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Girl Talk: Commando Mom-in-Law

Q. My baby's not due for a month, and my mother-in-law is already driving me nuts. She comments about the names we like, the color of the nursery, our childcare decision, everything! Should I try to avoid her, or have my husband tell her to lay off?

A. Both of these choices are very attractive. It's too bad that their results aren't pretty.

By trying to avoid your mother-in-law, you'll only draw more attention as she notices that you're suddenly incommunicado (and she will notice). By sending your husband to disarm her, you'll actually increase the slings and arrows of her outrageous opinions. Why? Because a mother will never shoot the messenger when the messenger is her son. Indeed, she may believe that someone else -- namely, you -- put him up to the task.

A third choice, as odious as it may seem, is to deal with this dilemma yourself. I don't mean that you sit your mother-in-law down and tell her point-blank that she's driving you up a wall. That strategy is reserved for people who live in a fantasy world where no one takes offense at anything. For the rest of us, the only way to achieve a détente is through diplomacy.

Before you approach her, however, you need to set aside your frustrations and try to understand her point of view. You may say you already know how she thinks. It goes something like this: "My son is perfect, my daughter-in-law not so much, and the only way my grandson can become a deity like his dad is if I step in and reprise my role as mom." Even if this is your mother-in-law's assessment, you can still prevent your anger from taking over by recognizing how she got to that place. And the best way to do that is to understand that you and she actually have something in common.

Look at it this way: You have had nine long months to obsess about nursery colors, names, and babysitting arrangements. That's plenty of time to cement your opinions about all things Baby, right? Now, how strong would your opinions be if you'd had, say, more than 20 years to prepare for a grandbaby? Bingo.

Once you wrap your mind around the fact that your mother-in-law is not the devil (and I'm only guessing here), you're less likely to tell her to go back where she came from. And with your emotions in check, you have a decent shot at defusing any tension while at the same time standing your ground.

One way to refute an opinion without getting in her face is to blame the experts. For medical disagreements, for example, explain that you're following the doctor's orders. It's not a lie, it allows you to stick with your decision, and it takes the target off your forehead.

Another suggestion: Remember that flattery will get you everywhere. If your mother-in-law wants the nursery painted yellow, explain that you chose blue because her son said that it reminds him of his room growing up. It is a lie (one you'll want to square with your husband), it allows you to stick with your decision, and it also takes the target off your forehead.