Handling a narcissistic mother-in-law is a challenging prospect for many women, because it impacts not only the way their husband or partner behaves, but it can also cause lasting damage to the grandchildren involved—your own children. Narcissistic mothers don’t often know they are hurting their own children, let alone their grandchildren.
As someone who survived narcissistic parents and a narcissistic partner earlier in my life, I know that people impacted by narcissism often seek out others who have been impacted by it. We are drawn to those who can understand our struggles equally as well.
If you find yourself in a relationship with the son of a narcissistic mother, then you already know that there are some pitfalls to look out for. Once children are part of the picture, the potential for power struggles and emotional manipulation grows ever greater.
Educating yourself on how your mother-in-law might be (even if unintentionally) hurting her grandchildren will help you defend yourself and them.
Read on for some revelations about how narcissistic grandma’s unintentionally, but certainly, hurt their grandchildren.
How Grandma Hurts
While all narcissists share some common traits, like the pathological need for attention and the constant attempts to control, there are actions specific to how in-laws interact with their adult children’s families. The dynamic particular to sons of narcissistic mothers make your interactions with your mother-in-law fraught with tension and difficulty.
If your mother-in-law is way too involved in your partner’s life, then she is almost certainly a narcissist to some degree. She may text or call frequently, show up unannounced to your house (invariably full of criticism regarding how you keep it), and say inappropriate or mean-spirited things to you when your partner isn’t in the room.
1. Reluctant to Take on the Title of Grandma
The narcissistic mother-in-law often makes unreasonable demands on your partner and makes them feel inordinately guilty when her needs or desires aren’t met. They may try to freeze you out of the family or deliberately cause friction between you and your partner—so that they can be the center of his attention.
Perhaps most disturbingly, she will often respond with disappointment when you and your partner share happy news, such as a pregnancy.
This is the great irony about the narcissistic grandparent and their relationship to their grandchildren: they are simultaneously upset about the arrival of a child who will take the focus away from them, while also eagerly using the child to fuel their narcissistic fantasies.
2. The Pendulum Swings
When the kids are young, your narcissistic mother-in-law will likely have a good relationship with them. Young children are accommodating and malleable, so their narcissistic grandma isn’t being challenged in her world view. She can be attentive, loving, and fun.
However, when her grandchildren start to exhibit individual personalities and to assert their independent identities, she will often lash out. This takes the form of either passive-aggressive behavior, such as frequent criticisms or unfavorable comparisons to others, or outright anger. This can undermine your child’s self-confidence and ability to trust.
3. From Affection to Abuse
The narcissistic mother-in-law will also use her grandchildren to supply the necessary boost to her own massive ego. The pattern is the same in any relationship with a narcissist. When the kids dote on her and feed her every vanity, then she responds with affection and generosity.
But if they cease to be completely obedient to her demands, then she withdraws her love. Again, this impacts a child’s ability to trust, not to mention their self-esteem.
She may even become abusive, both verbally and physically. Sarcastic comments, inappropriate teasing, and transparent criticisms from grandmother to grandchild become a central part of their relationship. And, while verbal abuse is more common, there are cases where it can escalate into physical abuse.
Pinching, slapping, or spanking can be severely detrimental to the emotional health of the child. Besides, discipline should be at the discretion of the parents.
4. Enlisting Others in Her Agenda
The narcissistic mother-in-law doesn’t only try to pit your partner against you, she will eventually pit her grandchildren against each other. She will play favorites with one of the grandchildren, causing strife amongst siblings or cousins and angst for everyone involved. This plays into her desire to be constantly admired and always at the center of attention.
The favored grandchild will become an extension of her elaborate visions of or plans for herself. She will enlist the favorite to do her bidding, often putting undue pressure on her chosen grandchild to be “perfect.” While her other grandchildren feel unworthy of her love, the favorite feels miserable because of her misplaced attention.
5. Expressions of Contempt
She will also potentially treat others with contempt or disrespect—in front of her grandchildren. This suits her agenda of promoting her own superiority over others, such as clerks and wait staff or other family members and friends. This teaches your children that obnoxious, rude, or disrespectful behavior is normal.
This contempt is also extended toward family members–especially her daughter-in-law. She may even attempt to pit her grandchildren against their own mother if the daughter-in-law isn’t pleasing her. She likes to create drama within the extended family unit.
6. Progression of Narcissistic Behavior
As stated above, the narcissistic mother-in-law will often start out engaging in a positive relationship with her grandchildren. When they grow older and start to develop their own sense of self, then she will often react with passive-aggressive behavior or outright anger.
As the relationship moves forward, the narcissistic grandmother—unable to command immediate obedience in her grandchildren—will begin to manipulate them to serve her interests. Given the mind games a narcissistic mother inflicts on her children, you should never doubt she will do the same with her grandchildren.
This could involve excessive flattery, even bribery, to get the kids to do what she wants. In exchange for their obedience and admiration, she might give them more attention, money, treats, or other special favors.
7. Lies and Abandonment
She might even construct elaborate lies to garner their sympathy and to establish her control. A friend of mine told me how her grandmother would tell her all of these harrowing stories about her youth—the abject poverty, the physical abuse, the deprivation she suffered—which turned out to be largely untrue.
It was the method by which her grandmother cemented the dysfunctional bond between them. My friend was utterly loyal to her poor, suffering grandma.
Finally, the narcissistic mother-in-law, having exhausted her options to no avail, will eventually abandon her grandchildren. If none of her manipulative moves work, then she will mostly disappear from their lives, neglecting their emotional needs. Inevitably, her grandchildren will bear the brunt of the emotional fallout, feeling like they did something wrong.
It’s important to acknowledge the damage a narcissistic mother-in-law can inflict not only on your relationship with your partner but also to your children. You must set clear boundaries for her and be vigilant in discussing her actions with your children.
If she cannot abide by your boundaries, then you must consider cutting her out of your lives, especially when the children are young. They need your protection and loyalty, not your mother-in-law. When they are old enough to decide for themselves, they can choose whether or not to pursue a relationship with their grandmother.
After learning about the kind of damage a narcissistic grandmother can inflict on her grandchildren, you might be interested in a free copy of my “Narcissistic Rejection Guide.” You will learn how to say no even to your mother-in-law and push back against her manipulation of your children. Just click on the link here here and I’ll send it directly to your inbox for free!
If you want more tips for dealing with narcissists, setting boundaries, and managing emotional triggers, make sure you subscribe to my youtube channel