Ask Erin: I Can't Stop Comparing Myself To My Mother-In-Law

Artwork: Tess Emily Rodriguez

Artwork: Tess Emily Rodriguez

She’s made all the mistakes, so you don’t have to… Ask Erin is a weekly advice column, in which Erin answers your burning questions about anything at all.


Q.

Dear Erin,

I can’t stop comparing myself to my mother-in-law. 

Every single day is a struggle. 

I’m not good at getting up early, getting dressed, cleaning — any normal thing a mom should do. My mother-in-law is the opposite. She’s always up early, cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, and working. 

My husband expects most of this to be done. It has been his whole life. Instead, the house is messy, and apparently, so am I. 

I feel so low and ashamed about it. I want to change, and my husband knows this. I’ve made many attempts but only fail. 

It’s especially hard since my mother-in-law and I don’t get on well. 

I don’t know what to do anymore. I just can’t keep up. 

 

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A.

I am so sorry that you are struggling. 

It can be a quick descent into self-loathing when we focus on the things we are ashamed of, the things we have convinced ourselves we “aren’t good at.” 

This tape you are playing in your head on repeat — the one detailing all the ways you are failing — is full of lies. And it sounds like the strained relationship with your mother-in-law and your husband’s expectations are adding to it. 

I want you to focus on some facts that you have been overlooking. The things you feel you aren’t good at are just things you don’t have the years of practice doing, that your mother-in-law does. That doesn’t make you inadequate at them or incapable of learning these basic skills. You are capable of doing these things.

Don’t strive to be just like your husband’s mother, because you never will be. 

Why? You are an individual, and I am positive that there are things you do well, that she does not. 

Further, as well as you may know her, you are comparing your insides with her outsides. Sure, you see all these things she does well to run a household. As perfectly as it may seem she does these things, they aren’t indicative of your lack of value as a person. It’s a trap that many of us fall into when we are feeling low. 

Focus your energy and attention on what you bring to the table.I want you to make a list of all the things big and small that you are good at. Big things, little things — list them all. Maybe you make great grilled cheese; perhaps you’re a good listener, a good friend, or a joke teller. 

Don’t diminish the value you bring to people’s lives, especially your husband’s. 

As for his expectations, well, you have no control over them. But, remember that he married you, knowing full well who you were. If he is expressing his unhappiness about the state of the house, sit him down and make a list, one that you can divide, of tasks that you can agree to take on, and ones that he can handle. The burden of all this should not rest on your shoulders alone. 

Couple’s counseling would really benefit your marriage. It’s essential to get clear with each other about what your wants and needs are. This includes your wants and needs! Your husband needs to receive the message that you are not his mother. 

As for your relationship with your mother-in-law, harmony here will boil down to acceptance and boundaries. 

Accept that she is who she is, and she likely will not change. However, if she is unkind with you, you can and should set boundaries. I think boundary-setting is best done by being clear, kind, and consistent. If she criticizes how you do something, you can set a boundary by telling her this is what works for you. Then change the subject and move on. If you repeatedly set boundaries calmly and securely, she will likely adjust her behavior as well. In the meantime, vent to your friends. 

Lastly, and most importantly, I kept thinking as I read and re-read your email that you may be dealing with depression. 

Many of the feelings you described are in sync with symptoms of clinical depression and other mental health issues. I strongly suggest the help of a therapist and/or psychiatrist to get to the bottom of these feelings of shame and failure and inability to keep up with life. 

I know that things are feeling bleak. Shifting your perspective, taking some small actions, and getting some professional help will go a long way to turn things around for you. 


The information within Ask Erin should in no way be interpreted as medical advice because I’m not a medical professional. But I am here to help — to share with you the wisdom I’ve gained after years of making mistakes. If you have a question for me about relationships, addiction, dating, friendships, depression, parenting, sex, consent, what I’m watchingwhat I’m readingLapis Lazuli, or anything at all, use the contact form below or email me: askerin@ravishly.com. As always, your anonymity is golden. Lastly, I’m so excited to share with you my Ask Erin Self-Care Guide, free when you sign up for my newsletter, which contains a behind-the-scenes look at STRUNG OUT and the publishing process, exclusive extras and book giveaways only for newsletter subscribers, recommendations to get you through the week, extra Ask Erin content, and more... XOXO

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