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.