Ask Kari: How should I handle my selfish mother-in-law?

Dear Kari,

I need help handling my selfish mother-in-law. She is the kind of woman who takes the air out of the room. I have tried to build a relationship with her with no success. All she seems to care about is herself and her son (my husband). I can’t even get her to take an interest in her grandchildren, my sons. At this point I no longer even want to be around her, which is causing strife between my husband and me. I am at a loss as to what to do. Help!

--Fed Up

Dear Fed Up,

It sounds like you have tried to connect with your mother-in-law with no success. Narcissistic personalities like the one you describe as your mother-in-law are very hard to deal with as almost all actions and conversations revert back to them, the needy, self-focused person. Best recommendation is to establish good boundaries of what you can accept and what is your deal breaker. An example would be agreeing to see her for the holidays, but drawing a line at her insulting your children or demanding you go to her home at a certain day/time. Showing some flexibility with her, such as keeping in touch with her even though you would prefer not to, should show your husband that you are willing to compromise to keep peace in the family. Then it will be up to him to show you the same amount of flexibility and help keep up those boundaries with his mother out of respect for you and his children.


As published in the April 2015 issue of Connections.

About Kari:

Kari O’Neill, MSW, LICSW, is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker and the owner and Clinical Director of Issaquah Highlands Counseling Group (IHCG), which is now Kari O’Neill Counseling.

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