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What is an enmeshed mother-in-law?

Engaging with a mother-in-law should be an exciting and fun experience. After all, this is a person who loves and cares for your spouse and may have an immense amount of wisdom to share with you about life. However, things can become challenging when the relationship transforms into an enmeshed mother-in-law relationship. An enmeshed mother-in-law can be a nightmare for both you and your spouse. In this blog post, let’s dive in deeper and understand what an enmeshed mother-in-law is, what the signs are, and how to deal with them.

What is an enmeshed mother-in-law?

An enmeshed mother-in-law is a person who has boundaries, or rather lacks boundaries, when it comes to their relationship with their adult child and their partner. They may feel like they have a say in everything that happens in their child’s life, including their spouse’s life. They may feel entitled to provide unsolicited advice, become overly involved in the couple’s personal space, and sometimes even dictate how their grandkids are raised.

In simpler terms, an enmeshed mother-in-law involves a sense of merging or blurring relationship lines between the mother-in-law and their child, treated almost like best friends or confidantes who share everything. This type of relationship is not healthy for any of the parties involved and can lead to problems like financial disputes, intimacy issues, and marital troubles.

What are the signs of an enmeshed mother-in-law?

It’s worth noting that not all mother-in-laws are enmeshed, but there are several signs to watch out for if you suspect an enmeshed mother-in-law relationship. Here are a few signs that your mother-in-law may be overstepping their boundaries:

1) No Boundaries

Your mother-in-law insists on knowing all the details about your life and marriage. They may feel entitled to know how much you make or how much you spend. They might demand to have access to your house or try to rearrange your home decor.

2) Arrives Unannounced and Awkwardly Invades Your Privacy

Your mother-in-law may arrive at your doorstep without prior notice and say things like, “I didn’t want to bother you with a phone call.” They may expect to be a part of all important family events, like birthdays or anniversaries, even if you have other plans.

3) Always Providing Unsolicited Advice

An enmeshed mother-in-law assumes they know everything and acts like an expert in every area of life. They might offer unsolicited advice on how to raise your children, invest your money, or manage your spouse.

4) Assumes An Overbearing Role in Parenting Their Grandkids

An enmeshed mother-in-law does not respect their grandkids’ parents’ rules or boundaries. They might try to bend or manipulate their grandkids into agreeing with their ideas or thought patterns, even if they go against their parent’s wishes.

5) Treatment Of You Like An Outsider To The Family

An enmeshed mother-in-law may see you as a threat or an outsider to their relationship with their child. They might exclude you or shut you out of important family decisions, conversations, or events.

How do you deal with an enmeshed mother-in-law?

Dealing with an enmeshed mother-in-law can be challenging, but you must take practical steps to restore a healthy relationship. Here are some effective strategies that may help:

1) Set Boundaries

Setting boundaries is critical in any relationship, including an enmeshed mother-in-law relationship. Talk to your spouse and come up with a plan to communicate with your mother-in-law about what you consider acceptable/off-limits in your family.

2) Take a Step Back

When dealing with an enmeshed mother-in-law, it’s helpful to take a step back and address your emotions with your partner. Seek couples therapy to help express your concerns and develop a healthy relationship with your mother-in-law.

3) Practice Patience

Learning to deal with an enmeshed mother-in-law is a gradual process, and change may not happen instantly. So, be patient with yourself and your spouse in the process.

4) Don’t Take It Personally

It’s crucial to remember that your mother-in-law’s behavior is not about you, but rather their issues beyond your control or power. Don’t take your mother-in-law’s behavior personally and focus on what you need to do to improve your relationship with them.


An enmeshed mother-in-law relationship can be hell on earth, but it’s not something that cannot be tackled. With open communication, understanding, and patience, you can transform the relationship into something healthy and enjoyable. Remember, you have the power to make a difference in your family’s life, but you must take the first step towards your goal.


How do you set boundaries with enmeshed mother-in-law?

Setting boundaries is important in any relationship, especially when it comes to family. However, setting boundaries with an enmeshed mother-in-law can be particularly challenging. An enmeshed mother-in-law can be defined as one who has overly close or controlling relationships with her children and their spouses. In this situation, it can be hard to differentiate where the mother-in-law ends and you begin. Here are some ways to set boundaries with an enmeshed mother-in-law:

1. Practice saying no: It’s crucial to understand that you have the right to say no to your mother-in-law. Saying no sometimes can be challenging, but it’s necessary and empowering. It doesn’t mean that you don’t love her or that you’re not willing to help, but you’re doing what’s best for you.

2. Let people know what you have the capacity for: Set realistic expectations by honestly communicating what you are comfortable with regarding your mother-in-law’s presence in your life. If you don’t want her to drop by your house unannounced or call you every day, you need to tell her explicitly.

3. Limit your time commitments to family events: If you’re uncomfortable spending an extended amount of time with your mother-in-law, limit your time commitments to family events. You can show up just for a short period and then politely excuse yourself.

4. Consider what information you feel comfortable sharing with family: It’s essential to understand that you don’t need to share everything about your life with your mother-in-law. Decide what information is appropriate to share and what’s not.

5. Use “I” statements when communicating: “I” statements are a way of expressing your thoughts and feelings without blaming someone else. For example, instead of saying, “You always interfere in our lives,” say, “I feel overwhelmed when you interfere in our lives.”

6. Be consistent in your boundaries: When you set a boundary, you need to stick to it. If you give in even once, your mother-in-law may interpret it as a sign of weakness and push even harder.

7. Don’t feel guilty for standing up for yourself: You have the right to set boundaries that protect your mental health, physical well-being, and emotional stability. Don’t feel guilty for standing up for yourself.

8. Seek support from your partner: Let your partner know how you feel about your relationship with their mother. Be open and honest about your boundaries. They may be able to help you navigate this challenging situation.

9. Don’t get defensive or engage in arguments: It’s essential not to get defensive or engage in arguments when you’re setting boundaries. Be clear, firm, and respectful in your communication.

10. Try to show empathy: Understanding why your mother-in-law is acting the way she is can help you to show empathy. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with her, but it can help you to understand her perspective.

11. Consider seeking professional help: If you’re struggling to set boundaries with your mother-in-law, consider speaking to a therapist. They can provide you with the tools you need to navigate this challenging situation effectively.

Setting boundaries with an enmeshed mother-in-law can be challenging, but it’s essential to protect your mental health, physical well-being, and emotional stability. By practicing saying no, letting people know what you have the capacity for, limiting your time commitments to family events, and seeking support from your partner, among others, you can effectively set boundaries with your mother-in-law.

What does mother enmeshed mean?

Enmeshment is a term used in psychology to describe a condition in which an individual’s personal boundaries are not clearly defined and may become blurred with other people’s boundaries, particularly those of their family members. This dynamic can be intense and pervasive, particularly when it involves the parent-child relationship, and can have profound effects on the emotional development of the individuals involved.

When discussing enmeshment, it is often mothers who are most closely associated with this phenomenon. This is largely because of their historically predominant role as caregiver and nurturing figure within the family. But what is meant when we say that a child is “mother enmeshed”?

Mother enmeshment typically refers to a dynamic in which a mother is overly involved in every aspect of her child’s life, such that boundaries between parent and child become blurred, and the child is unable to develop their own independent sense of self. This can manifest in a variety of ways, including overbearing and controlling behavior, failure to encourage healthy emotional boundaries, and a tendency to project fears and worries onto the child in an attempt to keep them close.

At its core, mother enmeshment is a form of co-dependency, in which both parties become enmeshed in an unhealthy and emotionally unhealthy dynamic. The child is often placed in the position of providing emotional support and validation to the mother, sometimes at the cost of their own emotional health and well-being. The mother, in turn, may become overly reliant on her child for her own emotional fulfillment, treating the child more like a peer or confidant than a dependent.

It is important to note that mother enmeshment is not always a conscious dynamic, and is often rooted in legitimate attempts on the mother’s part to care for and bond with her child. However, when this bond becomes overly intense and boundary-less, it can have serious negative consequences for both parties. For the child, this can include difficulty forming healthy relationships, and an inability to become emotionally independent. For the mother, it can manifest in anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.

Understanding mother enmeshment is important for individuals and families seeking to create healthier, more balanced relationships. By recognizing the signs of enmeshment and actively working to establish healthy boundaries, it is possible to mitigate the harmful effects of this dynamic and create a more positive and fulfilling relationship between mother and child.

What attachment style does enmeshment cause?

Attachment theory suggests that the early experiences of a child with their caregivers have a significant impact on their attachment style in adulthood. Enmeshment refers to a family dynamic where emotional boundaries between family members are blurred, and there is a lack of individual autonomy. In enmeshed families, emotional support and identity are dependent on the family rather than the individual.

Several studies have found that children from enmeshed families are more likely to have an anxious attachment style. This is because enmeshment creates an environment where a child feels they cannot depend on themselves, and instead relies on their parents for emotional support and security. This creates a sense of insecurity, anxiety, and clinginess in the child. They may become anxious about being alone, worry about losing their parents’ love and support, and may feel overwhelmed by their own emotions. As a result, they tend to engage in clingy or needy behavior even as adults, often seeking reassurance through constant contact with their partners.

Furthermore, maternal attachment anxiety may increase enmeshment, which can cause a cycle of anxious attachment in their children. A mother with an anxious attachment style may become overly concerned about her child’s safety and well-being, leading her to become overprotective, and thus invading her child’s emotional boundaries. The child then develops an anxious attachment style, which increases their tendency to rely on their mother, further reinforcing enmeshment.

On the other hand, maternal avoidant attachment often triggers avoidant attachment in their children. Mothers who are emotionally distant, dismissive, or rejecting create an environment where emotional connections and support are not present. In this case, children may develop avoidant attachment in adulthood since they do not see the need to form emotional connections or rely on others for support.

Enmeshment can cause an anxious attachment style in children. Creating firm emotional boundaries and promoting individual autonomy in families can help children grow into secure adults, capable of healthy relationships with a strong sense of self.