All Things In-Law...

Dr. Deanna Brann's Blog

Last blog post I wrote about daughters-in-law who bully their mothers-in-law. This week I am writing about the reverse – mothers-in-law who bully their daughters-in-law. It’s interesting how different bullying can look when it is displayed by different groups of people. Due to the different roles a mother-in-law has in the family vs. a daughter-in-law, the way they bully is also different, which means how one deals with the bully is different too.

Mothers-in-law bully by:

  • Refusing to abide by the rules or boundaries set by her daughter-in-law. This can be either consciously or unconsciously on the MIL’s part. She may flat out say, “I’m not doing that,” or “Why should I have to do that, I’m the grandmother?” She may also be so focused on getting her own needs met that she doesn’t believe the rule or boundary applies to her because, after all, she’s always gotten her way.
  • Using manipulative behaviors, often inducing guilt in the other person. She will cry, pout, become angry, or whatever it takes to get her DIL to back down. Her goal is to get what she wants – at all costs. She does not think (nor care) how her actions affect anyone else as long as she gets what she wants. She knows that she can get her way if she can get the other person to feel bad or overpowered by guilt.
  • Wearing you down. She will attempt to get you in a discussion because she knows that if she can get you to discuss whatever it is she doesn’t like, she can wear you down into eventually letting her have her way. She is extremely skilled at this type of behavior.
  • Saying mean and hurtful things. She often will do this under the guise of “I’m just being honest” or “I was just joking,” but in reality it is a way to erode the DIL’s confidence and self-esteem. By saying insensitive things she is able to stop someone in their tracks, making it difficult for them to say what they really want to say out of fear of being verbally attacked. Most people in these situations back down, give in, and remain passive.

Why Do MILs Bully?

A Mother-in-law who bullies believes she has rights and privileges because she is a mother. And, in her eyes, her daughter-in-law, who is married to the MIL’s son, is viewed to fit in that same category – a daughter like figure, not an adult woman in her own right. This type of MIL believes her position in the family, which includes her daughter-in-law, puts her above anyone else. She is also used to getting her way from everyone around her. These two elements – her sense of entitlement and getting her own way – make her an extremely difficult woman.

What Can a DIL do?

As when a DIL bullies, the MIL’s bullying behavior involves the whole family. Although most of the people in the immediate family – husband, sons, and daughters – are used to her antics, a DIL is often coming into this family completely unaware of how to deal with someone like this. It can be overwhelming to say the least. The family of origin has learned to give in to her so as to avoid her escalating behavior or they avoid her as much as possible. Neither of these choices is optimal because the message the bully gets is her actions are OK.

A DIL can:

  • Recognize the behaviors of her MIL as bullying behavior – ignoring rules and boundaries, manipulative, verbally aggressive.
  • Set firm boundaries with consequences. Let her know the boundary and what will happen if she chooses to ignore it in advance. This allows her to know what will happen and gives her the ability to choose her action, not just react.
  • Follow through with the boundary/consequence each and every time.
  • Do not discuss, explain, or justify your boundary or consequence. It is a statement and not anything that is up for debate.

Keep in mind your goal is to get her to change her behavior. It is not to get her to understand. Understanding would be nice, but it is not necessary. And in this case it is not possible. She has no vested interest in understanding why you want her to do something if it is not something she wants to do.

If you would like some help with your specific situation please email me to set up a consultation –

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