My daughter who is 5 and usually very happy and loving recently told my husband and me she wanted to shoot us and run to Noni.

After talking with her, we later realized this anger is directed at me. It has been a week now and though she's not repeating the fact that she wants to shoot me, she does continue to say she doesn't love me and wants my mother in law to be her mommy.

My daughter also just this week started telling me my belly bothers her, I look old, my nose is pointed and she doesn't think I'm pretty. She also seems more distant to me than normal. I did make the mistake of breaking down and letting her see me cry over this at one point. My husband is also beside himself over the remarks and attitude she is presenting to us.

I have been with my daughter since the day she was born. I believe I show her unconditional love and give her plenty of affection and time.

We did live with my mother in law for a little over a year while trying to relocate to a different state (which we did 6 months ago). I have had to correct my daughter at times because I would overhear her calling my MIL mommy while playing with her and I would also get upset because my MIL would not correct her and continued to answer her. This has happened long before we moved in with her.

My MIL also feels the need to always be buying my daughter things and bringing them with her on a trip here or shipping her a box of stuff very frequently, even after we have nicely reminded her that we are living in a small space and don't have room for everything. We also had to stop my MIL at times from interfering in our personal situations such as my daughters vaccinations etc. where she thought it was her place to call my daughters pediatrician and try to get information and when she couldn't, she reached out elsewhere to bring us home brochures on the subject.

My daughter during this past week has told us of 2 different situations that my MIL has told her to keep a secret between the 2 of them (calling her mommy was one of these).

We do typically try to maintain a healthy and good relationship with both of our parents so my children can be close to them. My son who is 15 months old does not receive the same attention or peace of mind from my MIL as my daughter. Both my husband and I have tried to address this situation in a kind manner.

Had I been absent or negligent in my daughters life I could understand the confusion but I have read her bed time stories, told her she is beautiful and how much she's loved, had tea parties and painted nails etc. we have tried ignoring her, telling her its okay we love her no matter what and that its ok she's feeling like this. My husband has resorted to even punishing her for the things she's saying. A few days ago we agreed we don't think she should be punished for this behavior but that we shouldn't ignore it either.

  • 3
    I feel its the parents right to control gifts that are given to their children. After having hubby speak (Sternly!) to the monster in law; I would begin intercepting all mailed gifts and make sure she isn't alone with the granddaughter to sneak gifts. Simply donate them to charity unless the gift is for a holiday or event. This sounds like something a parent would do in a divorce to harm the other parent...
    – user7678
    Apr 21, 2015 at 12:18
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    Your mother-in-law is clearly trying to be the fun, permissive adult in your daughter's life, and her spoiling is going far beyond what I'd consider healthy grandparenting. It's wonderful to be involved and to help out, but this sort of behavior is way over the line. She should be taking pride in her role as Noni, not trying to reinvent herself as Mommy.
    – Acire
    Apr 21, 2015 at 14:12
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    Time for being nice is past. If your mil won't respect boundaries you need to put your foot down and set boundaries. My first reaction that the MIL was being a bit creepy and it might be time for some separation. Secrets such as calling her mommy seem like a red flag. What other secrets does she keep from you? Your daughters behavior might be another "secret". Apr 21, 2015 at 18:16
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    I agree with all of these. I have not spoken to my MIL since this has started, and even then it was just to ask her not to send a package she had let me know a few days before she was getting ready to send. We are going to start being more stern regarding what is given to my daughter and we agree that there will be NO alone time between them for a long time again. I thank all of you for the feedback for this has really been a trying week for myself and husband and at times I felt I would not get my heart back. But with all the reinsurance I'm sure she and I will be just fine :)
    – heide
    Apr 22, 2015 at 2:54
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    Thanks you all for your positive feedback. It is all very helpful and we will be monitoring both gifts and time alone from now on. I only wish it wasn't going to break my MIL heart to remind her she is Noni and that she has been over stepping her boundaries. But with my husbands much needed support she will be spoken to. Thanks again
    – heide
    Apr 22, 2015 at 3:45

2 Answers 2


First of all, a certain amount of this behavior is completely normal around this age, directed toward the main disciplinarian. They start seeing your expectations as "being mean" and they retaliate. Your daughter's case is only unusual in its degree.

Your mother-in-law's behavior is also only unusual in its degree. Especially with mothers who doted on their only child (just a guess in your husband's case), they suddenly find themselves stripped of their identity when their son gets married. They can see their daughters-in-law as competition for their son's affection. It's hard to overcome the mental notion that the two of you are kids yourselves, just playing house. She sees you making mistakes on things she learned a long time ago. Things like being dependent on her for a place to live make that impression worse. I'm not excusing her behavior, just trying to put it into perspective for you.

If you want your mother-in-law to treat you like an equal, you have to act like one and stand up for yourself. In your shoes, I would be sending her packages back with firm but polite notes like, "Thank you, but remember we don't have room for all this in our little apartment. We kept the crayons, because her old ones badly needed replacing, but thought you might like to keep the larger items at your house for our next visit."

I don't think it was a mistake to let your daughter see her remarks hurt you. The approach to take is to validate the feelings, but discourage expressions that hurt other people. "I know you're mad that you didn't get your way, but it's not okay to say things that hurt other people's feelings." That will probably trigger a phase of her saying her feelings are hurt when you discipline her, which you respond with, "I tried really hard not to hurt your feelings, which is why I was really hoping you would happily do what you were supposed to do the first time."

As an aside, asking a child to keep a secret from her parents is a common tactic of child abusers. Not that I think it's necessarily the case here, but it's still important to teach your children not to permit such secrets, and why, and that they will never get in trouble for telling you, no matter what someone else says. If your mother-in-law knows you teach your kids this, she will be less inclined to expect secrecy from your daughter.

  • Thank you very much for taking the time to respond to our post. Your feedback was greatly appreciated and will be very useful! My husband is the only boy of 3 children. The other 2 are twin girls. I agree, secrets should not be encouraged and the way we handle it can be detrimental in how she feels and reacts in situations that may occur later. And with the help and support of my husband we will be standing up to my MIL and monitoring what will and will not be sent or given to her. Thanks again for all your positive feedback
    – heide
    Apr 22, 2015 at 3:38
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    I can't +1 your answer enough. Especially for this part: "As an aside, asking a child to keep a secret from her parents is a common tactic of child abusers. Not that I think it's necessarily the case here, but it's still important to teach your children not to permit such secrets, and why, and that they will never get in trouble for telling you, no matter what someone else says"
    – yasouser
    Apr 24, 2015 at 20:44


The person who needs to be spoken sternly to, and punished, is your mother-in-law, and the person whose job it is to clear things up with her is your husband.

Now, let's focus on your daughter: Worse things will happen in adolescence. Believe me.

You will need to focus all your love for your daughter into being tolerant and not taking her comments and behavior personally. Who would not do as your daughter is doing, after all the sabotage your mother-in-law has committed?

Now, there may be one other thing contributing to the situation (besides the shocking behavior of your mother-in-law): there is a point in every child's life, when the child starts to leave the Mama-cocoon. I think it's usually at approximately 6, but that is a rather vague memory, I might not have it exactly right. I think that when this phase occurs, the child naturally focuses more on another family member, such as the father, as a way of achieving some distance from the mother.

This distancing has to take place, so that the child can become an adult.

Once you've got the mother-in-law situation taken care of, you'll be able to provide some discipline to your daughter. "You can think whatever you like, but there are rules about what you may say out loud.... You're welcome to hate me on the inside, but it's not allowed to say it." You and your husband will need to explain this to your daughter a couple of times before you start enforcing it.

When you are ready to enforce it, you simply put her in a time-out chair at the edge of whatever room you are in, for one minute. No talking during time-out. You can't talk to her either during time-out. No toys, books, etc. are allowed in time-out. If she starts to talk, or gets out of the chair before the minute is up, you start again. An egg timer works well for this.

When you send her to Time-Out, she must go and sit in the time-out chair by herself -- you should not have to force her to walk over and sit there. Count to three. (Explain how this will work to her ahead of time.) If she's not in the chair by "three," she will get TWO minutes of time-out.

Your job right now, Heide, is to be calm and neutral when you are with your daughter. When she's not around, or when she's asleep, you can pour your heart out to your husband or a friend.

About the name (Mommy) -- I understand why that hurt you. But let it go. If your husband can cut off the source of all this nonsense, you and your daughter will soon be back to a warm, loving relationship. In the long run, it doesn't matter what she calls you. Please, don't take your anger with your mother-in-law out on your daughter.

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    I agree with most of this, but I'm not sure if "you can internalize your negative emotions, but we don't talk about them" is a good idea. Would be better to sit her down and talk about WHY she feels these things. Otherwise there's a good chance that if she later encounters any negative experiences (with parents or with others) in life, she'll be scared to bring those up as well.
    – Erik
    Apr 21, 2015 at 13:45
  • Thank for all the feedback! It is greatly appreciated and will be very useful in our upcoming weeks. I'm sure we have a long road ahead of us but I am confident we will all get through it. This is the first time I have reached out online and I am overwhelmed with the amount of feedback we have gotten. Again thank you
    – heide
    Apr 22, 2015 at 3:00
  • I have a difficult mother-in-law, so I felt a lot of empathy for your situation. @Erik, I see what's bothering you. You'll be glad to hear I didn't mean it that way. Sure, she can talk about her feelings, but in a constructive way, please, not just throwing hurtful words around like "I hate you." I believe that no matter how angry one is, one should be careful not to say things that it's hard for the relationship to recover from. Apr 23, 2015 at 3:18
  • That sounds a lot more reasonable. Perhaps you can edit it that in like that, so people don't get the wrong idea?
    – Erik
    Apr 23, 2015 at 5:00

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