Ask Fiona: My husband's mum is always belittling him

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I know a difficult mother-in-law is a cliché but mine is a real piece of work. It’s not me that she dislikes – but her own son, my husband. She takes every opportunity she can to belittle him, not just to his face but behind his back too. She criticises the clothes he wears, the way he talks and his job, which she claims is beneath him.

For example, last week when she came to visit, the first thing she said to him as she walked through the door was, “Did you dress yourself this morning?” Later that same day, she accused him of being a complete coward for not standing up to his employer when they asked him to work through some of Christmas. She said this right on front of our neighbour who’d called in, and it was all I could do to stop myself from sloshing her. He’s a safety engineer for an energy company, so it’s part of his contract to work anti-social hours.

Taken in isolation, these putdowns probably don’t seem too serious, but she does it all the time. My husband takes all this in his stride and never gets angry. He just says: “It’s my mum, that’s just how she is.” However, I know my husband well enough to know that, although he doesn’t show it, her snide remarks do get to him.

Her own husband left her over 10 years ago and she’s been on her own ever since. It’s as though she’s out to punish her son for this. She sees him as a colossal failure, but to me he’s the kindest, most caring person I know, and I love him. She even tries to make me her friend from time to time, especially when she thinks I am going to endorse some comment she’s made about my husband. Not a chance.

She’s not like this with anyone else that I know, just my husband. How can I stop her from treating him like this?

M. S.


She seems like a very bitter, lonely and sad person, and I can only speculate on what has made this way. As her son is the only person she seems to target, I wonder if she blames him in some way for the breakdown of her marriage. Alternatively, there may be something in their history together, that you are unaware of, that might be driving her behaviour. Either way, it must stop.

You’re right not to endorse her negative comments about her son, that’ll just encourage her more. What’s needed is something that will show her that you disapprove of what she is doing. The next time she says something nasty about him, say that you love him and respect him and don’t want to hear her running him down anymore.

There’s no need to get angry, just say it calmly, but firmly.

You’re not looking to escalate this to an angry confrontation but, if she carries on regardless, I suggest you simply leave the room.

It would help if you can get your husband engaged in this process too. Talk with him and encourage him to not just accept her behaviour. He doesn’t necessarily have to verbally endorse what you say, but if he gets up and leaves the room as well, that will be just as potent a message. Hopefully, she will change her ways, but if not, you may have to consider stronger measures like reducing contact with her or even not visiting her at all.

Finally, it might be a good idea to tell your husband that you are proud of him and love him, even if his mother doesn’t.


My daughter is 17 and has been seeing a man who is 20. She’s had boyfriends in the past and I’ve trusted her judgement about them, but there’s something about this latest lad that just doesn’t feel right. He’s good-looking, charming and always seems to have money but he makes me feel uneasy. I’ve asked around about him but other than a brush with the police when he was 15, there’s nothing that stands out.

My daughter thinks the world of him but I’m sure he’s trouble. She’s normally so sensible and level-headed about things. She was super focused on her exams as she’s determined to go to university next year. However, she’s now spending so much time with him that her preparation for these must be suffering. I’m also worried that he may try to talk her out of going.

She’s too old for me to forbid her from seeing him, even if I could. She’s a pretty, bright kid with the world ahead of her, but I think she’s just being very naïve right now. What can I do to talk her out of seeing this man?



You are right not to forbid her. At 17, she’s almost an adult, and telling her to stop seeing this man will not only fail, but likely drive them closer together. Your instincts about this man may be right – charming men can indeed be bad news.

However, instinct can also be wrong. Sometimes people who appear to be nice and charming are simply that – well intentioned, nice, charming people. And even if his run in with the police was a serious thing, it doesn’t mean that that determines who he is now. People can and do change.

I know you want to protect and do what is best for your daughter, but any attempt to persuade her not to see this man might even damage your relationship with her. Rather than trash the relationship, perhaps a chat with her about her education or career plans might be a better way to approach the problem. Suggest that she has her whole life ahead of her with many opportunities, and that it would be a shame to limit her options quite so soon.

You say she is level-headed and bright, so she should be receptive to this, but if all else fails, tell her how you feel.

Say you’re worried not about her boyfriend, but that she might throw away her education plans. After that, there really isn’t much more you can do except be there for her if your worst fears are proven right. At which point she’ll likely need you help and support to get over whatever painful experience she has. Hopefully, she’ll make sensible life choices, and this won’t be necessary.


I am in the middle of nasty divorce that was long overdue. My husband had been cheating on me for ages, and I had turned a blind eye for far too long. It’s pretty confrontational, but the good news is I have met someone else.

He’s also just got divorced. He’s someone I have known as a friend for about 12 years, and I’m sure that he’s the one for me. He’s kind, funny and good to be around – everything my husband wasn’t. In fact, I have fallen in love with him and want us to move in together, as I think it would help us both get through our divorces and give each other support.

Whenever I talk about it though, he changes the subject.

Why can’t he see that we’d be perfect for each other?

M. H.


I wouldn’t read too much into this, I suspect he’s just not ready to jump into another relationship before the ink is dry on the last one, and that’s probably for the best.

Divorce can be an emotional wrench, as you’re finding, and usually leaves people in no fit state to make wise choices about further relationships.

Better, I think, to give each other a bit of space to adjust to your changed circumstances. Then, once the dust has settled on your own divorce, re-assess the situation.

In the meantime, relax and enjoy each other’s company and make the most of any support that comes your way or that you can offer to him.

Avoid putting any pressure on him and things may work out for you both, but continue to push him and you’re likely to drive him away.


My two-year-old daughter is spoilt rotten by my mother.

Whenever she’s here, she all but takes over – and woe betide anyone, me included, that tries to do anything with my daughter while she’s around. She changes nappies and feeds my daughter when she sees fit, and puts her down to sleep if she thinks she’s tired.

She’s even been known to barge past people just to get her granddaughter before anyone else. She was the same with my brother when his son was born, wanting to control everything. I don’t mind her helping I suppose, but I wish she’d back off a little so that I can establish that I am the primary carer.

I am worried that my mother’s constant attention is turning my daughter into a little brat, who has started screaming she wants her nanny whenever she doesn’t get her own way. That’s not right and I don’t know what I can do about it.

R. P.


It’s great that your mother has a loving relationship with her granddaughter, and I’m sure that, from time to time, that will give you the opportunity for a welcome break.

However, it is important that your little girl understands that you are her mother, and at present your mother’s attempts to help are simply confusing things.

Would it be worth talking to your brother to see how he managed things? Hopefully he did so without any serious rows with her. Also, part of what is going on here might not be entirely your mother’s fault, as your daughter could be going through the ‘terrible twos’, which is a really challenging time.

You need to make clear to your mother that whilst you’re grateful for her help and support, where your daughter is concerned, you want to make the decisions about anything that affects her. However gently you do this, I suspect your mother won’t like it, but you need to be firm as it’s important that you cement your relationship with your daughter. Insist that you take over the primary care when she’s around, and while you’re doing that, her role is cuddles and play.

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