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Monday, 12 May 2008

Article: Daughter-In-Law Mother-In-Law Relationship: The Smooth and The Rough

Written by  Leah Shifrin Averick

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Article: Daughter-In-Law Mother-In-Law Relationship: The Smooth and The Rough

In most cultures the mother-in-law / daughter-in-law relationship is expected to be filled with thorny tensions. Folk sayings and jokes reflect the anticipated hostility between a daughter-in-law and her mother-in-law. For example, a saying from Tunisia, North African states, "I wish my daughter: the sun of the winter, I wish my daughter-in-law: the sun of the summer." (The winter sun warms the body and in contrast, the summer's is uncomfortably hot.)
A mother-in-law no longer has the same privileges she may have had as a mother.

In striking contrast is a the mother- daughter in-law relationship described in the Bible's Book of Ruth, a caring, supportive in-law relationship between Naomi and Ruth who lived in the ancient lands of Israel and Moab. Theirs remains a model of an ideal in-law relationship.

Many of us are familiar with both extremes of in-law relationships: caring and amiable ones and uncaring and hostile ones. In between are degrees and variations of both types.

What Are The Causes Of Difficult In-Law Relationships?

The Daughter-in-Law's Perspective
The beginning of problems often coincides with the first meeting of the two women before the wedding. The future bride is tense: "Will my mother-in-law like me? Will she approve of her son's choice? Me?" The sensitive bride knows at first glance how her mother-in-law feels. A young bride clearly recognized the disapproval, "..because I was pregnant."

For some daughters-in-law, the mother-in-law difficulties begin when planning the wedding: "That's why we eloped - she wanted to take over my wedding." Another bride described her mother-in-law "screaming at me...for inviting his father to the wedding.., ....for not cutting their names on the invitation...."

A husband may be the culprit who unwittingly causes bad feelings between his wife and mother when he does not make his wife his number one priority. This lack of awareness opens the door to unending demands for time, money, affection and loyalty from the parents-in-law. The daughter-in-law may complain: "My husband allows his mother to run his life." or "My mother-in-law walks into our home any time..."

Parents-in-law may become unreasonable and show no respect for the privacy of the married couple. Then we hear horror stories such as the following: "My mother-in-law walked in my ob-gyn appointments (she is the nurse in my doctor's office) and asked the doctor to induce me, then she lies and denies everything to my husband."
Another source of in-law problems is constant criticism, rather than a respect for differences. The daughter-in-law who always sees herself criticized, rather than appreciated by her mother-in-law, feels hurt, misunderstood, and angry.

The Mother-in-Law's Perspective
It may be that is the adult child-in-law who frequently criticizes the mother-in-law if she around, but is unavailable to baby sit or spend time with the grandchildren.
A husband may be the culprit who unwittingly causes bad feelings between his wife and mother when he does not make his wife his number one priority.

One mother-in-law complained: "My daughter-in-law only phones when she wants me to buy something or to baby-sit. Otherwise I'm a non-entity." Another mother-in-law complains, ""She (the daughter-in-law) has no interest in my life." Each of us wants to be respected and not taken for granted, no matter at what age.

A note to first time mothers-in-law: A mother-in-law no longer has the same privileges she may have had as a mother. She is no longer able to call or visit anytime. She cannot intrude into her son's life with requests for immediate help such as, "Help me clean my garage or change the storm windows." The wife, her daughter-in-law, is now her son's number one priority. The wife's needs now come before hers.

How To Improve The Mother-In-Law / Daughter-In-Law Relationship

Each of us needs to feel important and appreciated. These feelings are fostered when we treat each other with respect at the outset of an in-law relationship. One newlywed told her mother-in-law at the wedding, "Thank-you very much for your son." The mother-in-law still beams with pleasure ten years later when she recounts her daughter-in-law's comment. Verbalizing "thank-you" in

words or writing is important. A mother-in-law who tells her daughter-in-law: "I am happy that David chose you and that you are happy together" is off to a good start.

Also, a spouse should make sure that his or her partner feels valued, the most important person in their partner's lives. Many parent-in-law irritations diminish and even disappear when the married couple is secure that he/she is valued above all others.

Advice to mothers-in-law: Becoming a mother-in-law does not include the same privileges of being a mother. You can no longer offer suggestions, visit, or phone your married children freely, especially the first year. Step back and refrain from unsolicited suggestions and criticism.

Advice to daughters-in-law: To improve your relationship takes effort: be attentive and respectful. Value your mother-in-law as an individual, not just for her utilitarian value. Remember that your mother-in-law expects and needs the same courtesy and respect you do.

"Simple Politeness and Graciousness are Equal to Wind and Water, in Changing Matters" This maxim is an important rule for both daughter-in-law and mother-in-law. Respect and kindness are what each needs to enjoy this potentially wonderful relationship.

A mother-in-law no longer has the same privileges she may have had as a mother.
Last modified on Tuesday, 01 February 2011 16:05
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  • Comment Link Thursday, 31 October 2013 05:19 posted by Toby Klein Greenwald

    To Anonymous who posted on October 31 -- Maybe you should take a step back for now and then start with baby steps. The most important thing is to communicate with her directly when you do, and not through your son, because the worst thing you could do is go behind one spouse's back to another. Try to put the past behind you (as hard as that is, and of course it is hard!). If you know when her birthday is, send her flowers with a short, sweet note, or a different small gift through the mail. Maybe there is something going on in her life that you don't know about and that has nothing to do with you personally. Does she get along with others well? Are your son and she in a loving relationship? Nobody knows what's going on beneath another person's veneer. Best of luck! TKG, Editor, WholeFamily.com

  • Comment Link Thursday, 31 October 2013 05:13 posted by Anonymous

    My daughter in law and I were fine (or so I thought) until she married my son. Now she seems to hate me. During the reception, she screamed at me when I tried to get her out of the line of fire during an argument ... She will not speak to me unless I ask her a direct question. She gives me very nasty looks and an overall bad attitude. The money I dished out on the wedding was good enough for her but now I'm nothing more than dirt under her feet. I tried speaking to my son about it ONCE and that was enough to send me into turmoil. I won't make that mistake again. I have no pictures from the wedding as those are in her control. I didn't gain a daughter in law, but lost my son. I don't see any chance of having a relationship with any future grand kids. Basically she screwed me out of so much important things I always looked forward to. I haven't stopped crying since the wedding. My heart is shattered.

  • Comment Link Thursday, 17 October 2013 21:18 posted by Dina Sledge

    My husbands mother did try to put a wedge in between us from the beginning. We've been married 26 years so it is possible to have a strong marriage. Fortunately, my husband was in the military so any intrusion from her was over the phone. She did try, but unsuccessfully. My husband and his brother were encouraged early on to ignore her outbursts and mood swings so when she did try something, they were unaware of her comments that were very hurtful. I could go on and on about her but I realized that she is his mother, not mine. After years of trying to please her, I knew she didn't respect me or her son as her actions and words have proven. What she hasn't realized to this day is that when she tried to hurt me, it hurt her son deeply instead. We don't have any communication with them unless there is an emergency. She texts and calls even though she was asked not to. She is ignored but has always been in our prayers. We have forgiven her but have decided that we are happy without her in our day to day lives.

  • Comment Link Saturday, 07 September 2013 05:42 posted by Mary Jane

    This is in response to Kgomotso who posted on 8/22/13, who said that her mother-in-law,"doesn't want to to see or hear her, and that she's afraid of her (mother-in-law), and that her husband can't protect her." THIS IS SO SAD. She's intimidating you, and you must 'not' let her do so. Be stronger than her. Don't speak to her, unless she asks you something. If she "insults" you, don't respond, pretend you didn't hear it, and SMILE, that will drive her crazy. When you can, ask her, if this is the way her husband's mother treated her?! Your husband chose you, because he loves you. She is just jealous and selfish, and thinks she's lost her son's love. Tell her there are two kinds of love, the one he will always have for her, and the one he has for you, the future mother of his children. Good Luck!

  • Comment Link Thursday, 22 August 2013 11:19 posted by Kgomotso

    Im a female aged 31 living with my in laws, my mother in law doesn't want to see or hear from me and this thing is going to far because she started to insult me, now i can't even go outside because im afraid of her n even my husband can't even protected me! Please help me*crying*

  • Comment Link Wednesday, 26 June 2013 05:02 posted by Em

    My mother-in-law seriously tried to undermine our marriage, going so far as to call when she knows he's leave to pick me up from work. Now she's taken to calling on my birthday from the hospital to make the day all about her. My husband has blocked her from his phone and email. His choice, not mine. Though I certainly approve. I'm sure from her point of view I'm a spoiled little brat, but that's because she doesn't realize her son is an adult and is involved in an adult relationship, and I'm not just some "pet" living in "his" house.

    For all you mothers-in-law who are trying to rescue your sons from their "loveless" marriages, what do you really think you will accomplish? Worst case, you'll lose all contact with your son forever. Even if you succeed in breaking them apart, you're just going to have a resentful momma's boy moping around your house. A grown man needs to fight his own battles. Like it or not, he picked her out of all the women in the world, and she doesn't want you making trouble any more than you'd want her making an ugly scene in front of your lovers.

  • Comment Link Monday, 17 June 2013 20:57 posted by Stephanie

    I definitely appreciate this article. It addresses some key issues I have in the relationship with my mother-in-law and also my husband. I know I am guilty of things in the article - mostly trying to ignore her, but I wish I could tactfully ask her to read this. She continually shows up for a week at a time a minimum of every six weeks. She asks for money every time she comes to visit (without regard to the fact that we're just starting out ourselves)and complains about what we eat. We are very healthy eaters - veggies, lean proteins, and fruit. We don't eat anything processed, and she complained and made faces the whole time she was eating what I prepared. She also house sat for us while we were on our one year anniversary trip (four days) and the house was a mess. I know this sounds like a vent (OK, it is a vent), but I'm trying to demonstrate a Godly loving attitude toward her. I want to send her a letter, but it makes my blood boil. I do like the idea of thanking her for her son. However, she's the one who purposely sought me out to tell me she asked him, "Are you sure?" in regard to marrying me. It's so hurtful and stressful. I just want to have a healthy MIL/DIL relationship... Advice???

  • Comment Link Friday, 14 June 2013 08:11 posted by Katrina

    Please advise, I recently had an argument with the step dad in law. Rang upset because husband keeps lying to me, doesn't come home even when dinner has been cooked. Most nights his home around 11pm, after hanging around with his mates, so he tells me. Step father in law basic said" why are you telling us your problems for, we have our own problems. I was so angry, because they live about 6-7 hrs away, and that's the best he had to tell me. Oh because apparently my mother in law was going to do some heart tests. Sorry not to be rude, they have been away for so long, since my husband was 16. Then he tells me he was suppose to move up and live with them & hadn't because of me. I tell you what I would have more heart problems than her right now...I was so upset I told my step dad in law that I wish my father in law was still alive because he would never have said that to me. That I didn't want to speak to him ever again. My husband angry, they are talking about me, my brother in law , thinks I was in the wrong. What do I do???

  • Comment Link Thursday, 30 May 2013 18:09 posted by Boisterousbonnie

    Great Article. I have a daughter in law that sounds exactly like some of the traits described. I am a NON ENTITY unless SHE (the daughter-in-law) needs something. ie: babysitting. It's a shame my grandson is stuck in the middle. She makes me feel badly about myself when I'm around her and I don't like this feeling. Bad thing is she's pregnant and I already know that I won't be able to see my new grandson till he's at least 3 months old. We even moved two miles from them so we could be available. As In Laws we are not pushy or demanding. Just want to spend time with our FAMILY. But it's always only on HER terms. My husband wants to move away not being able to live on HER schedule. My son is very passive and doesn't want to be in the middle. I don't want him to be either. I love my son but don't know how we can live our lives to suite her. It's a tough price to pay!

  • Comment Link Tuesday, 23 April 2013 16:55 posted by Toby Klein Greenwald

    Greeneyes -- Being a mother-in-law can be very challenging, in the best of circumstances. It sounds as if you really have your hands full. Maybe for now you should concentrate on the grandchildren, be civil and correct toward her, and hope that eventually she will understand that she's been going too far. Perhaps a cooling off period between the two of you will give her some perspective on her behavior.

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Leah Shifrin Averick

Leah Shifrin Averick

Leah Shifrin Averick is a graduate of Brooklyn College and the University of Chicago. She is a clinical social worker who has had much persona experience in the area of in-law relationships, having been a daughter, sister, wife, mother-in-law, ex-mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and grandmother. She has appeared as an in-law relationship expert on manynational television and radio talk shows including : OPRAH, GERALDO, and MONTEL WILLIAMS. Ms. Averick is the author of a book on in-law relationships: Don't Call Me Mom: How to Improve Your In-Law Relationships.

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