In-law Dilemma


Dear Dr. Bill,

I have specifically asked my mother-in-law not to buy Barbie dolls for my 5 year old daughter.  She seems to think that my daughter needs a Barbie and has repeatedly asked me if I have changed my mind.  Now, after my daughter spent two days with her alone, I find out that she bought a Barbie for her.  How do I deal with this situation?



Dear Michelle,

The real issue here isn’t the Barbie doll; it’s your relationship with your mother-in-law.  She deliberately ignored your instructions and undermined your authority.  Now, I don’t know your mother-in-law, but it sounds like she could be just a BIT passive-aggressive.  If that’s the case, this probably isn’t the first time she has said one thing and done the opposite—and it probably won’t be the last.

Since she is your mother-in-law and not your own mom, both you AND your husband should agree on a course of action.

My suggestion would be that you both sit down with her and explain that while you love her and appreciate her, you do NOT appreciate the fact that she deliberately disregarded your request and bought your daughter a Barbie.

Tell her that as parents, you are responsible for your daughter’s upbringing, and that includes all aspects of her life, including the type of toys you allow her to play with.

You didn’t mention this in your e-mail, but I know that some parents are concerned that Barbie dolls send the message that women only have value when they have perfect hair, a perfect smile, and a perfect body.  If that’s the case, it may be helpful to explain to your mother in law WHY you don’t want your daughter to play with Barbies.

An excellent book that will help you navigate this relationship.  It’s called Boundaries by Dr.’s Henry Cloud and John Townsend.


Thanks for writing Michelle.  If you have a question for me about family issues or Christian living, click the “Questions” link on the Family Expert page.

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