By Elizabeth Slagel
A personal perspective
It’s a toss-up. Your future mother-in-law can be someone you will grow intensely close or master the art of tolerance.
You’re not just marrying the love of your life, but also his or her family. I’ll tell this story from the bride’s perspective as it’s my own but know the pendulum swings both ways.
I reflect on my own naivety and pride when developing my own relationship with my mother-in-law. I was young and pretty sure I knew it all. Looking back, I can say my mother-in-law likely had more tolerance for me than I did her. Yes, I just said it. I was often wrong in my early years.
Her son was the apple of her eye and he loved her dearly. He was also an older bachelor and was in the middle of a house building project when we met. The transition of her taking a hands-off approach to the project and me a hands-on fueled even more tension.
Believe me, there were plenty of eye rolls and annoyances. Then came our first born and I sometimes felt in her mind he had none of my genetics. I affectionately tell the story of baking my husband a cake for his birthday. It was of course his favorite, red velvet cake. I was so proud as I’d actually made it myself using Duncan Heinz, of course. The very next day, she sent over a red velvet cake made from scratch on a cake stand with fresh mint on top to show me how it’s properly done.
The tit for tat didn’t last forever. Rather, in her own way she wanted to bring out the best in me and slowly recognized I had some growing up to do. Her tactics could have used some finetuning, but now I know it was her eagerness to get me on track that led to some offenses. I learned too, there was much to learn from her, and she was an excellent resource and loved me dearly as I did her as well.
Her grace and patience with me ended with a mutual respect and had I’d known then, what I know now, I could have had many more happy moments with her. These are typically lessons you have to learn firsthand, but I could have used these tips in the beginning:
- Remember she loved him or her first. A mother’s love is a force in itself. Don’t fight it. Instead, join forces.
- Don’t say hurtful things about your mother-in-law to your spouse. Keep those comments to yourself or an unrelated confidante.
- Build an alliance. This isn’t the Game of Thrones, but your mother-in-law can be another strong female figure in your life that offers help and advice when needed.
- Remember, building a relationship with your mother-in-law in no way expresses disloyalty to your own mother. I recall feeling this way at first, especially during the holidays and I’ve seen it in a number of young married couples that remain fiercely loyal to their own family and don’t always embrace the in-laws, which is unfortunate.
- She raised your beloved, therefore the traits he or she has you admire likely came from her.
- Boundaries are okay. Remember clear communication with your mother-in-law will lay the groundwork for a healthier relationship in the long run.
- Uncomfortable conversations are better received from their own child. Let him or her tell his mother when a boundary needs set. Follow up with kindness and affirmation but stand by the line drawn.
- Don’t involve your mother-in-law in a quarrel with your spouse. This wasn’t the kind of alliance suggested. A sage older woman once told me you never tell your mother (or mother-in-law) of a quarrel with your spouse.
- Appreciate her because you likely won’t really know her worth until she is gone.
- Take notes. You most likely will walk in her shoes someday. Take notes of what she did that made an impression on you and ways you can make an incredible in-law yourself someday.