Worn Down

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Over the years I have learned to get on well with my mother-in- law.

She likes to fight but she likes to know we can make up. Initially that

went against my upbringing where we never fell out and any cross

word meant falling out forever. But my mother-in- law still criticizes

me, belittles, resists praising and generally refuses to acknowledge

any good points that I have. It wears me down. I had a huge

confidence dip a few years ago because I never had this treatment

from someone close before. How do I deal with it without nagging my

husband who never defends me? My confidence has grown a bit, but I

still feel like total loser with her.

Worn Down


Dear Worn Down:

I’m as worried about why your husband is so absent as an ally as I am

by a nagging mother-in- law. There’s some subliminal chance that he’s

feeding her the litany of complains that he’s too scared to talk to you

about directly. And if not, he should be standing up for you with her,

either to her face with you there or one-on- one. Filial piety has its

place but so does good partnering.


But in the absence of his intervention or support, you’re going to have

to shift the paradigm or live with it forever. Start by making a list of

what she harps on the most (cooking, house, kids, whatever) plus

your equivalent values. Ask yourself, are you willing to change at all,

or do you just want her to zip it up? If the former, the next time she

says something, say, You know, I’m working on that, but every time

you bring it up, it brings out the rebel in me, so if you really want to

help me change, please stop pointing out my flaws.


If you just want her to stop criticizing, you need to sit her down firmly, one on one,

and be honest, treating her as the equal you want her to see you as.

That goes something like: I’ve put up with your nagging and criticizing

for ___ years. It’s time to change how we do this. Do you want to

fight, back off, or accept that we’re different? It’s making me not like

you anymore. That may take a shot of caffeine, chocolate, or brandy

to spit out, but my guess is that she’ll back off, at least a little. All

said, people like her rarely give up a hobby they like so well, so you

may need to grow a deaf ear.