I know a young mom who has forbidden her mother-in-law to be alone with her three children. She says her mother-in-law is “toxic” and refuses to try and work things out with her. I feel bad for all of them — especially the grandma and the grandchildren because she is their only grandma. The young mom says she can’t express her true feelings to her mother-in-law.
When a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law don’t get along, the resulting tension affects everyone in the family. “The mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship is the most critical relationship in any family system,” according to in-law expert Dr. Deanna Brann. “Whether it’s a father-in-law, husband/son, daughter-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, or children/grandchildren, every family member is affected. Many often feel the need to take sides, whether openly or in a quieter, more subtle way. Regardless, no one is immune from what is going on in this relationship.”
In my friend’s situation, her husband is right in the middle of the battle between his mother and his wife, getting grief from both about either not taking sides or not taking the “right” side. It’s a no-win situation for him. The three children are old enough to realize what is happening but they don’t understand the issues being played out and are confused by their mother’s hostility toward their grandma.
Far too many women describe their in-law relationship as fragile, tense, and even competitive. In a previous post, I shared what mothers-in-law wish they could tell their daughters-in-law. Now I’m giving the daughters-in-law equal time and I hope mothers-in-law will take their advice to heart.
What Daughters-in-law Want
Writer Mary May Larmoyeux of Family Life asked her friends who are mothers, “What do you wish you could tell your mother-in-law?” Here are the themes that emerged from their responses:
- Cut the apron strings. Know that your input is no longer the primary influence in your son’s life. Encourage your son to build, develop, and define his marriage role. Don’t fight for position by grasping and grabbing for your son’s time and emotions. Good mamas want their kids to have good marriages.
- Be an advocate for your daughter-in-law. Hope and pray that the marriage of your son will be successful. Don’t sit in the background and hope for your daughter-in-law to fail.
- Talk with your daughter-in-law about hard things. If you are a family, act like one. Families fight, they discuss their issues and that’s how they get resolved. This can be done lovingly and constructively. It doesn’t have to be a “he said”/”she said”/”you said” situation. Tiptoeing around the problems and acting like they don’t exist doesn’t help anyone, it only hurts everyone in the long run.
- Compliment your daughter-in-law; don’t criticize. Make an effort to applaud, praise, and thank your daughter-in-law. Tell her how much you appreciate her positive influence on your son and why you think she’s a good mother.
- Only give advice when asked. Be aware that sometimes a mother-in-law’s desire to be helpful can be heard by the daughter-in-law as a threat or criticism.
- Accept your daughter-in-law for who she is. Realize that your daughter-in-law wasn’t raised the same way you raised your son and maybe doesn’t have the same standards you have. Try to understand her mindset and the way her family operated. A good mother-in-law encourages, accepts, and loves unconditionally.
- Accept the goals your son and daughter-in-law have for their lives. Be interested in the things your daughter-in-law and her family are doing even though you don’t agree with them. Show some interest in the things that are most important to them and don’t be offended if a daughter-in-law does not share your tastes, dreams, and values.
- Be open and understanding. Remember that all good relationships take work and be willing to understand. Ask questions to understand. Don’t tell your daughter-in-law how things should be.
- Allow your son and daughter-in-law to make mistakes. (This is a hard one.) Respect the decisions of your son and daughter-in-law, even if you don’t agree with them. Know that if their decision is a mistake, it will be a learning opportunity for them.
- Cultivate a relationship with your daughter-in-law. Let her know the qualities you admire in her as a person apart from being a wife and mom. Realize that it takes time for your daughter-in-law to feel like you are a mom to her. Start out as a friend and let the mom role take place over time.
- Think the best of your daughter-in-law. Try to assume that you’re both doing the best you can and don’t take things personally.
- Take the initiative to connect with your son and daughter-in-law. Offer to take care of the grandkids so your daughter-in-law can have a day to herself.
Little gestures mean a lot when you’re trying to build a relationship. For example, when you call your son, and your daughter-in-law answers the phone, visit with her before asking for your son. Spend time alone with your daughter-in-law doing things you both enjoy. Go shopping together and ask her opinion about a purchase. Show your daughter-in-law that you truly appreciate her input and enjoy being with her.
Relationships with adult children can be challenging. Some personalities click better than others. But if everyone tries to keep an open heart, remembers to be patient and non-judgmental towards each other, you’ll have a much easier time getting along. I always try to remind myself to keep the grandchildren in mind — they deserve to have loving parents and grandparents who get along and enjoy being together.