The words “mother-in-law” can conjure up so much emotion and stress. Many influences are at play ranging from generational and gender differences to power games and personalities. Not only do you need a healthy list of boundaries for your mother-in-law but you also need compassion and openness.
What do healthy boundaries with in-laws look like?
Boundaries with in-laws are just like boundaries with any other person you come across in your life. They are those lines that define what a healthy interaction looks like so you can both enjoy the dynamic.
You wouldn’t let a stranger sit on your lap on the bus, would you? So, why let family impose opinions, disregard emotions and ignore your time and space?
Moreover, if you don’t have a list of boundaries for your mother-in-law, you risk becoming enmeshed such that neither of you can be independent. Instead, boundaries allow you to build trust and mutual respect.
Naturally, how to set boundaries with in-laws becomes trickier when dealing with neuroses and triggers. If your mother-in-law is codependent with her adult son or daughter or tends towards narcissism, it can be virtually impossible to set a list of boundaries for your mother-in-law.
In those cases, you might have to let your spouse do the communicating.
Nevertheless, most people are just dealing with normal, day-to-day anxieties. For example, perhaps your mother-in-law is worried about losing her deep connection with her child.
You can still set boundaries for your mother-in-law while reassuring her that her needs will also be respected. The more you work together to find a solution for everyone, the more your boundaries will be honored.
Your relationship will then grow to one where your mother-in-law can even become a friend one day.
What are some examples of boundaries with mother-in-law?
Some important boundaries for your mother-in-law include saying “no” and respecting each other’s beliefs. Essentially, it’s about honoring both your emotional and mental boundaries.
You can review this article on15 tips for setting boundaries which includes several examples. Most interestingly, the tips give you a starting point for how to get those boundaries in place.
In short, it’s about compassion and communication rather than competition or anger if you want your list of boundaries for your mother-in-law to actually stick.
25 healthy boundaries to set with your mother-in-law
Boundaries with in-laws are critical if you want to run your own life and prioritize your relationship. It’s too easy for things to start drifting and before you know it, your mother-in-law is the third wheel in the marriage.
Setting boundaries with in-laws means being self-aware such that you know what you need and what your relationship needs. It all starts with an open and compassionate conversation with your spouse to work out which items from the list matter most to you.
1. Ensure clear limits on the frequency and timings of visits and calls
Does your mother-in-law call every day? Or does she incessantly text to demand weekend visits? Whatever approach she uses, you and your spouse need your own space.
Otherwise, you risk your relationship because you simply can’t prioritize each other when someone else is constantly in the way.
2. Agree which topics are off-limits
In your list of boundaries for your mother-in-law, you need to make sure you agree with your spouse on the items your mother has no place interfering with. Perhaps it’s the kids, where you live or how you manage your money.
3. End unannounced visits
There’s nothing worse than your in-laws turning up on your doorstep unannounced. It might look friendly on the surface but sometimes, there’s an ulterior motive.
Time and space are key themes for mother-in-law boundaries which include when and how people interrupt you. So, decide with your spouse how you want to interact with your mother-in-law.
4. Stop critical speaking
A list of boundaries for your mother-in-law has to include how you speak to each other. It might sound obvious but some people need reminding that criticisms are not helpful.
Her intentions might come from a good place but they come with biases which, in the end, can harm your emotional well-being.
5. Do not entertain the “me against us” approach
Of course, it can be terrifying to watch your family dynamics change and your mother-in-law might react by becoming territorial. This doesn’t warrant creating competition between you and her for your spouse to face.
6. Unwanted advice will not be tolerated
No list of boundaries for your mother-in-law is complete without dealing with unwanted advice. Not only does no one like being told what to do but interfering can also be controlling and generally damaging to your mental well-being.
7. Your decisions stand when it comes to the children
Children often find themselves stuck in the middle. That’s why you need boundaries for your mother-in-law to know what is ok and what’s not ok with regard to the kids.
For example, what they eat or how they speak to each other. It’s your job to set their rules, not your mother-in-law’s.
8. Know the difference between favors and unconditional help
It’s human nature to want to meet our needs but sometimes we don’t have a healthy way of doing it. So, we barter with favors.
As you can imagine, this doesn’t lead to healthy family dynamics. So, make sure you explain that demanding favors will not be considered when you put together your list of boundaries for your mother-in-law. What matters is doing things out of unconditional love.
9. No enforcing beliefs
Everyone likes to tell others how to do things especially if they’ve been in similar situations before. Interestingly, this does the very opposite of helping someone.
As this Cleveland Clinic article onwhy we don’t like being told what to do explains, when you tell someone what they should believe, their brain shuts down into defense mode. Not only do they stop listening but they’ll never even take the advice because they see you as a threat.
So, make it clear that everyone respects each other’s beliefs.
10. No to-do lists or checklists
A list of boundaries for your mother-in-law is something you put together with your spouse and with her. Collaboration is far more powerful than imposing rules on her.
Similarly, you don’t want to receive lots of checklists from your mother-in-law. Instead, come together, listen to each other’s needs, and compassionately problem-solve together.
11. Victim games will not be responded to
Playing the forsaken mother isn’t something you should entertain or respond to. Of course, your mother-in-law can share her worries and feelings but you’re not her confidante.
Moreover, playing the victim game is usually something for manipulators. And no one wants psychological games in their family.
Watch this Psych2Go video detailing the 10 signs someone’s always playing the victim to discover more:
12. Choices will not be questioned
Naturally, you don’t want to become overly rigid when setting mother-in-law boundaries and everyone should be free to express their opinions and decisions. The difference is when someone questions your choices with the aim of making you change your views.
Again, there’s a fine line between influencing and manipulating.
13. No favoritism
Every list of boundaries for your mother-in-law needs to make sure that it includes something about playing favorites. This can be either among your children and their cousins or even your spouse and their siblings.
14. No bribery
The worst possible thing a mother-in-law can do is to attempt to bribe you, your children or your spouse with lavish gifts. Knowing that something is demanded in return not only makes you feel used but also breaks down trust.
15. Honest and direct communication only
Let’s also not forget the positives when it comes to the list of boundaries for your mother-in-law. It’s also helpful to define what healthy communication looks like.
Essentially, it’s about listening to each other and allowing everyone to be independent in how they run their lives.
It’s normal for mothers-in-law to worry but it isn’t normal for them to tell you what their child, your spouse, eats and how to speak to them. In essence, whatever goes on between you and your spouse is between you.
That also means setting boundaries with yourself. If you don’t want your mother-in-law to interfere, don’t overshare.
17. No oversharing
It’s worth remembering that setting boundaries requires self-awareness about our needs. It also means you have to understand how you impact relationships.
For example, if you’re anxiously attached, you might be overly fearful which can make you potentially overshare. Sometimes we do this to get the reassurance we need but it also sets up expectations and that’s when others overstep boundaries.
Money should always be included somehow in the list of boundaries for your mother-in-law because it’s such a minefield of a subject. Moreover, it’s usually tied to so many emotions.
As this Forbes article on thepsychology of money explains, we all grow up with various beliefs about money. Alongside those beliefs, we often experience shame, guilt, envy, and fear, according to the article.
Those aren’t necessarily emotions or issues you want to explore with your mother-in-law.
19. No belittling people’s opinions
Depending on your mother-in-law and her experience of life, she might be controlling or dismissive. Remember though that those are usually defense mechanisms that come from a deep pain of wanting to belong.
Either way, work with your mother-in-law to ask her to listen rather than denigrate.
20. Stop anything that invalidates feelings
Another key theme to include in the list of boundaries for your mother-in-law is how to deal with emotions. This means that you share exactly what you want and when you want to and no one has the right to disregard your emotions.
21. House and other possessions are not for the taking
It’s a lovely trait to want to share everything with the whole family but at which point does this become taking liberties? Some mothers-in-law will quite literally walk into your bedroom and borrow what coat or scarf they need at that moment.
That’s when you state no politely and with assurance.
22. No talking behind other family members’ backs
No one likes to be involved in gossip, least of all when it’s directed at people within your family. So, make sure your family is off-limits within your list of boundaries for your mother-in-law. Although, perhaps that also includes your extended in-law family.
23. Anger and other strong emotions are not welcome
Naturally, not everyone is an expert at emotional regulation. Regardless, no one deserves to be yelled out or to have doors slammed in a sign of protest.
In those cases, you calmly but politely walk away.
24. Holiday schedules are a collaboration and not an imposition
Holidays are always heavy with emotions and expectations. Who goes to visit who and at which particular moment?
Make sure the expectations are properly set up in your list of boundaries for your mother-in-law well in advance of the holidays. That way, the emotions won’t be so intense.
25. Set the rules for disciplining the kids
Even if your mother-in-law means well, your children are your responsibility, along with your spouse. Only you two can decide how you reward and punish and no one should control or manipulate that decision.
5 solid reasons for setting boundaries with in-laws
To know how to set boundaries with in-laws, you have to know your inner world. If, deep down, you’re a people pleaser trying to get everyone to love you, the chances are you’ll let your boundaries slide.
In that case, review these reasons and consider seekingpremarital counseling. A counselor can guide you to reconnect with who you are to build your inner self-esteem. You’ll then get to know your needs and become more at ease with setting boundaries around them.
1. To feel respected
Having a list of boundaries for your mother-in-law makes things clear for everyone in terms of how you all treat each other. Defined properly, boundaries allow for everyone’s values to be honored.
When people violate our boundaries, we feel unvalued and demoralized. We essentially give away our power and let others do what they want with us. Instead, healthy boundaries keep our energy levels where they should be.
3. To feel psychologically safe
A list of boundaries for your mother-in-law protects your mental and emotional well-being. That’s not to say you should set rigid rules such that you can’t develop a relationship with your mother-in-law.
On the contrary, they are clear definitions so that your mother-in-law can respect your personal needs and wants.
4. To maintain emotional well-being
Without boundaries, we lose all sense of who we are because we let other people’s needs and wants dictate how they interact with us.
So, rather than leave things open for manipulation, be assertive but compassionate in stating what you want from your mother-in-law, and vice versa.
5. Everyone is responsible for their own emotions and behaviors
As this GoodTherapy article onboundaries explains, with boundaries, we encourage healthy relationships where each person is accountable for their own feelings and emotions. That means that they don’t project them onto others or expect others to solve their problems.
In the long run, you’ll have a more positive dynamic with your mother-in-law without resentment or bitterness.
Setting boundaries with in-laws isn’t always easy because it means everyone has to listen to each other and be willing to compromise. Contrast this with people who have rigid boundaries such that they won’t budge on their rules.
Knowing how to set boundaries with in-laws is just like setting them with everyone else. Make sure you are clear and consistent. So, if someone is overstepping your list of boundaries for your mother-in-law, ask them to stop or simply walk away calmly.
It also takes mutual understanding because your mother-in-law will also have her boundaries. The more compassionate you are with each other, the quicker you’ll find a win-win solution.
What are some examples of boundary violations?
A good list of boundaries for your mother-in-law includes the big themes of physical, intellectual, emotional, sexual, material, and time. As this TherapistAidboundaries info worksheet details, those are the main areas for setting boundaries.
The challenge with boundaries for your mother–in–law lies in what you experienced growing up and how your caregivers role-modeled boundaries. In many households, boundaries were too loose and in that case, you might want to reach out to premarital counseling.
A counselor can guide you to rebuild your self-esteem so that you gain the assurance and assertiveness to establish your boundaries.
Moving productively forward with your parents-in-law
As your big day approaches, it’s good to have a list of boundaries for your mother-in-law sooner rather than later. Essentially, set the expectations before it’s too late because habits are always hard to change.
With healthy boundaries that you’ve worked out together and in collaboration you can actually develop a positive and mutually supportive relationship with your mother-in-law.
You’ll build trust and respect that you can’t have without healthy boundaries in place. And so the start of a loving relationship begins.
Anne’s passion and purpose in life are to guide people to find their own path and contentment by learning about themselves. Only then can we build and nurture the deep connections we all deserve to have. With a background in Read more psychology and neuroscience coaching, she has helped countless couples transform their communication from aggression to assertiveness and appreciation.
She is both an ICF certified coach and mindfulness-certified, while being a counselor in training, meaning that she offers a holistic approach. You can expect to transform your view of yourself, your relationship, and the world by better understanding the habits of your mind and letting go of the unhelpful ones. You have power over your mind but you don’t have to do it alone.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.