Less than 24 hours after my son was born, I had a thought. I’m not proud of myself for this, and if you’ve ever met me, you have heard this story because I was so shocked this even crossed my mind.
I was holding my newborn son, Tripp, in the hospital, grazing his cheek with the length of my finger. I was in complete awe and totally love struck as I intently stared at his every feature. I thought to myself, “I am going to nurture you, protect you, make sure you have every opportunity, love you like I have never loved…and then some b&*#@ is going to come and take you away from me.”
I am not proud. What a vile thought to have. Yet, in that very second I completely understood my Mother-In-Law. The frequent calls, the tears every time we say goodbye, the sad face on our wedding day. I finally got it.
You’ve heard the crazy Mother-In-Law stories. You have some of your very own. In my 31 years, I have watched Mother-In-Law/Daughter-In-Law relationships cause tears, fights and destroy families. Why? Why does this relationship carry so much tension?
Every family is different. The MIL/DIL relationship can fall anywhere on the spectrum from besties to sworn enemies, and we can all say how we think we will be as a Mother-In-Law. However, in that moment when I was holding the very being God created for me to nurture and protect, I understood why this relationship carries so much emotion.
Tripp is decades away from marriage, but I’m already skeptical of her intentions. I called her a b%&#@?!?; I’m sure she will be lovely, but just the mere thought of her draws out so many worries. Will she love him enough? Will she spend every holiday with her family and leave us in the dust? Will she let me be involved? OMG, she’s obviously going to be from Australia, move him there, and I’m never going to see my precious baby boy again! Get it together, Britney.
Do you see how my future daughter-in-law is in a no-win situation? I am already holding her to a standard. That standard is quite lofty. I am holding her to a standard of loving my son as much as I do and wanting to be around my family as much as I do. Oh and do everything like I do, because I’m perfect. In fact, if we could just clone me; that would be great. And creepy. Scratch that. You get the point.
On the same token, a daughter-in-law walks into a family, eager to impress this Mother who has very high standards for her son. She is bound to fail. Poor girl, and she had the perfect outfit. If she really loves her man, she will be very hopeful that his parents approve of her, so she looks for any encouraging words of validation. The adoration may or may not come, but then something like the following occurs.
MIL says, “Where is your needle and thread?”
DIL responds, “I don’t have any.”
MIL replies, “Well, how will you put a button back on his shirt?”
DIL says, ” The tailor.”
DIL thinks to herself, “What, am I not domestic enough to take care of your son? He doesn’t even wear button up shirts anyway! She asked me that on purpose! Who even knows how to sew anymore? I can’t believe she said that! She can never know that I don’t cook!”
Boom: the defenses are up, and so it begins. How do we avoid this?
We say to our Mother-In-Law:
1. I will never love your son like you do.
Please understand that I know this. It’s a different kind of love. Please be patient until I have a child and understand just how deep that love goes.
2. Appreciate our differences.
I am of a different generation. I grew up in a different family and lived a completely different life. I will not cook like you, get upset like you, or do the Holiday’s like you. Or, gasp!, raise a child like you. Pointing out how I’m different will only make me defensive. I bet if you looked past our differences you would see the very reason why your son chose me. We are more alike than you think.
3. Trust your parenting.
You raised a wonderful man, a wonderful man who chose me to be his wife. I did not Jedi mind trick him. I did not drug him at the altar. He actually thinks I will make a great wife and mother. He is choosing to build a life with me. Trust his judgment. I may not know how to cook yet, but I make a mean slideshow. I promise I’ll figure it all out, just as you did.
4. Don’t judge me.
Once you start, it will be hard to stop. That kind of attitude grows into the kind of stuff that ruins families. I promise there will be things I do that you don’t like. If you get to know me well enough, you’ll probably understand why. If I have done something that you will not be able to let go for years to come, address it. With ME.
5. When you say, I hear.
When you say, “Have you sent the Thank You cards yet?”
I hear, “You are lazy, so you need a reminder.”
When you say, “I thought you were going to work after the baby.”
I hear, “I can’t believe you are putting all the finances on my poor son!”
When you say, “Do you think letting the baby eat that is a good idea?”
I hear, “You are one INCOMPETENT mom.”
Be mindful of what you say. I know it seems like a fine line, but that’s only because I’m trying my best to make you proud of the family I am building with your son. I don’t need your criticism or reminders on what I should or should not be doing. I am critical enough of myself. If I’m not the kind of person that doesn’t send Thank You cards, let it go. No shame, you didn’t raise me. See #2.
6. Talk to Me
I know I basically just said that you can’t say much to me without me getting defensive. However, that’s only if I don’t know your intentions. If you TALK TO ME in meaningful conversation then you will get to know me, and I will get to know you. Only then will I understand your intentions. Help build me up as a mother and a wife by telling me about your struggles as a wife and mother. Instead of appearing perfect, be humble. In turn, I will see you as a fellow mother, wife and mentor instead of my competitor, and I will know your intentions are pure. Invest some time in getting to know me. If you know more about your co-workers than your son’s wife, then you probably haven’t invested much in our relationship.
7. Boundaries are our Best Friend
I want you in our life. You are the woman who raised my soul mate. I love you! You will not lose your son. Empathetically, I can’t even imagine what it will be like to pass the torch to the new #1 woman in Tripp’s life. Tear. However, we still need space to grow and nurture our marriage. Boundaries will look different for everyone.
Some DIL’s would like the constant phone calls and the unannounced visits to stop, the holiday demands, the guilt trips to spend more time together, or the pressure to have those beloved grandchildren. Regardless of what boundaries are needed, they must be put in place in a conversation that shows empathy and sensitivity. Try not to get defensive when this conversation occurs; it is happening for the betterment of the relationship. And remember, DIL’s, there is a good chance you will be your Mother-In-Law someday. Be compassionate.
8. Be HAPPY!
I bet your biggest worry before your son found me was that he would never find anyone. Am I right? Well he did, and guess what? He’s happy! So you should be ecstatic! I know I’m not perfect, but if you get to know me, I promise you will see the good stuff that he does. Choose Joy.
Lastly, I love my Mother-In-Law. She was once me; a new mother building a family with the man she loves. We certainly don’t see eye to eye on everything, but one thing is certain; she loves her son and grandchild fiercely. It’s the kind of love I want for my boys. One day, God-willing, I will be her; a mother of a grown son, trying to find my new role as an observer in his life instead of his everything. It won’t be easy, but it’s necessary.
Now I leave you to cry myself to sleep.
Images source here.
What issues have you had dealing with your MIL? Any tips on how you get through it? Let us know your thoughts on our Facebook page!