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I used to let my mother-in-law walk all over me. If she told me to try something, I tried it. If she told me to be somewhere, I went there. If she told me to skip naptime in favor of some fun outing, I skipped naptime (but the outing was never as fun as she wanted it to be).

My husband and I were still newlyweds when our first child was born, and I still felt like I was trying to win brownie points with the in-laws. I kept my mouth shut because, well, life was usually easier that way. My mother-in-law was happier. My husband was more comfortable with his family. And I just didn’t want to feel like the outsider anymore.

Visits with the in-laws were exhausting. I cried a lot. My son cried a lot. My husband had no idea how to comfort either of us. My mother-in-law had lots of big plans for us, and I was just too uptight to enjoy them. Somehow it all was my fault. When we skipped an outing so our son could nap, it was my fault. And when we skipped naptime to go out and then my son got cranky and cried, that was my fault too. No matter what happened, it was somehow my fault.

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I was not raising my son the way she had chosen to raise hers, and every choice I made was an insult against my mother-in-law’s parenting—even though I had chosen to marry the son she had raised. Obviously, his upbringing couldn’t have been too bad.

I dreaded visiting my in-laws not because they were awful people, but because visiting them inevitably made me feel like an awful mother. Then my daughter was born, and suddenly I was trying to juggle the needs of two children and the demands of my in-laws. I decided immediately that I just couldn’t do it. I had had enough.

So I put my foot down. I started to say no to my mother-in-law, and I refused to feel bad when I did. I felt much more confident in my mothering abilities, and I knew what my kids needed better than my mother-in-law did. After two years of being a doormat, I finally stopped letting my mother-in-law walk all over me. And it was the best decision I’ve ever made.

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It was tough at first. It was hard to say no when she wanted me to say yes. It was hard to hold my ground when it would have been easier to just cave. But the more I put my foot down, the easier it got. And the better my relationship with my mother-in-law got too.

Putting my foot down actually improved my relationship with my mother-in-law. She’s a strong woman, and I think when I finally showed my own strength, she had no choice but to respect it. My mother-in-law had raised her daughter to be strong, and she had encouraged her son to seek out a strong wife. When I put my foot down, I showed her just how strong I was. I showed her I was the type of woman she had always wanted for her son.

We might not see eye to eye on everything, but now that I stand firm in my convictions, she cannot hold that against me. I follow my conscience. I fight for my children. I do what I believe is right even when it’s hard. Those are all qualities my mother-in-law admires, and now I am raising my own daughter—her granddaughter—to be strong just like her mother and grandmother are . . . even when it’s hard to hear my daughter tell me no.

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