ignore them. And these particular adults have learned that if they ignore what most of us hold sacred – the basic rules and social norms that we live by – they will get their way 98% of the time.

The reason this type of person – specifically this type of mother-in-law  – is able to get her way so often is that most of us feel awkward setting boundaries for an adult. We are either caught off guard (or in shock) by her actions, or so uncomfortable with how to handle the situation at that moment that we tend to ignore her inappropriate behavior, hoping it was a fluke or just a misstep on her part. Or worse yet, we just don’t want to deal with it because we feel if we do we will make the situation worse. We also tend to feel that if we set boundaries we will come across as mean, callous, or heaven forbid, rude.

But setting a boundary is exactly what is needed to get your Off-the-Wall-Wanda mother-in-law to stop behaving the way she does. As I talk about in my book, this type of person is not someone you can reason with or expect to understand your position. She really doesn’t care about your position. She wants what she wants – at all cost, and she’s used to getting it.

Setting Boundaries – Food for Thought

Setting a boundary is easier than you think – especially if you put it into perspective. If you are in the position where you have to do this, then here are some things to keep in mind.

  • Remember with whom you are dealing – Your mother-in-law is an Off-the-Wall Wanda. She does not want to understand your position. She does not want the reasoning behind why you are asking her to do something different from what she wants to do.
  • When you set boundaries/consequences make sure you do it in a kind, nonthreatening way. When you do this you take the focus off of you and how you said it. Instead, you keep the focus on what you want the focus on – the boundary and consequences. You can also then know you did it the best way possible, and you have nothing to apologize for (because your mother-in-law will likely try to look like a victim at this point and you want to be sure you don’t give her valid reason for doing so).
  • Setting a boundary is not enough. You have to follow through with the consequences if she does not abide by your boundary.
  • You have to set and follow through with your consequences each and every time. Consistency is critical to the success of your mother-in-law doing what you ask.

With these tips you no longer have to feel it is impossible to have a relationship with your mother-in- law. You are well on your way to creating a relationship with her – in spite of the fact that she is an Off-the-Wall-Wanda.

If you would like some help learning how to set effective boundaries and consequences so that you can get the results you want and feel guilt-free, please email me –

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