I was recently out with a friend, who was in a very bad place with her mother-in-law. She is recently married and I could relate a bit to some stories she was sharing. What I heard was blame and resentment but I knew she was really just trying to find her voice and couldn’t yet. I was happy to offer a listening ear knowing, myself, that I have worked out some kinks with my own mother-in-law and how much better things are now. When you are newly married, you are trying to find ways to communicate healthily with your spouse which can be scary, let alone speak up around his family members. Things can get awkward and heated, fast.
I’m a huge fan of mothers-in-law. Like stepmoms (such as myself), they get a bad rap. Why is this? I don’t know all the answers but I have a feeling it has a lot to do with being misunderstood when they are just.trying.to.help. The relationship we cultivate with our mothers-in-law can be very tricky at first. Maybe we are intimidated, maybe they are? Maybe we feel inadequate, maybe our expectations for a perfect M.I.L/daughter bond were set too high. These delicate relationships can take time and a lot of understanding. Also, if you have a mama’s boy on your hands, be prepared for a slightly more rocky road. I cannot judge you moms of boys, but if you’re not mentally preparing for their wedding day now, you might want to start. Some other person will eventually step in and… take over so to speak. Just remember, we always need our mothers.
Fathers act so tough, but I always say their bark is worse than their bite. I think it’s just as hard to give their daughters away but it seems to have a different tone and it’s like they get over it more easily. My dad ALWAYS threatened to follow my dates and he would joke about getting the shotgun out (that we never had). Yet when it came time to give me away it was like “HERE YA GO!” I’m sort of kidding, but I rarely hear “I’m so stressed out, my father-in-law is coming to town”.
I think the relationship I have with my mother-in-law today is very strong and we have a lot of respect for one another. Not to say it didn’t start out that way, but I was very young and she had been my husband’s beacon for his entire life and they have aways been extremely close. My husband and I had different upbringings and neither was better or worse. It takes time to accept other’s backgrounds and accept why they are the way they are. I had always craved a big close knit family but I was intimidated by some of the responsibilities that came along with it. I think my husband’s family came around to the talents I could offer at the time and I’m sure they now know I was doing my best. I had no clue what I was doing and I did need her help.
I used to worry a lot about what his family thought about me, especially his mother. After all, a mothers opinion is very important! She is a fantastic cook, an expert at laundry, gardening, knitting, running a successful business, being a mom, being a grandma, being a wife. She’s traveled, she’s built homes, she’s mastered all the things while I was just trying to learn one of them! I was so hard on myself and I wish I could’ve relaxed a little bit, and learned a little more.
Relationships take time. Especially when you’re sort of lumped together in a family. That’s what makes life fun, and surely more interesting. I could write this whole story on what I’ve learned, from not just my mother-in-law but all of my in-laws. I’ve learned it’s ok to have boundaries – as an only child I need a lot of space and sometimes I have to just say no. And if I can’t then my husband has to do it for me. I’ve learned that even though my mother-in-law is right most of the time, I can have my own opinions and I don’t always have to agree. I can also make mistakes! And so can she! Wow, we are human! I can ask for her help, even when I think I don’t need it (Thanksgiving circa 2009?). We are all learning all the time, and ultimately we want love and acceptance.
When you’re having a hard time dealing with your M.I.L, ask yourself, “what kind of mother-in-law will I be?” Scary right? You think any mom out there is trying to scare her future daughter-in-law? Maybe, but I’d say mostly not. Personally, I already love talking about kids and food and how things should be done to my standard… aka I love being in control of my household and planing and decorating… so I guess it’s lucky I’m not a boy mom, their poor future wives would be getting an earful, and my stepson’s future wife just might (sorry). I still think of the woman I want to be for my kids, and for their future in-laws, and what advice (or non-advice) I can give. I hope I’ll remember what it’s like to be young and trying to forge your own way through marriage, motherhood, and adulthood. I HOPE my kids make mistakes and learn from them without me and my husband’s help, but knowing we will be there for them just as mine were there for us. I hope they can ask for help when they need it and when they need to set boundaries that it comes from a place of love, not anger or frustration. I hope they learn that family is the most important, and grow closer together and not further apart, biological or “lumped” together through marriage.
SO! When your mother in law wants to dress your baby in three layers in September, it’s because she LOVES your children so much it hurts. And if she comes over unannounced to cover your plants up, or dust the cobwebs off of your front door, just let her! If she gives you recipes for things you know you’ll never make, and worries about your husband getting thin, it’s ok. If she worries about your babies not reaching their milestones on time and you own all the books and go to all the doctors appointments, be confident. Take a deep breath and pour a glass of wine. After all you might be a mother-in-law someday.
I wouldn’t be who I am without all the wonderful mother figures in my life. I am grateful and can now appreciate the wisdom and experience of my mother-in-law. I love that she raised my husband into a caring and thoughtful man and I love how she loves my kids. For better or for worse, I hope you can learn to see all the wonderful qualities a mother-in-law can bring to your life.