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Dear Care and Feeding,
I am tired of managing my mom’s feelings about my mother-in-law. Anytime I mention my MIL in conversation, about any topic, my mother goes off on a tirade of “Do you like her more than me? Is she skinnier than me? Does she dress better than me?” And on and on and on. Recently, my MIL came with us to some open houses and now my mom is certain I value my MIL’s opinion over her’s.
This is something she’s done since childhood with my aunts, friends’ moms, etc. I’m tired of playing this weird “game” to soothe her insecurities. My mom is easily put on the defensive and can get mean when I tell her I don’t like something she’s doing. But it doesn’t feel like my job to reassure her that she’s my favorite every time my MIL comes up in normal conversation! For context, she doesn’t do this when my partner is around. How do I gently tell my mom to end this lifelong competition with any other grown woman in my life?
—Currently Not My Favorite
You need to address this issue in very clear terms, as it has been a problem for many years and your patience seems to be wearing thin. Explain to your mother that she is not now—nor has she ever been—in competition with any other woman in your life, that you have one mother, and no one could ever take her place.
However, you also should recognize by now that your mother is clearly very insecure, perhaps about a number of things, and that while your reassurance may soothe her, it is unlikely that you’ll be able to say anything to her that would change her self-perception altogether. It’s difficult to accept our parents as flawed, and this is the sort of vulnerability that is particularly challenging to wrap our brains around. How could someone who is such a towering figure in your life—the first and most important woman you will ever know!—think of herself in such a small way? I can’t tell you where she got that from, but I wager that she’s been dealing with these issues since before you were born.
Be gentle with your mom, and try your best to forgive her for this habit. It may annoy you, but it implies that something within her may be hurting. Find ways to affirm her and let her know how much she means to you, how much you appreciate her—parents need that from us too. Good luck to you both.