“Take my mother-in-law. No, please take her.”
It’s jokes like these that give mother-in-laws a bad name. If you are lucky, you will have a good relationship with your in-laws. However, some of you may feel that it doesn’t matter what you do, or how hard you try, you are always in the wrong.
It’s natural for parents to want the best for their children, and that includes choosing the right partner. But if your partner’s mother is constantly interfering in your family life, or keeps telling you that nothing you do is good enough, she might be a narcissistic mother-in-law.
So how do you distinguish between an overbearing and a narcissistic mother-in-law?
14 signs of a narcissistic mother-in-law
1. She has no boundaries
Does she have a habit of popping around whenever it suits her? Or perhaps she inserts herself into private conversations? It doesn’t matter whether it’s physical or psychological, she is always in your space, invited or not.
2. She uses your children when it suits her
Narcissists like to be the centre of attention, and they’ll use any means necessary to get it. This includes their grandchildren. Watch out for unnecessary or over-excessive praise towards your kids.
3. She doesn’t want to help
However, suddenly, she is not available if you ask her to babysit or help with her grandchildren. There’s no reward for her if she babysits because no one will know about it. She wants instant recognition or gratification.
4. She has a favourite grandchild
My friend had a narcissistic mother-in-law, and she had a favourite grandchild. We all knew it. Her email address was something like ‘calemsnanna’. She doted on her favourite and ignored her other grandchildren.
He would get better presents at Christmas and on his birthday. She would even forget to buy her other grandchildren birthday presents on occasion.
5. She criticises your parenting style
Narcissistic mothers-in-law know what is best for your child and will often interfere or go against your parenting style. For example, she may give the children sweets before bedtime to curry favour when you have expressly asked her not to.
6. She dismisses your achievements
It doesn’t matter that you went to Harvard and got a Ph.D. in law, she will try to one-up you. However she can, she’ll dismiss your achievements. Perhaps she ‘never had the chances you did’ or maybe she is just too clever for exams; there’ll be a reason why she is better than you.
7. She openly criticises you in front of your partner
Not only do narcissistic mothers-in-law know what is best for your kids, but they also have an opinion about you. No one is good enough for their precious son or daughter. And she won’t keep her thoughts to herself.
8. Family events end up revolving around her
Whether it is a birthday party or wedding anniversary, if your mother-in-law is narcissistic, she’ll steal the show, one way or another. She may wear white at your wedding or bring all her friends to your kiddies’ party. Either way, she’ll be the star.
9. She is a pathological liar
Trust is an important part of any relationship. Without trust, you can’t have unconditional love. But you are always going to be on shaky foundations if everything that comes out of a person’s mouth is a lie.
The problem is that many family members don’t notice the lies, to begin with. It is only once others get involved and you can double-check stories that these lies come to your attention.
10. She overreacts and lashes out if she doesn’t get her way
Have you ever thought about nominating your narcissistic mother-in-law for ‘best dramatic performance in an ordinary setting’? We all have to compromise in everyday life, not so the narcissist. It’s her way or no way.
11. You tiptoe around her
As a result, you and your family now tread on eggshells whenever she is around. Have you dramatically changed your behaviour to suit her? Or do you make allowances for her that you wouldn’t for anyone else, including your children?
12. She plays one sibling off the others
Narcissists are manipulative by nature, and they get what they want by any means necessary.
Does your narcissistic mother-in-law talk about you behind your back to your partner’s siblings then go to them and badmouth you? Do you find out from other family members that she gossips about you all?
13. She causes conflict all the time
Some people are easygoing, sociable, and get on with mostly everyone. Others, however, cause drama and conflict wherever they go. Narcissistic mother-in-laws would rather cause a scene and be the centre of attention to get what she wants than stay silent to keep the peace.
14. She lives vicariously through your children
Narcissist mothers-in-law impose their desires onto children under the guise of knowing what’s best.
She might buy your daughter ballet lessons, even though your child has no interest in ballet, but she wanted them when she was a child. Perhaps she nags you to enrol them in her old school or dresses them in clothes she likes but don’t suit the children.
What to do if you have a narcissistic mother-in-law?
Now that we know the signs, what can be done if you are living with a mother-in-law that is also a narcissist?
1. Show a united front
It’s no good if your partner keeps making allowances for their mother. You must show a united front, otherwise, she will infiltrate your relationship and divide you. So whatever you say goes and vice versa.
2. Set firm boundaries
Lock your doors if you must, but set firm boundaries that you all adhere to. Make sure your mother-in-law knows the rules and that she is not allowed to break them.
3. It’s not you, it’s her
It is natural to feel a failure under constant criticism and badmouthing. It is important to recognise that the problem is not you, it’s her. She has the issues, not you, so take this forward in your dealings with her.
Remember, you cannot change a narcissistic mother-in-law, but you can learn to live with her without it negatively affecting your relationship. Put yourself first, don’t give in to her demands, and call out bad behaviour when necessary.
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