Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Mother In-law Challenge

Last week, I was in my office for client sessions. Many clients had Rosh Hashanah on their minds. For any special event, I try to gather information in order to formulate a plan. “Where will you be for the holidays?” On this particular day three clients informed me that their mother in-law was hosting. Each of these clients shared this with evident apprehension.  Humor is my favorite antidote for anxiety so I dubbed it “the Mother In-law challenge” and we went from there.

When my sessions were over, my mind drifted back to mother in laws and all the accompanying stereotypes. This definition made me chuckle.
 A phrase appended to names of relationship, as father, mother, brother, sister, son, etc., to indicate that the relationship is not by nature
There are books written on the subject including one from psychologist Terri Apter entitled…What do you want from me? And it will come as no shock that the most complicated relationships are between mother in-laws and daughter in-laws.

The food dynamic stems directly from the family dynamic. First, these relationships are “not by nature” these are not your parents where the comfort level is greater. And second, all family gatherings evoke some level of tension. This tension you may carry is as big an obstacle as your MIL. I will go on record and say my beautiful, Swedish MIL is a healthy eater and always has a Foodtrainers-friendly spread for family meals. However, I’m more at ease with my family…of course we have our issues but I’m used to them.

You have to be comfortable with eating well and that may mean foregoing certain holiday foods; you don’t need your mother in law to be comfortable with it or eat like her. I'm assuming you don't dress like her or act like her, right? If your mother in law carries the food-pushing gene, you have two choices. My first rule is “accept but don’t ingest” which I’ve mentioned in LBT and on the blog before. People are often more concerned with what you take or put on your plate than what you actually consume. If your MIL actually assesses your intake, I would employ the best food pusher advice “push back”. It's best to push back with a compliment such as “this is so delicious but I think I’ve had enough”. As far as the tension, mentally prepare yourself for that too. Walk yourself through with "I may be on edge, there will be lots of people but I'm going to be sure to put all my food on a plate and eat slowly." 

For better or for worse, you will have many more in-law meals and the sooner you carve out what works best for you in terms of strategy the better.

If you’re “Rosh Hashanahing” I wish you a happy new year.

What is the hardest part of holiday meals for you? Why do mother in-laws get a bad rap? Or should they get a bad rap?


  1. Totally!!! I call it the 'smother-in-law' effect.

  2. My MIL is definitely a food pusher. And there's usually not a lot of healthy food on the table. There is typically one bowl of salad or steamed broccoli (no wonder they don't like veggies if this is the only way they know how to cook them!). But I have noticed that they are usually perfectly happy if I take just a little bit of most of the food on the table. If I ate nothing but salad, there would be a lot of comments. But if I eat a few bites of a couple other things, no one says a word. And, for what it's worth, the food is usually delicious. So, half a plate of salad and then a few bites of everything else!

  3. Still so interesting to me that a table of food can include few/very little veggies. Seems like you have a strategy down, that has to reduce the stress Jen (or the food stress that is).

  4. Hmm. Well, as a mother in law myself, who still has a m-i-l of my own, I see this from multiple vantage points. (And yes, unbelievably t will happen to you! There will be a daughter in law in your life, too!) And it's all about accepting that different households have different ways of doing things. I try as a m-i-l to adapt to my d-i-l's way of life, and zip my lip because it's her house and how glad I am that my son has such a great life with her. She actually eats really well, so that's no problem. But my own m-i-l: we used to have our kids eat at home before we all went for dinner at her house because plenty of food was not her mantra. No smothering or pushing food there. Only a few lonely lentils in her lentil soup...

  5. Happy and healthy New Year to you and yours !