Social Question

ZEPHYRA's avatar

Why is the "mother-in-law" one of the most dreaded figures in many communities?

Asked by ZEPHYRA (21515points) April 5th, 2010

What makes this family member oft hated, feared and mocked?
Is it overreaction? Tradition? Fear of the iron lady?

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26 Answers

davidbetterman's avatar

There is a Jane Fonda movie called “Monster-In-Law” that explains this perfectly…

Judi's avatar

She’s so stinkin’ controlling!

slick44's avatar

Because the mother in law is all powerfull. Or maybe just kinda scary. I guess maybe we feel we cant live up to her expectations.

crystalvegan's avatar

Because the Mother-In-Law isn’t always satisfied with their Daughter/Son-In-Laws. And they can make your life very very bad, or very very good. They still hold some control over their child, and they can be very protective. I lucked out. So did my husband. We have great in-laws…..but I’ve heard some horror stories for sure.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

Mothers-in-law have expectations over things they don’t control and aren’t always interested in how couples want to learn to communicate together and how they decide to act out once a team.

dalepetrie's avatar

You know, I’ve never had a mother in law, my wife’s mom passed away before we met, but my wife does dislike my mother. And it seems to me that it’s not overreaction, fear or tradition, but I think there is this part of the maternal instinct that a lot of women simply can’t let go, and they tend to judge the spouses of their children far more harshly than is deserved. Whereas with most people, you tend to encounter, they seem to give you the benefit of the doubt, but there almost seems to be a presumption of guilt that the MIL projects on her child’s spouse. I think also with age comes the presumption that you know better than the younger folks, especially your kids and their contemporaries.

So, I think what happens is a mother truly cares for her child and wants what’s best for that child, and becomes hyper sensitive (so I guess in that way it’s an overreaction on the part of the MIL, not the spouse) to anything they see as an affront to their child. You’re 27 and haven’t given her grandchildren yet…must be your spouse’s fault because your kid can do no wrong. You’re having difficulty making ends meet, well your kid would never waste money, must be the spouse frittering away their hard earned cash. Spouse stays at home to raise the kids….mom didn’t have THAT luxury, and why then if you’re not even working is your house not as clean as mine?

I think the mom’s natural instinct is to make assumptions about their kids’ lives and try to help out and jump in to fix things wherever they can, because a) it’s part of maternal instinct, and b) they did it for 18+ years when you were growing up. But mom is not completely ready to let go of the reigns, and doesn’t quite conceptualize that the vast majority of what goes on in her kids’ lives is none of her business and she will never know about it. She assumes her kids are going to keep in touch with her, let her into their lives at least to the same degree they’d let any stranger in. So, there’s this added element of jealousy and resentment towards the spouse for having usurped her role. And that resentment leads to the presumption that this person has ill intent to your child or is in some way harmful.

The mother is conflicted however as she wants to be supportive of her child, so she tries to accept the spouse, but her anger is steeped below the surface and comes out in passive agressive ways…little digs that perhaps she didn’t mean to say just to be mean, but things she was thinking which came from a place of negativity which she just had to get out, perhaps for her own sanity.

I’ve seen this with my wife and my mother, and it seems universal with our friends as well, everyone seems to complain about their mothers in law, and it’s generally coming down to the fact that she has butted in to things that aren’t her business, insulted the spouse and came off as highly judgmental about things that aren’t any of her damn business in the first place. That of course makes the spouse resent the mother in law even more, and the spouse’s hostility also lurks beneath the surface, which leads the spouse to perhaps try to find biting, passive agressive ways to communicate their anger while still keeping the peace. Neither party fully actualizes that they both want the same thing, yet they both work towards achieving family harmony, but each one sees his/her efforts undermined at every turn. And it’s hard to assume the best intentions on the part of someone who is always judgmental towards you.

That’s what I think, anyway.

Scooby's avatar

Sorry I had to paste this!! :-/

A woman stopped by unannounced at her recently married son’s house. She rang the doorbell and walked in. She was shocked to see her daughter-in-law lying on the couch, totally naked. Soft music was playing; and the aroma of perfume filled the room. “What are you doing?” she asked. “I’m waiting for my husband to come home from work,” the daughter-in-law answered. “But you’re naked!” the mother-in-law exclaimed. “This is my love dress,” the daughter-in-law explained. “Love dress? But you’re naked!” ” My husband loves me to wear this dress,” she explained. “It excites him to no end. Every time he sees me in this dress, he instantly becomes romantic and ravages me for hours on end. He can’t get enough of me.” The mother-in-law left. When she got home, she undressed, showered, put on her best perfume, dimmed the lights, put on a romantic CD, and laid on the couch waiting for her husband to arrive. Finally, her husband came home. He walked in and saw her laying there so provocatively. “What are you doing?” he asked. “This is my love dress,” she whispered, sensually. “Needs ironing,” he said.

lunabean's avatar

the mother in law is first to judge and instantly hates who her child is with. at least from my experience…

marinelife's avatar

I don’t think that the mother-in-law is a dread figure in most communities. I think that’s an exaggeration.

It depends on the women. I know some daughters-in-law who love their mother-in-law like their own (or better than their own) mothers.

lonelydragon's avatar

I wouldn’t say the MIL is a dreaded figure in the community, but she may be a dreaded figure in her family. The reason? Because many MIL’s try to control their children (i.e. pressuring them to live nearby, etc.) long after said children have left the nest. All this interference can be stressful, especially for the unlucky DIL/SIL.

ZEPHYRA's avatar

@marinelife , yes that is so true, though unfortunately such cases are few and far between.

ZEPHYRA's avatar

@Dark Scribe, I am waiting for your answer with bated breath!

DarkScribe's avatar

I don’t know of any who would be regarded as “dreaded” but many are disliked, mostly because of their inability to let go of control and continual insistence on causing interference between a husband and wife. I drive mine to distraction – she rapidly gave up trying to control me in any direct fashion, but she still tries sneaky stuff. None of it ever works but it doesn’t slow her down. We exist in a state of not quite open warfare. She was a bitch before her mother-in-law status and she hasn’t changed. She drove my father-in-law (a really nice guy but now passed away) to drink. At least that’s what she thought, he was actually socialising with real people while she thought that he was in the pub until closing every night. She didn’t wonder about why he never came home drunk.

ZEPHYRA's avatar

@DarkScribe , good for you, she finally realized she can’t have her way with you! Too bad her husband couldn’t do the same, or should I say he is “lucky” to have gotten away from her!

tranquilsea's avatar

I thought people over exaggerated the stories of MILs gone bad. But holy hannah! We live 1000 km away from my MIL because she has massive control issues. She wanted to pick who her son was going to marry and was pissed off that he chose me. She has tried to break us up more times than I can count. But she got really low when she tried to turn my kids against me. We hardly talk to her now.

She is really mad that we are still together 17 years later.

My hubby loved my mom. Even called her “Mom” which drove his mom nuts.

janbb's avatar

It’s a tightrope to walk but it can be navigated successfully. I don’t think I’m a dreaded figure in (any) community.

thriftymaid's avatar

Because mothers rarely think their children’s choice of spouse is good enough. Some adult children allow their mother to be a negative force in their relationships. Mothers-in-law only have as much power as the adult child gives them.

Exhausted's avatar

The old saying goes “A son is a son till he takes a wife and daughter’s a daughter for the rest of her life”. That would explain the problems from both perspectives. A man is not going to appreciate the perceived intrusive connection of his wife’s mother due to the close relationship between her and her daughter. A woman may not appreciate her mother-in-law’s struggles to maintain a relationship with a son who has acquired a new family.

lonelydragon's avatar

@Exhausted I’ve heard that saying many times, and sometimes it holds true, but not always. There are sons who remain close (sometimes too close) to mom after marriage. Also, you make a good point about women not appreciating the MIL’s wish to maintain a relationship with her son. Again, the problem cuts both ways. Sometimes the MIL doesn’t appreciate that her DIL would like a little personal space to cultivate a good relationship with her new husband.

wundayatta's avatar

I think that if you don’t like your spouse’s family, it can be easy to blame your mother-in-law because she is often the one who organizes gatherings of your spouse’s family. Mother-in-laws also can be annoying in their own right, especially if they act as if they have more say in your life than you think they have. Perhaps it is easier for this kind of uncomfortable relationship to occur between couples and mother-in-laws since mothers are often used to interfering in their children’s lives.


Because many women in general are critical by nature——you see this with the nagging wife, the annoying mother-in-law, etc. And their “verbosity” doesn’t help either. In general, many women are more talkative than men are (they are better talkers than men), and that often gets them negatively labelled and for good reason. One just has to read the works of August Strindberg to get a better idea of this.

ella's avatar

i think my (future) MIL will probably be alright, though i suppose truly only time will tell (getting married in 3 months). the one whom i really fear for is my fiance, for my mother, though i love her, is a crazy-maker and can be a real bitch. i think she means well, but it’s so lost in manipulation and controlling behavior sometimes that i cannot tolerate her. her own mother is a version of her two-decades worse, and my sister and i swear to each other (and our husbands) that we’ll never become those women…

my greatest fear on this earth, i kid you not.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

She is a woman who (mostly) can’t be exploited (by men) for her sexuality/body and is someone who holds power over her child (this is all heteronormative, so bear with me) without using seduction and this threatens the daugher – in- law. She is a threat to how we expect women to behave because though she is someone’s wife, she doesn’t have to obery her children or their spouses and can speak her mind freely.

Silhouette's avatar

Sadly it’s because many mommies compete with the wives\husbands for their boys\girls affections.

So you want to become my son-in-law?
Not exactly. I just want to marry your daughter.

lonelydragon's avatar

@Silhouette That’s so true. And it’s sad that these mothers feel compelled to do that, because love for one’s spouse is different than love for a parent. Love isn’t a zero-sum game.

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