Caitlin’s Story

With a new baby on the way, Caitlin must mend a divided relationship with her mother-in-law.

I was about seven months pregnant when my husband and I started making plans for labor. Who would we call? Who would visit us in the hospital? When asked about my mother-in-law, I had a physical reaction. I was angry and uncomfortable with the idea of being with my mother-in-law while in such a vulnerable state.

My mother-in-law and I have had a strained relationship for about five years. Our interactions have included name-calling, screaming, and me leaving her house in the middle of the night.

I knew that, much like marriage, having a baby would change all of my relationships. My mother-in-law would become the grandmother to my child. I did not want to bring my child into the world with a dysfunctional relationship at the forefront. I had to fix this.

My boss had mentioned Crucial Conversations a few times at work, and I had finally bought a copy. When I started reading it, I discovered it included the tools I needed to improve my relationship with my mother-in-law.

I spent two days enthusiastically reading Crucial Conversations, underlining sections, dog-earing pages, and taking notes. I spent hours planning which tools I would use and preparing my talking points. I prepped with my husband and we set up a video call with my mother-in-law. My husband had little faith. He’d spent years trying to constructively resolve disagreements with his mother with little success. I convinced him this would work.

We had the call. It was surprisingly short. We started by introducing our mutual purpose. We stuck to the facts. We took responsibility for how we contributed to the damaged relationship. We clearly stated our expectations in a respectful way. And it worked. We had cleared the air, and by the end of the conversation I was comfortable enough to invite her to visit us in the hospital.

When I had my daughter—our first—my mother-in-law was a joy to have around. She has a motherly, nursing instinct and was prepared to do whatever would make us comfortable. When I became sick a month after having my daughter, we called my mother-in-law, who drove over two hours in the middle of the night to take care of her granddaughter while we went to the hospital. Her support has been invaluable.

Beyond that support, it has been such a relief to relate openly with her. My mother-in-law and I continue to conflict and disagree at times, and I know this will be a continuing conversation. But now that I’ve applied the tools from Crucial Conversations, I’m confident I have what I need to address bumps along the way in any relationship. ◼

The opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of the storyteller and do not reflect the view of VitalSmarts.

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