Poor mothers-in-law they always seem to be the brunt of the joke . They’re portrayed, more often than not, as overbearing, meddling or sometimes even downright evil. But being a mother-in-law, especially when you’re a mother of a son and therefore acquire a daughter-in-law, can be fraught with tension.
It’s often said that a mother “loses” her son to the woman who becomes his wife and, while some of these by-marriage relationships are lovely and warm and others are frosty and distant, there are often things left unsaid between the two women because of this. We asked a few mothers-in-law what they would tell their daughters-in-law if they had the chance. Read on to discover their unspoken words.
1. Don’t push me aside.
It’s common for mothers-in-law to get a rep for being…intrusive. But even mothers-in-law who don't pop in unannounced for coffee or criticize how you're raising your kids often feel unfairly shut out by their married kids’ families. Says Nancy McNab,* “I know you want to do everything differently from how I do it, but don’t just avoid me for that reason. I might have bits of wisdom and experience to share with you!” True enough: Tap your MIL for advice on babies, work, home life, whatever you’re comfortable sharing. She’ll thank you for it and might even become less nosy as a result.
2. Don’t put me in the middle.
In a tiff with your spouse? Getting his mother involved is not always a bright idea, say MILs who’ve been asked for advice to back up one side of an argument, and then have had said advice used in a spousal argument later (“But your mom agrees with me that you should get a better job”). Instead, be upfront with your MIL; enlist her help with completely honest intentions. “I’ll always tell you what I think when you ask, but give me the context, tell me you and my son disagree and you want my opinion,” says Michigan MIL Jennie Phipps.
3. Give our relationship time.
You probably didn’t fall for her son at first sight, so don't count on falling in love with your mother-in-law at first Sunday dinner either. But do give the relationship time to develop, rather than writing her off. “I’m lucky that I love my daughters-in-law, but if it weren’t going well, I’d want them to know that relationships like this need space and time,” says Illinois MIL Kathe James. It’s not just you: Your mother-in-law also needs time to accept that you are the woman her son has chosen.
4. Don’t see me as a threat.
Mothers who enjoy particularly close relationships with their sons often find that their daughters-in-law view that bond as a threat. Put simply, they let jealousy get the better of them, and try to drive a wedge between their husband and his mother. “I wish you weren’t uncomfortable with my rapport with my son,” laments MIL Alyson Grant.* “I don’t want to intrude on your marriage, but I also don’t want to lose my relationship with him. I don’t know if you’re insecure or jealous, but I want you to know I am not a threat. You have nothing to fear from me.” Try to see your husband’s bond with his mom as a good thing after all, it shows he respects women.
5. Don’t patronize me.
Mothers-in-law are no different from anyone else: They love being praised! That said, they can see right through your attempts to say what you think they want to hear, so skip the patronizing. “If I’ve planned a family outing and what we’re doing is not your cup of tea, just tell me be honest, and don’t be afraid to argue with me!” says Jennie. Be respectful, of course, and realize that arguing your point with your MIL is way better than treating her like a toddler.
6. Tell her she did a good job raising her son.
If you don’t have children yet, this can be hard to see, but mothers fret over whether they’ve turned out good adults. And most MILs would be thrilled to pieces to hear that, yes, their efforts paid off. “Hey!” says Kathe, “I worked hard to raise a good man. Knowing you appreciate that goes a long way in our relationship.”
7. Don’t expect my son to be your everything.
Ironically, as much as a mother might believe her son is a Superman, she does not want you to depend on him for everything. One thing some MILs know from experience: “Don’t lose your female friends, your interests and hobbies or your work,” says Kathe. The happier you are, the less pressure there is on your spouse and your marriage.
8. Stand up for yourself!
You might think your MIL is always on her son’s side but believe it or not, she’s thinking about you, too, and never likes to see the boy she raised treating you as a less-than-equal partner. “Don’t let him always tell you what to do," says Jennie. “If you’re not careful, he’ll steamroll right over you.”
9. When it comes to your kids, balance is everything.
No one has to tell you that your mother-in-law has lots to say about the raising of your kids who are, after all, her grandchildren. And, though some of it may fall firmly into the “meddling” category (if not the “totally useless or outmoded advice” one), don't ignore all of your MIL’s experience. For instance, MIL Linda Larson recommends taking care to blend praise for the kids with reprimands. “Seriously, tally up at the end of the day how many times you said something nice, versus the times you had to discipline them, and if you fall short, try harder tomorrow.” Your children notice. And remember not to lose yourself in your children. One thing some MILs see, and are often baffled by, is a generational shift in how mothers bond with their children. While your MIL might have been a stay-at-home mom, it hurts her to see your marriage suffer due to your total devotion to the kids. MIL Frances Tudino* says, “Get a babysitter once a week, or at least put the kids to bed, come back downstairs, have a glass of wine and talk to your husband.” Don’t believe that you can ignore your marriage until your kids are older.
10. Keep your private life private.
Get along with your MIL well enough to friend her on Facebook? That’s wonderful just remember to respect boundaries. Your MIL does want to know that you’re happy, that you love your family and that you have good girlfriends with whom you like to cut loose from time to time. But what she doesn’t want? The gory details. Says MIL Marian Greene,* “Please don’t post drunk photos of yourself on Facebook for everyone to see. There are some things a mother-in-law shouldn’t know.” Also, try not to vent about your marriage in your status updates all that will do is cause her to worry.