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Originally published Sunday, February 16, 2014 at 6:16 AM

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How best to tell mother-in-law to back off about baby

Advice columnist Carolyn Hax on a difficult mother-in-law.

Syndicated columnist

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Dear Carolyn

DEAR CAROLYN: I am desperate for help, and my mom isn’t cutting it. My mother-in-law INSISTS on weighing in on everything we do for our son ... usually indicating that we are somehow doing it wrong because it’s not what she would do.

It feels like a judgment of our abilities, so my mom says, “Just tell her she’s making you feel like she thinks you aren’t competent.” But that’s easier said than done.

How do I convey: “He’s our child, let us do it, respect our decisions, please stop, put the bottle down” — without seeming nasty or rude? But at the same time with enough conviction that she gets the hint, when prior efforts don’t work?

— R.

DEAR R.: Mom is cutting it, with honest communication, and you blew her off. Of course it’s hard to say how you feel, to be vulnerable and potentially awkward. But the alternative you’re advice-shopping for is clearly combative. It creates the long-term discomfort of an antagonistic environment, versus the short-term discomfort of communicating your way toward mutual respect.

Yes, I’m telling you to listen to your mother. But I’m offering an extended sample script, too:

(1) “It must drive you nuts to see us doing things you would do differently — I get it.”

(2) “When you jump in with suggestions, though, I’m not just hearing, ‘Give him formula.’ I hear: ‘You don’t know what you’re doing! Let me handle it.’ ”

(3) “It’s not that I think I’m always right or you’re always wrong. It’s that I want to find my own way, what works for me and Spouse and Baby.”

*(4) “You did such a great job with Spouse that I married him/her! I do respect your opinion.”

*(5) “I just prefer to ask for it. You were in my place once, surely you understand.”

I gave 4 and 5 with an asterisk, because anyone who is genuinely trying to help, versus trying to run your life (or boost her own ego), will stop you after No. 3 and pledge to back off, probably with an apology and possibly with gratitude for the second chance your candor permits.

The ones who want to control, control, control won’t get the message even after Nos. 4 and 5 — but saying them will lay a foundation of empathy you can build on later, especially if she keeps butting in and you need a firmer, “Please put the bottle down, and respect our decisions.”

Also useful: following through with the promise of seeking her perspective. “Baby has started doing X. Did Spouse ever do that as a child?” Always try including her on your terms.

DEAR CAROLYN: I have recently started seeing someone I really enjoy. The only problem is she uses a lot of synthetic fragrances (body wash, shampoo, laundry detergent, perfume) that all make me feel a bit sick.

I only use natural stuff and would like her to, too. I’m afraid to bring this up because I don’t want to turn this into a fight, but it’s not something I can ignore indefinitely.

— A.

DEAR A.: What you have isn’t an opinion, it’s a physical reaction. So present it that way: “Perfumes make me sick.”

Then, ask: “Would you be willing to change what you use?”

For someone I see often, I’d sign on without thinking twice. The right person for you will do the same.

Email Carolyn at and follow her on Facebook at Find her columns daily at

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