10 Ways to Be a Better Mother-in-Law

Rebecca Eckler December 13, 2018
Mother in Law

I’ve now had two mothers-in-law in my life. The first is my daughter’s grandmother who I speak to regularly, who has always been kind to me, and who I always look forward to seeing. The second is my son’s grandmother and, well, at this point, we don’t speak.

So I’ve experienced both good and not-so-good relationships with mothers-in-law. Of course, it’s important to respect and be polite to our mothers-in-law, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t also help forge a happy and healthy bond with their daughters-in-law. It’s never too late.

Here are ten candid truths, in no specific order, on how to be a better mother-in-law (straight from the lips of a daughter-in-law.)

TEN TIPS FOR BEING A KICK-ASS MOTHER-IN-LAW

1) Please understand that your son can’t always be right when we’re arguing.

Why? Because no one is always right. No. One. And, yes, that includes your son. Most of us daughters-in-law know, or will quickly learn, that blood is thicker than water, especially when we fight with our spouses. And, in almost every case, if you know we are fighting, we already know that you will side with your son…no matter what. But, if you could just try and see things from our side, be empathetic, and see why we may be having issues with your son, then we’ll know that you can at least be objective, no matter how hard that is for you. There are always three sides to every story, as the saying goes; his, hers, and the truth. Again, we know you will almost always side with your offspring, but an acknowledgment that us daughters-in-law may have a valid point will help build a great relationship. Which brings me to…

2) Please get to know me.

I’m the one your son fell in love with, after all. Don’t you want to see what he sees, if that’s possible? The conversations with you are different when I’m with your son (and kids.) So, even if we haven’t bonded, it’s never too late. Ask me to go for a coffee, or a movie, or for a long walk, with just us two. Or even just call once a week, which will make me want to call you once a week. Yes, we know no one will ever be quite good enough for your son, but, if you put some time and effort in getting to know me, as an individual, you may actually find that you like me! We may have more in common than you think. I’m so much more than your son’s wife. I have my own interests, friends, and career. And I’d love to hear about your life too! I’d love to know how you got proposed to, what crazy stuff your son did when he was younger, and even something as simple as discussing book recommendations. We, of course, should reach out to you, too, for one-on-one dates, but keep in mind that it’s sometimes scary, as a daughter-in-law, to reach out and ask you out for a date. Some of us are never quite at ease with you, but if you’d reach out…I’d happily accept the invitation.

3) I genuinely want you to have an amazing relationship with my children. But I don’t want you to parent them.

(I don’t want my own parents to do this either.) I don’t need to hear, “Have you signed him up for swim lessons yet?” “Are you getting his hair cut soon?” “When’s his next dentist appointment?” or “Did he eat his lunch today?” We know this is all coming from a good place, but if you want to have a good relationship with me, don’t undermine my parenting. Sorry, but sometimes this will require you to bite your tongue. This, too, goes for coming for a visit and then cleaning my kitchen. The free housekeeping is awesome, but also keep in mind, it can be seen as undermining the way I run my house. You may not know this, but this is how we feel when you walk in and start cleaning. Sure, the house may not be to your high standards. But it’s my house. We love and appreciate that you care, but you need to chill. I guess what I’m trying to say is, “I’ve got this parenting thing. Don’t worry! And a few crumbs never killed anyone.” Which brings me to…

4) Could you tell me I’m doing a good job sometimes?

You may not agree with how I’m raising your grandchild, but look how happy they are! Look how polite they are! I may not parent your way, but that doesn’t mean I’m doing it the wrong way. Please remember that raising little ones is HARD. You were a parent of little ones once too. Please remember the exhaustion, the never-ending carpools, the tantrums, and what it is like to raise a teenager. Also, both my mothers-in-Law were stay-at-home parents, so please understand that most of us daughters-in-law also have careers outside the home nowadays, so we’re juggling a lot. But we all want to be liked by our mothers-in-Law, even if we think we don’t care. A little compliment – from the person we are trying so hard to please, even if we don’t show it – can go a long, long way.

5) I WANT you to tell me if I hurt your feelings, or if you’re upset with me.

There’s nothing worse than a mother-in-law who tells you six months after the fact, that you upset them. Wait…there is something worse, which is hearing what you did to upset them via their son. I’m a big girl. If you have a problem with me, tell me, not your son. That just puts him in the middle and no one wins. Sitting on your resentment of something that happened 18 months ago, or hearing that your feelings were hurt over something I would never have guessed, makes me wonder why you don’t feel comfortable coming straight to me. Aren’t we both adults? So, let’s hash it out. And if I upset you, please leave your son out of it. I don’t want to hear about something I did or did not do, eight months after the fact. I really don’t want you to waste your energy resenting me, either. I truly don’t. Sure, I may not like what you say, but I am a reasonable person. Most likely, I will be sorry and I will tell you that I’m sorry. I’ll probably tell you I’m sorry even if I’m not. But if you continually ‘tell on me’ to your son, you’re only going to create more issues between you and your son and me and your son. Do you really want to potentially drive a wedge between you and your son, if he happens to side with me? Didn’t think so. Keep in mind, us daughters-in-law are not mind-readers, so speak up instead of simmering. It will make you feel better too.

6) Please cut me some slack.

It may seem like we’ve “stolen” your child, and that we’re the ones responsible for your son not visiting as often as he once did. But, please, cut your daughter-in-law some slack. Sometimes, I don’t want to go to another family function. And it has NOTHING to do with whether we like you or not. Sometimes, we just aren’t up for it. Sometimes, we just want to lay low. Sometimes we just want to spend quality time with our children, alone. Please do not take it personally if we don’t accept every single weekend invitation to a family function. It’s not personal! Believe it or not, it’s sometimes your son who makes the excuse not to visit you (are you really that shocked?) Don’t always blame the daughter-in-law! Instead of making us feel guilty, just say a simple, “Maybe next time!” Or, “Sorry you can’t make it. I understand.” No one wins with a guilt trip.

7) Please get to know my parents too.

My parents have a wonderful relationship with my ex-in-laws, my daughter’s grandparents, to the point that they still go out for dinner together, more than a decade after my daughter’s father and I broke up. I just think this is a nice thing to do. After all, you are co-grandparenting together. Again, someone has to make the first move, but why wouldn’t you want to get to know the “Other Grandparents”? The more the merrier, right? So if you’re having a celebration for my kid, please don’t forget about inviting my parents.

8) If you want to see your grandkids, I will say yes 99 percent of the time.

Just like I don’t want you to parent me, I’m not going to parent you when you babysit. Give them chocolate. Buy them toys. Cut off the crusts of their heart-shaped grilled cheese sandwich. It’s the job description of a grandparent to spoil their grandkids. You may not realize this, but you’re LUCKY to have me as a daughter-in-law, because there are some out there who don’t even want you to hold their baby, babysit, or will tell you a million things NOT to do if you are babysitting. Frankly, even though your son and I didn’t make it as a couple, I’m not going to punish you or get in the middle of your relationship with your grandchildren.

9) Being petty or passive aggressive with me is just not cool.

After my son’s father and I broke up, my ex-mother-in-law blocked me from social media, didn’t call my daughter on her birthday (we broke up four months earlier, but my daughter had been in her life for seven years.) Just because you are my ex-mother-in-law doesn’t mean I’m going to interfere with your relationship with my kids. But it also doesn’t mean I’m going to be a pushover. Whenever I go away on vacation or do some fun activity with my children, I always send photographs to their respective fathers and grandparents. But if you refuse to pick up the phone, check in once in a while, or don’t seem to appreciate that I’m sending you photographs, when I have absolutely no obligation to do so, I will be less inclined to continue to go out of my way. I don’t expect extra credit for sending photos or keeping you in the loop about your grandchild when he’s not with your son, but I do expect a simple thank you. Even if you dislike me, now that I’m an ex-daughter-in-law, try and remain civil with me. If you’re civil with me, I’ll be civil with you, whether we ‘like’ each other or not.

10) I will never get in the middle of you and your son’s relationship.

So you don’t have to go out of your way to make sure that you’re still the number one woman in your son’s life. Yes, I may think it’s odd that you’ll take my son’s father’s shirts and iron them, or pick up his clothes to take them to the dry cleaners, even though he’s in his forties, but I’ll let it go if that’s what matters to you. I don’t want to get in the way of your relationship. I’m a mother, too.

Obviously, to have a happy and healthy mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship, it’s a two-way street, of course. These are just a few things to think about when it comes to us daughters-in-law, who really are trying our very best.

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