Six months before my son’s wedding, I asked Emily, a married friend, “What’s something you appreciate about your mother-in-law? What’s something she does that you’d advise me to do?”
“My mother-in-law makes a point of connecting directly to me,” she said. “Sure, she writes to Kyle and me. But, she writes emails and text messages just to me. I know that she’s thinking about me as my own person, with my own interests and work.”
I took Emily’s words to heart and started sending a text to my future daughter-in-law every week or ten days. The messages were brief. They didn’t require a response. “Thinking about you today,” and “Hope you’re enjoying the wedding planning,” stated simple truths and expressed my affection.
I also carried the advice into my relationship with a new son-in-law a year later. These messages are different: “Sounds like you had a successful fishing trip this weekend,” and “Sorry to hear there’s more snow headed your way!”
Emily’s words remind me that when it comes to being a mother-in-law, it’s all about the relationships.
So, heading into Mother’s Day, I asked some of the wise women in my life — mothers-in-law and young, married women — for their best relationship advice to soon-to-be mothers-in-law.
Advice: Get to Know Your Soon-to-be Or New In-law
Find ways to spend time with your future in-law. Send an email with a link to an article related to their interest. Invite him out for coffee. Take her to lunch.
My friend Meredith recalls, “Before our daughter got married, her fiancé was in our area without her for a number of months. We got to hang out with him independent of her and came to know and love him for his own sake, not just hers.”
Other mothers-in-law and young women concur. Each one appreciated the time and effort their future mothers-in-law made to spend time with them. They were glad their own mothers made efforts to get to know future sons-in-law.
With her daughter and future son-in-law in East Africa while she lived in the U.S., Jessica’s mother scheduled Skype calls with Matt during the months leading up to the wedding. Physical distance does not excuse us from reaching out to connect.
Advice: Savor the New Relationships
Relationships with our children continue to evolve inside and outside their other relationships. One newlywed notes that she no longer schedules weekly calls with her parents.
“My mother doesn’t expect to talk with me as often as we did before I was married,” says Lauren. She adds, “Now that I’m married, I talk about things with my husband that I don’t talk about with my mother. It doesn’t mean I value our relationship any less or love her any differently. We’re just in a different stage.” And different is an OK place to be.
It’s not uncommon to experience a sense of loss as our adult children enter new phases of life. Don’t be afraid to talk about those feelings.
Peggy writes, “Things should change as your child leaves you and cleaves to his or her spouse. Don’t fear having honest feelings about it.” Her daughter elaborates, “My mother and I had some open discussions and even lively conflicts. But this has allowed us to get those feelings out about the changes and move into a new, healthy place.”
Advice: Accept, Don’t Expect
Don’t expect your child and new in-law to do life as you would like. There’s an adage that goes, “An expectation is a planned resentment.”
The new couple will be establishing their own home, traditions and values. It’s OK if your daughter and her husband buy dishes from Target and decline Grandma’s china (as did my daughter and her husband).
Your adult kids and their partners may no longer join the family on vacation or celebrate holidays with you. Honor their choices. Enjoy any time you have with them.
Meredith reminds her kids, “You are always welcome, but never expected.”
Advice: Keep Your Mouth Shut Unless Asked, and Even Then, Tread Carefully
Brash but wise counsel!
Every mother-in-law and daughter-in-law with whom I spoke affirmed this. When I’m tempted to insert my opinion, my sister’s words come to mind, “Put the relationship first. Is what you want to say worth risking the relationship?”
Advice: Allow the New Couple the Gift of Their Own Experiences
We want the best for our kids and their families. It’s easy to confuse what is best for them with what worked for us.
When the new couple’s move abroad stresses their marriage or they struggle to make friends in a new community, just remind them that you love them.
When launching a new business exhausts the partners’ finances or rehabbing a house overwhelms them, encourage with, “You’ll figure this out.”
Advice: Extend Grace, Express Gratitude and Love
We all make mistakes. Sometimes we hurt our loved ones.
When you’ve overstepped, say, “I’m sorry.” Be swift to forgive if you’ve been hurt.
Let your son-in-law know what you appreciate about him.
Tell your daughter-in-law “Thank you,” for the kindnesses she demonstrates and for the work she does. There is no substitute for unconditional love.
Advice: Live Your Own Life
We are the only ones responsible for our joy and happiness. Some of the happiest mothers-in-law I know are those who live their own lives first. They travel, grow their careers, volunteer, learn new skills, deepen friendships. They are not afraid to say no to requests from their kids and in-laws.
Because they are comfortable saying no, they take pleasure in saying, yes.