Thanks to Hollywood, mother in laws have gotten a bad rap as being mean, controlling, and evil conspirators. As if the generalizations were not enough, Hollywood even went so far as to coin the term, “Monster in law,” making mother in laws seem even worse. Fortunately, most mother in laws do not fit the typical Hollywood description, and most have healthy relationships with their son or daughter in law. The problem is how you get past the stereotypes and help the love of your child’s life to see that you are there to help, not hinder their lives.
While every family is different, there are a few things that mother in laws should know and keep in mind as they begin to fill this new role in life. Just like parenting your own child was not easy being a mother in law has its challenges as well. Hopefully this short and sweet manual will give you all the basics to keep yourself from becoming another “monster in law.”
When you give birth to your new son or daughter, your first thoughts are not about the fact that he or she will grow and get married someday. You are focused on the here and now, as you should be. However, as time goes by, you need to make sure that you are fully aware of the fact that someday, your child will meet someone and get married. You also need to be prepared for the fact that the person they choose may not be who you would have hand selected for them. Get your heart and mind prepared now for what will surely lie ahead.
One good idea is to keep a journal or write notes to yourself as to how you felt when getting married, meeting your in laws, having children, etc. These will serve as reminders when you are approaching your son or daughter in law and you might be better able to know how he or she is feeling and be sensitive to what he or she needs.
Talk to Your Child
If you are genuinely concerned about your future son or daughter in law, you need to talk to your child. Voice your concerns using “I” statements. By making the conversation about you rather than sounding like you are attacking your child, they are more likely to listen and try to understand. Once you have voiced your concerns and are confident that your child understands it’s time to back off. If their mind is made up, all you can do is be supportive and wish them the best. You don’t have to like their choice, but you do have to respect it; they are your children after all.
Be Available But Don’t Hover
Let your child and your son or daughter in law that you are available and happy to help with whatever they may need, but don’t hover over them or try to be controlling. When they ask for your help, it’s generally best to help with what they need and try to keep criticism to yourself. If your daughter in law asks for help with the bouquets and you hate her choice of flowers, keep in mind that this is her wedding; you’ve already had yours.
Your child and their spouse are more likely to shut you out if they feel that you are constantly judging and criticizing. If the issue is not something that is potentially dangerous or hurtful, let them do things their way and just be available when they need you to be.
Let Them Fail
Perhaps the hardest thing to do as a parent is to tell your children no when they ask for your help. As your child ventures out and starts a life of his or her own, you will want to help them in every possible way. They may have money troubles or marital problems, but you cannot always come to their rescue. When your child asks for money, do not simply hand it over. Talk about what the money is for and why they are having problems. Loaning money is difficult because the only way to ensure that they appreciate it is to have them pay it back, which leaves you constantly reminding them about the money that they owe.
Consider having them work for the money that they need by doing things that you need done around the house, or other tasks. By simply handing over money, you may actually do damage to their marriage rather than helping it. Their spouse may feel that they are incapable of providing and this leads to feelings of guilt and shame, which are never good for any situation.
Grandparents Are Not Parents
Perhaps the biggest thing that causes problems between a mother in law and daughter in law is when children are born. The birth of a child should be a happy occasion, but when emotions are running high and both women want to be in control, things get ugly very quickly and feelings get hurt. As a mother in law, you need to remind yourself that you are not the parent anymore; your child and their spouse are. Be available to help when needed and to answer questions when asked, but do not attempt to assume control.
This is another place where having journals and notes to yourself comes in great help; remember the way that you felt as a new mom and the things that you expected from your mother in law and try to sympathize and be helpful without making your daughter in law feel as if you don’t think she can do things correctly. Being a mother in law is no easy task, and the stereotypes surrounding the title certainly do not help. Talk to both your child and their new spouse and determine how to best consider everyone’s feelings and meet everyone’s needs. Just remember that as always, your child’s needs come before your own.