Enter the term ‘mother-in-law’ into an Internet search engine and the first site that appears is often on mother-in-law jokes. Simply mention the term ‘mother-in-law’ and expect to hear groans, laughter or bad mother-in-law stories. Unfortunately, many mothers-in-law have earned the reputation.
Consider the story of a bride who wanted to please her new husband. He often mentioned how much he loved his mother’s chocolate chip cookies, so his wife asked her mother-in-law to share the recipe. Instead of recognising the request as a sincere compliment, the mother-in-law coldly replied, “That’s my recipe, and I bake those cookies for my son. Why would I give the recipe to you? Of course, you can’t have it.”
The scenario set the tone for an each-in-their-own-corner relationship for the future. How sad that this mother-in-law viewed her daughter-in-law as competition instead of a partnership. It would have been so much easier if she’d realised they shared a special bond – they both loved the same man.
The irony is that the son no longer enjoys his mother’s chocolate chip cookies. Now, whenever she brings him a platter to enjoy, all he can think of is the bitterness of the words that hurt his bride.
Another young wife opened the door one morning to discover her mother-in-law standing there armed with a mop and bucket filled with cleaning supplies. “I’m glad you’re home. I’ve come to show you the proper way to clean a bathroom.”
This mother-in-law probably meant well. I honestly don’t think she intended to humiliate her daughter-in-law, but that’s exactly what she did. Instead of giving the young bride time to develop her housekeeping skills, the mother-in-law charged in and caused a rift in their relationship.
A fitful sleep
The relationship between a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law can be a dangerous minefield as two women stake out their territory. A wise daughter-in-law will be sensitive to the fact that her mother-in-law is dealing with loss of purpose, possibly an empty nest and changes in the family. A wise mother-in-law will realise that her daughter-in-law might be insecure in her new role as wife.
Family counsellor Ralph Sexton says, “One of the big issues of the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship is that both can bring emotional baggage into the relationship.
“Sometimes, the mother-in-law worries that her daughter-in-law will reject her. Often, the daughter-in-law has a pre-conceived idea of what a mother-in-law will be like due to the bad mother-in-law stories she’s heard.
“As a result, she comes into the relationship expecting the worst-case scenario.”
Sexton says respect is another important component. “Sometimes, it is difficult for a mother-in-law to view her child as a grown-up, but it is vital that she treats the young couple as adults and doesn’t interfere in their relationship.”
Before I became a mother-in-law, I asked for advice from friends who had good, loving relationships with their daughters-in-law. Here’s what I learned from them:
• Make an effort to help your daughter-in-law feel welcome in your family. She is not an outsider; don’t treat her like one. Include her in conversations, activities and family photographs.
• Don’t force your son to choose between the two of you, and don’t put him in the role of playing peace-maker. Realise that you and your daughter-in-law are not competitors; you are allies. Your son has enough love for both of you.
• Notice your daughter-in-law’s good qualities and sincerely compliment her. Is she an exceptional housekeeper or a good money manager? Is she an accomplished cook or a talented decorator? She will appreciate knowing you recognise her virtues and talents.
• Think before you act or speak. Remember what it was like to be a young bride.
• Remember her birthday and celebrate her achievements.
• Don’t speak negatively about your daughter-in-law to others. Be her biggest cheerleader.
• Does your daughter-in-law make your son happy? Then send her a card or letter expressing how much you appreciate her love for your son.
• Don’t give advice unless it is requested. You’ll be surprised how well the young couple will manage without your help. They know where you are if they need advice.
• Don’t interfere in their lives, and don’t take sides.
• Be available, but don’t be constantly underfoot. Give them space to live their own lives and to build their own traditions.
• Take your daughter-in-law to lunch or go shopping together. Spend an evening experimenting with new recipes if this is her area of interest. Find a mutual hobby or volunteer together. Make an effort to bond with the ‘daughter-in-love’.
Greet the day
I’ve been blessed with two daughters-in-law. My sons brought home the girls of their dreams, and I was thrilled to discover they were the girls of my dreams, too. My heart has often been touched as I’ve observed their love and care for my sons.
I hope my daughters-in-law never consider me a nightmare. I genuinely want to be a good mother-in-law to these new daughters. The way I look at it, the ‘in-law’ part just means they’re legally mine..