My mother in-law recently passed away.  It was a shock to many of us, as we thought we’d at least get to see her once more during the holidays.  I’ve been struggling with dealing with my sadness and grief over the loss, while also trying to come to terms with the fact that I had to put up with her not-so-kind words about my kids and me, her passive-aggressiveness, and just feeling like she never fully liked/embraced me or my side of the family as a part of hers.  I am a woman of color, and my husband’s family is white, so my kids and I visibly stand out when we’re with them.

My in-laws always treated my parents like they were beneath them, or just didn’t make any efforts to get to know them, communicate with them, etc.  It has been a source of pain and sadness for me over the years, especially since my parents/family have always made efforts to reach out, communicate or connect with them, treating them like they were family.  Maybe it’s a cultural difference, but in my family, when someone gets married, that person’s spouse and his/her family become a part of our family as well.  I have seen how my in-laws made more of an effort and were just more interested in connecting with my husband’s sister’s in-laws/family when she got married, so I don’t think it’s entirely cultural.

I’m grateful for what she gave us, and for her positive qualities. I want my kids to love their grandma, and of course remember good things about her, but I also want to someday share a more complete and honest picture of her when they are older.  Is that inappropriate or wrong?   I don’t want to dishonor her memory but I also don’t feel right going along with all the glorifying of her as this perfect saint.

I haven’t even talked to my husband about all the things she has said and done throughout the years.  I think he would not want to hear it anyway, particularly now that she’s gone.

What would you recommend I do to deal with my conflicting emotions around all this?

–Confused and Torn (Canada)


Great job at looking at a challenging situation of grieving for and honoring a woman who perhaps didn’t know how to love like you do.

First of all, keep in mind that. no matter what else she did or didn’t do, she created your husband and therefore your children, none of whom would have existed in their exact form without her.

Intuitively, I feel that there are two key issues in how your mother treated you and your family: 1) conscious and subconscious racism and 2) perfectionistic expectations towards her son’s wife. Some mothers have a very difficult time with any woman (even of the same ethnic background) living up to what she believes her son deserves. This combined with a conscious (and not) value placed on men over women (including her own value of herself) combined to create this very challenging situation.

I agree with your assessment that it might not be the best idea to talk to your husband about this now that she is gone. I think it’s important to give yourself an honest channel to communicate this, however. Perhaps you might want to journal about it for yourself or to talk about it with a friend (preferably that had no connection to your mother-in-law) in a way that you can release speak freely and honestly about your feelings (the grief of losing her as well as the grief you experienced in relating with her) and experiences you had with her so you don’t hold all the grief and the energy inside of you.

As far as sharing the whole story with your kids, it’s probably not necessary. Maybe you could just share the positive stories with them and always bring it back to the fact that because she gave birth to your husband, you were able to meet him and to then have your kids eventually. If they ask specific questions when they’re older, or even have questions on how to deal with their own mother-in-law, perhaps at that point, you could generally mention some of your experiences in a way that is constructive and can assist them in working through similar issues.

Also, take good care of yourself and let yourself really feel all of the conflicting feelings coming up for you and let them go to make more space for more joy in your life and validation of all that you’ve learned through this relationship.

You also might want to use this experience as practice living the truth of the necessity of loving and honoring yourself, no matter what anyone else thinks of you or how they treat you. Do this and it will help your children to learn the same by watching you.



My sister-in-law always gives everyone else these hugely expensive and elaborate presents and always gives me something insultingly cheap and/or ugly. For years, I always gave her nice presents but I am thinking that I am just going to either get her something cheap like she gets me or nothing at all. Your advice?

–Scrooged (United States)


If you can’t give her anything with love, maybe it’s best to just give her a card. You might also want to consider giving her a present from an organization such as Heifer International (see Through Heifer, you can buy, for example, a share of a sheep so that a family can use the wool to make products to sell or clothe themselves.

Another great organization is, through which you can make a micro-loan of $25 (or more) in her name, or let her choose which person or cause to support with her micro-loan. Once the loan is repaid, it can be loaned to the next person to keep the cycle of positive good going strong.

Otherwise, if she has a pet cause or nonprofit, you can make a donation in her name, spreading the love that way. In this way, you can give with love even when it’s difficult to muster up love for someone that is not always kind or generous with you.




I have been divorced for a year. I have two small children for whom I share custody with my ex-wife. Sometimes my daughter who is four will say bad things about me, which I believe she is repeating, like “That’s because you’re a bad daddy and you don’t care about any of us.” My wife says things like that on the phone to me and I think she is parroting what she has heard, but it hurts me a lot. How do I handle this?

–Hurting Dad (Australia)


I would start by having a neutral conversation with your ex-wife, possibly with a family therapist, and emphasizing the importance for each of you to speak with respect to each other. Even though your daughter is probably parroting what she has heard her mother say to you, this will impact her thinking, possibly for years to come or for the rest of her life if this is not addressed as soon as possible.

You might want to go with the whole family as well to therapy so you can all start building a new and positive way of relating to each other in the context of the new family structure.

No matter what your ex says to your children, never say anything negative about her. If you are defending yourself, I suggest not saying things like that she was wrong or whatever, but just stating the positives as related to your own self. For example, if your daughter says that you don’t care about any of them, simply state with love that you will always love her and her sibling. Maybe you could even say that you will always love her mother because she gave birth to her and her sibling and that you’ll always be thankful for that. Talk to the family therapist, though, and get some specifics guidelines on what would be appropriate for the ages of children you have and for the particular family dynamics you’re working through.

I applaud your courage in working through this and for finding a way to improve this situation with positivity and love. In the end, love is the only thing that matters.

%d bloggers like this: