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What’s a Mother/Daughter-In-Law To Do?

Clark University sociologist Deborah M. Merrill, who has been researching female in-law relationships for over a decade, interviewed daughters-in-law and many of their mothers-in-law for her book, “Mothers-in-Law and Daughters-in-Law.”  Interestingly, Merrill encountered a much higher than expected number of warm and loving mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationships. Most, she says, improve over time.  And although conflict existed in 42 percent of the relationships, it’s not any one person’s “fault.” Rather, it is “the result of a life course transition for which many families may not be prepared.”  If you’re struggling in either role, perhaps these pointers will help:

Daughters-in-law:

Be open to advice. Part of the difficulty of in-law relationships is that you both want what is best for your own nuclear family, and that causes conflict.  Daughters-in-law often complain that mothers-in-law interfere with how they raise their children or offer unsolicited advice to the couple.  One daughter-in-law told me that she dealt with this by telling her mother-in-law that she would “take her advice into consideration.”  This made her mother-in-law feel better because she was able to voice her opinion.  It also helped the daughter-in-law to avoid conflict and any further discussion of a topic that she felt was not her mother-in-law’s concern.

Don’t overreact. Some women feel their mothers-in-law step on their toes. It is important to remember that your mother-in-law is still a mother even though her child is married.  Daughters-in-law should respect their mother-in-law’s position.  In other words, don’t expect your partner’s mother to stop being a mother over night.  Pick your battles.  For example, if it is important to her to make your partner’s favorite dish for a holiday, let her do so.  For the little things, it is better to overlook your mother-in-law’s need to continue mothering.

Separate mother-in-law issues from marital problems. If you feel that your mother-in-law is too possessive of your husband and that he does not try to prevent that, then you have a problem with your marriage and should seek counseling.  It should be a red flag to you if your husband is more attuned to, and concerned with, his mother than with you.

Make sure that visits work for both generations. Daughters-in-law complain that visits are sometimes too long or unpleasant.  It is important to be a part of the family, and that includes visiting.  However, you have some say in how long the visit will be.  Anything beyond a week or two is likely to be burdensome for the hosts, whether you or your in-laws.  If even one week is too long, I would recommend a shorter but pleasant visit over a longer unpleasant one.

If necessarily, it’s okay for your husband to visit without you.
If you feel you are not welcomed by your in-laws, this can cause serious problems.  Staying away but encouraging your spouse to visit his parents may be  your best option.  You are not obligated to take part in the family if you do not feel welcomed.

Mothers-in-law:

Be kind, respectful, and welcoming. Some mothers-in-law feel that their daughters-in-law do not include them or that they are on the outside looking in on their son’s life.   Your daughter-in-law is more likely to include you if it is reciprocated.  Include her in your relationship with your son as much as you can.  Be kind when you can.  In the beginning, your daughter-in-law may be reluctant to include you in family meals or events if she feels that she is being scrutinized.  Be sure to compliment her on what she has done.  Starting the relationship off positively will prevent misinterpretations later on in time.

Remember that your son has his own family now. He will likely alter his relationship with you somewhat as a result.  For example, he may not have as much time to spend with you as in the past.  Do not take it personally.  It is the normal life cycle of all families.

Appreciate your step-grandchildren, too. If your daughter-in-law has children from a previous marriage, be sure to treat them like your other grandchildren as much as possible.  It puts your daughter-in-law in an awkward position if she feels that her children are treated differently from the others.  While you may in fact love your biological grandchildren more, try not to make it too obvious.

Be realistic–and fair. Mothers-in-law are expected to treat their daughters-in-law just like daughters.  This evolves only in the best of circumstances though.  However, you should make your daughter-in-law feel welcome in your family.  If you cannot treat her like a daughter, at least treat her like you would any other family member.  Both of you now have the responsibilities of family; you should reap some of the benefits as well.

Respect boundaries. Never interfere in your son and daughter-in-law’s decisions.  Offer your opinion only when they ask for it.  Do not make comparisons to your other children and grandchildren.

One Response to “What’s a Mother/Daughter-In-Law To Do?”

  1. […] another country, you’ll get some good pointers from this latest addition to the MotherU Buzz, What’s a Mother/Daughter-in-law To Do, written by sociologist Deborah M. Merrill.   The advice is drawn from her book, Mothers-in-law […]

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