8 tips for dealing with difficult in-laws


We’ve all heard about the difficult in-laws. Mothers in-law who will count the number of meat you put in your own cooking pot. In-laws who will call family meeting because you invited your own mother for omugwo and not her. In-laws who will try to insist you run your home the way they run/ran theirs. Bring up your children how they did theirs. And Lord help you if you cannot have children! Choi! Dealing with in laws is never easy if they have a bone to pick with you.

I am almost exclusively dealing with mothers-in-law because men? Well, they tend to sit in a corner, mind their business and just hope nobody calls their name. Let’s just say if your father-in-law is the one giving you grief, then I don’t know how to help you!

It's not me it's your mum

While dealing with difficult in-laws is not unique to Africa, the emphasis we place on respect makes this problem a tough one to solve.

These eight tips should go a long way towards having a harmonious home while having a…if not loving, then at least civil relationship with the in-laws.

Eight tips for dealing with difficult in-laws

1. There can be no divided loyalties:

Just as any predator can smell fear, so also a parent in-law bent on causing trouble can sense division within your home. It is important that you present yourself as an unshakeable unit at all times. Whether or not your spouse is present, stand by them at all times and not by your parents. Particularly if the subject is one that you have discussed as a couple and agreed on a decision.

2. Each spouse needs to handle THEIR parent(s):

I call my mum Mama Yemi. I speak to her in pidgin English (on account of her being from Delta State and a true Waffarian) like an area geh. We laugh, we joke, and I have even dropped an F bomb in front of my mum once or twice. All behaviour that I would never expect to do with my mother-in-law. And, for that matter, liberties I would never expect my husband to take with my mother unless they choose to reach that level of rapport for themselves.

So if your mother comes for your partner, don’t leave him/her defenceless in the face of her wrath or indignation. You have advantages that s/he doesn’t enjoy. Nip it in the bud and then deal with each party individually.

There is no point in the husband coming to meet the wife later on in the bedroom after she’s received a dressing down from his mum and then start saying “Sweetie, sorry. It’s not like I didn’t see your point but you know how mummy can be.” Do not let your partner fight the battles alone.

lions fighting

3. Don’t share your marital problems with your parents:

I’m frequently amazed when folk tell their parents everything that’s wrong in their marriage and then they’re surprised when said parents take drastic measures to try and help their child. If you tell your mum your husband is lazy, won’t work, and expects you to feed the family, don’t be surprised when your mother starts disrespecting your husband. If you tell your mum that your wife can’t cook, won’t cook, is out all night and is just irresponsible, don’t be surprised when she starts introducing you to random sisis to epp your ministry.

Of course, if your heart is heavy, then a parent is probably a better confidante than, say Facebook, but let it be when you are completely at a loss. Do not take every single problem to your parents. The wahala you go cause ehn, may you be able to pack it back o!

4. Good fences make good neighbours. Your home; Your rules!

Decide straight UP on the role and level of involvement you want your parents and in-laws to have in your home. How long can they stay over? What part of the home do they have access to? (for example, I’ve heard of mothers who think nothing of barging into their married son’s bedroom). Go as far as you will as a couple and no farther.

5. Understand what it is your in-laws want and if you can, oblige them:

Look, there are some battles you simply cannot win. If your mother-in-law hates you because you’re the wrong tribe or religion, then suck it up. If you can’t have babies, I dunno what to tell ya…

But sometimes, they have unmet desires and you have to be sensitive to that. For example, it is unfair to marry the only child of a single mother and then deprive her of seeing him. Let her still enjoy the company of her child.

Similarly, there are in-laws who become grandparents but are still very much hip hop hurray. Their nails, weaves and eyelashes are younger than mine. Understand that they don’t want children’s muddy paw prints on their white Dolce & Gabbana pant suit and only take your little terrors round by Grandma’s house at Christmas and her birthday.

Not everything has to be a fight for superiority; she can’t marry or lay with her son. After all said and done, he will come home. To you. For some of that good good.  😉

6. Deal with “the other woman” dynamic:

Speaking of “Hubby will everly come home”, understand that there is a bond that you may not be able to understand or get in the middle of. There will always be the other woman in his life – his mama. Just ensure between yourselves as a couple that she plays her position and doesn’t aim to be first, then leave them to their lovingitis.

Dealing with difficult in-laws

7. Talk about it! With respect and empathy:

There is a Yoruba saying “Ba mi na omo mi, kii de inu olomo” which means “When I tell you ‘Help me smack my child’ it doesn’t always reaches the parent’s heart”. This means that I may know my mother can be annoying but if you try to tell me that or launch into character assassination, chances are I will get on the defensive and support her. Or talk about your own mother’s hairy lip. All’s fair in love and moustaches.

Respect your partner and understand that is their parent. The one who nursed them when they were ill, who stood in the gap when they needed it, who raised them. Curb your anger and speak respectfully when tabling any wrongdoing by an in-law.

8. Don’t involve the children:

It takes a village to raise a child. No matter the strain between you and the in-laws, there is no disputing the fact that they love their grandchildren. Do not therefore use the babies as pawns in a chess game for power and authority. As long as grandparents demonstrate loving, nurturing attitudes towards their grandchildren, do allow access. Ensure that you protect the babies from being manipulated or emotionally damaged by being in the middle of a war zone, but other than that, grandparents are great for lax rules, sweeties, and a million cuddles. Give your children that gift.

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