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It’s Either Her or Me: Navigating the Mother and Daughter-in-Law Relationship

I enjoyed reading Ellie Slott Fisher’s book, It’s Either Her or Me: A Guide to Help a Mom and Her Daughter-in-law Get Along. The first seven chapters offer an entertaining and enlightening examination of all the relationships and interactions that can occur after a young man introduces his first girl friend, significant other or wife to his mother.

But her final chapter, “The Endgame: The Grandkids,” truly resonated with me. Fisher opens with a brand new grandma standing in her daughter-in-law’s kitchen protectively cradling her tiny granddaughter. She’s in pure rhapsody as she “drinks in the yummy smells of the newborn baby girl, imagining her saying: Grandmom, I know you and love you already.”

Then her daughter-in-law shatters the euphoric mood by screeching: “Don’t hold her like that!” and grabs the infant from grandmom’s arms, placing her in her infant seat.

It didn’t matter that the woman had “raised four children of her own, or that she would sacrifice every part of her being for this new child, or that she had purchased the seat that now substituted for her embrace.” This woman knew there was nothing she could say because once you become a grandmother, you will find yourself virtually speechless. To alienate her daughter-in-law might result in losing access to her grandchild.

Fortunately, I don’t have firsthand knowledge of this situation because I’m the maternal grandmother and feel incredibly blessed to have a good relationship with my daughter. I’ve also been blessed with a wonderful son-in-law these past 13 years and we get along very well. But I’ve heard similar scenarios from other grandmothers over the years. The most important lesson I’ve learned is to keep my comments, no matter how well intentioned, to myself when I’m around my daughter and son-in-law. Most parents do not welcome unsolicited advice, whether it’s from their mothers or mothers-in-law.

Fisher also offers sage advice on grandma’s title: Since a grandmother’s name will remain with her for the rest of her life, she should be asked not told what name she would like to be called and be allowed to make the final decision.

She also wisely advises grandmas to cut the parents some slack when it comes to parenting styles because making mistakes is part of child rearing. “The best action for a mother-in-law to take is to make herself invaluable to the couple and remind herself that every generation revises and personalizes child-raising techniques.”

Disciplining grandchildren is another dicey issue that Fisher addresses with some help from a professional. Dr. Beatrice Lazaroff, a counseling psychologist, is quoted throughout the book and stresses that discipline is primarily the parents’ responsibility. She says, “If one or both parents are around, the grandmother should not take on the disciplinary role. However, if she is alone with the child for whatever reason, then as a responsible adult she should try to protect and teach the child what is right. Grandparents can be a wonderful resource of strength and wisdom for a child, and this resource should be valued,” adds Lazaroff.

One of the sweetest stories in the book is Fisher’s description of a relationship between a woman and her daughter-in-law who have distinct differences yet have learned to genuinely appreciate each other. The young mom considers her mother-in-law to be an “exemplary grandmother.” The grandmother and her grandson are playing on an imaginary beach in the kitchen when her daughter-in-law walks in and says to her: “I wish I would have known what it was like to have a grandmother like you.” What could be sweeter recognition, says Fisher.

Fisher concludes by listing some of the ways children benefit from having grandparents:

  • Their confidence is strengthened because there is someone else who loves them unconditionally.
  • They grow up with an appreciation for the elderly.
  • They learn how to communicate across generational lines.

In the end, Fisher has some final advice for both mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law:

  • As a mother-in-law, you should be available, but not interfering, and respectful of your daughter-in-law’s parenting style.
  • As a daughter-in-law, you should be tolerant of your mother-in-law’s excessive worry over her grandchild. In this vast world, few people will ever come close to loving and caring for your child the way you do. One of those people is your mother-in-law.

2 thoughts on “It’s Either Her or Me: Navigating the Mother and Daughter-in-Law Relationship”

  1. I have three beautiful daughters in law and count myself very fortunate that we all get along wonderfully. All three have different talents and their homes reflect their individuality. I admire their homemaking skills and the way they raise their children and partnership with my sons.

    With my sons in law I wish I would follow my own mother’s example better. When I would cry to her about anything involved with my marriage or mothering skills she would listen and then forget it. She loved my husband so much that if she’d have had to take a side it would probably have been his! Listen, refrain from offering too much advice or trying to solve their problems for them, and then forget it. Otherwise I could still be fuming at one of those sons in law after they have already resolved the conflict and moved on.

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