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How to Handle a Pushy Mother-In-Law without Starting WW3

Susanna Sisson's picture
Birthday Princess Happy Birthday to ME

You’ve probably heard the expression “pick your battles” so, how do you handle a pushy mother-in-law without starting WW3, especially if you feel you’re right and don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings but are tired of her trying to take over?


I recently heard a young woman lament that it was going to be her daughter’s first birthday and her mother-in-law wanted the other children to get presents and the traditional first birthday ‘smash cake’ too, even though it was not their birthday. Her rationale was so they wouldn’t feel left out or be upset over a one-year-old baby getting attention.

Well I think that really says it all.

It may sound like a minor thing but turning one happens only once in a lifetime and it’s a milestone. Turning one used to be a huge thing because many kids died before they reached their first birthday.

So, I don’t think it’s too much to ask for that day to be special for the child whose birthday is being celebrated.

Children are egocentric but they can understand it's not always supposed to be about them and they can be taught respect even at a very young age. If you don't begin early taking these opportunities to teach life lessons you are either going to create selfish children or set a precedent that every other special occasion means they have to be part of the limelight or get presents. Either way you're doing a disservice to the children. Chances are since the mother-in-law already anticipates a problem she's behaved this way in the past and had used bribery to pacify a tantrum. Better to be honest and take the opportunity as a teaching lesson.

Daughter and mother-in-law relationships are often adversarial. The mother-in-law is probably used to making decisions regarding her son or at least having influence and often feels it is still her right even after her son is married.

Daughter-in-laws and sometimes sons don’t want to rock the boat and would rather just try to keep the peace, but there comes a time and place when a gentle reminder is appropriate.

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Voicing a preference can be an assertive action rather than an aggressive or passive-aggressive one. Take the high road.

In the case of the young mom trying to throw a special party for her one-year-old’s birthday this suggestion is worth a try.

Deliver the message with love (even if you’re not feeling it) at the moment. Try to muster a little ‘feel good’ emotion and keep the focus simple then say, "I understand that it would be cute for the kids to all smash the cakes, but this is a special birthday celebration, and I would prefer for there to be only one smash cake. Thanks for understanding."

Now you've turned the tables and done it nicely.

You can’t really control any other action such as her giving the other children presents rather than teaching them how to focus on someone else without having a meltdown or having to get presents to avoid a selfish display, but you can ask that the attention for the day be on your child. As a grandmother she should understand even if she’s used to running the show.

As to presents most people have party favors so you can give small items such as hats or noisemakers without taking the focus away from the birthday girl or boy.

If the mother-in-law still doesn’t get it after you've done everything you can and you are feeling magnanimous, suggest perhaps having cupcakes for the girls to take home and smash at grandma’s house and be sure when you make that suggestion you do it with love and a HUGE smile! Then hand the cupcakes in little boxes to the kids and say, "have fun smashing these at grandma's!"

I think your mother-in-law will get the point.