MSNBC NEWS THE
Feb. 26 — The moment has finally arrived when your child announces his or her
engagement. But you’re not only gaining a family member, you’ve now become that
much joked about mother-in-laws. Psychologist Dale Atkins an advice columnist
for the WeddingChannel.com, and coincidentally a new mother-in-law, has some
HOPEFULLY, AS A mother in law you will embrace your son or daughter in law and
they will reciprocate, and you will have a relationship that satisfies both of
you. Even when this happens, it takes time and effort and a desire to be
attentive and present. Your future daughter or son in-law was raised in a
situation that, although it may seem similar, is different from yours. He or she
was brought up with different behaviors, routines, ways of cooking,
entertaining, celebrating birthdays and holidays, vacationing, spending money,
voting, talking about world issues, etc. and you may think that your way is
sensible and their way is strange. So be it.
You may admire your son in law’s drive, accomplishment, and commitment to work,
but worry about how attentive he will be as a husband for your daughter and as a
father to your grandchildren.
You owe it to your son or daughter to learn about your future son or daughter in
law’s family, customs, lifestyle, and preferences. Observe, listen and learn.
Find out who this person is who has captured your child’s heart. Without being
intrusive or inappropriate, attempt to know your in-law child from the
perspective of your son or daughter. They will certainly appreciate your
So what happens along the way that makes mothers in law grist for the joke mill?
Many mothers in law do not see their in-law child as “good enough” for their
“prince” or “princess.” She has a hard time making the transition from being the
“primary” woman in her child’s life to taking “second place.” In a sense,
although she is gaining an in-law child, she is losing her mother-child in the
way she has known for many years.
The future, unknown relationship concerns and worries a lot of mothers in law.
They mourn for what they have lost while they try to celebrate (if they like
their in-law child) what they are gaining. The new relationship, with new
behaviors and expectations often means giving up the ease of frequent contact,
knowing the daily life of one’s child, Sunday suppers together, having one’s
opinion asked for, one’s advice taken, and realizing that there is someone else
who has become their confidant, major source of support, and life partner. For
many mothers the transition to becoming an in-law is so tough that they become
Among the most common complaints about mothers in law is that they do not tread
carefully; are disrespectful; are intrusive; don’t respect the couple’s privacy;
impose their own will, tastes, desires, schedule, needs, on the couple or on
their in-law child; disregard what is important to the couple; ignore what the
in-law child or the couple like or want; give unsolicited advice; offer opinions
whenever they choose; show up without calling or without an invitation; do not
respect or honor the couple’s attempt to build their own life with their own
standards, rules, and tastes; either ignore the in-law child and show no
interest in them or their life or the attempt to run their lives. And those are
just for starters!
Get into the shoes of your in-law child and realize that she or he is not you
and that their boundaries and comfort level is different from yours. If you pop
in unexpectedly, you need to “re-visit” this practice and talk with your in-law
child and your own child about whether this is a problem for them. If it is,
don’t do it. Remember, you are investing in having a good relationship. It takes
time. Understand who they are. Rather than judge, insult or criticize, accept.
It will make life easier for your son or daughter and for you.
If you don’t like your in-law child, try to deal with it as best you can…put on
an appealing and peaceful face when you are together and allow much to roll off
of your back. Treat this person respectfully.
At the appropriate time, deal directly with your in-law child. Begin any
conversation with an open heart. You want to have the best relationship that is
possible and you need their help. Make the best effort to reach out. Talk from
your own perspective. “I am troubled by this.” “It bothers me.” “I would like to
improve our relationship.” “I am open to your observations and suggestions.” Sit
and listen to what they are upset about and share where you think there have
been problems. Do not accuse. Do not criticize his or her spouse to your child.
Your son or daughter will feel caught in the middle and will invariably choose
their spouse. Do not want to create a situation where your son or daughter feels
they have conflicting loyalties. You do not have to like their spouse. You do
have to be respectful to them. Sometimes it is better to back away and give the
couple the space they need to work things out. There may be something going on
that may not concern you at all.
Try to understand the reasons behind much of why the in-law and his/her family
relate to people in the ways that they do.
Get to know who they are as people… the person your child fell in love with. One
way to do this is to include your new in-law child in conversations. She or he
is now a member of your family and it takes being conscious and present to
remember to include them. Be careful not to exclude the in-law child when
telling family stories…not to make the in-law child feel like an outsider.
Speak to the in law child on the phone, when you get together at family
functions, get to know their lives and their interests. It is not enough, when
you talk with your own child, to say, “Give John my best.”
It means a lot to your child when they see you are showing an interest in their
fiance or husband or wife. Initiating discussions with them about their
individual life stories (where they are from, their own family backgrounds,
their education, work, life experiences, what is important to them, who they
are.) Share your own life story to help them understand who you are and what is
important to you. This helps build respect.
Good relationships with in-law children take foresight and planning. It is
especially important for couples to discuss how to handle their in-laws children
and reach agreement ahead of time. “She’s your daughter, you deal with her”
doesn’t often work. Once your son or daughter marry, there are many more than
two people in that marriage. Better relations with in-laws more often than not
means a better marriage.
BALANCE LOSS AND GAIN
understand that you will need to “mourn” for the loss as well as the gain…you
are no longer the #1 person your child turns to for advice or to whom they speak
in confidence…the spouse is that person. You may love your child-in-law but
still feel awkward taking second place.
You need to include your new in-law child in conversations. She or he is now a
member of your family and it takes being very conscious and present to remember
to do that. Your child should not always be the “go-between.” Make an effort to
speak to the in law child on the phone, when you get together at family
functions, learn about their lives and their interests. Be careful to include
the in-law child when telling family stories, bringing them up to speed and
helping them to feel less like an outsider. It means a lot to your child when
they see you are showing an interest in the person they love. It is important to
Initiate discussions about their individual life stories (where they are from,
their own family backgrounds, their education, work, life experiences, what is
important to them, getting to know who they are.) And, share your own life story
to help them understand who you are and what is important to you. This helps
LET THEM GO
Let them live their own lives. They need to find a way to be married and to
become a couple. You are there to be supportive in a sensitive, non-intrusive
RESPECT THEIR PRIVACY
This relates to their privacy as a couple, their own life, rules they live by,
their choices and decisions related to conversations, intimate life, money,
employment, children, and it also means that it is usually a good idea to call
and see whether the time you would like to get together is good for them. There
are very few mothers in law who can “drop by” unannounced, without it being a
DON’T MAKE WAVES
Give your opinions and your advice only when you are asked for it. And ask
permission first. Be conscious of both non-verbal and verbal expressions of
Understand that with very few exceptions, it is worth the effort to have a good
relationship with one’s daughter or son in-law.