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Friday, March 15, 2013

Can't We In-Laws Get Along?

She's not this bad, is she?

Since Chris’s post last week I’ve been thinking about that most fraught and loaded of relationships: that between a mother and the woman her son marries. Why is it so rare to have a good mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship? There seems to be so much judgment, resentment and hard feelings on both sides. I have a great relationship with my MIL. I don’t take credit for that, because she makes it easy, but I do have some thoughts of how to improve your in-law relationship.

For the MILs: Put yourself in your DIL’s shoes. Probably she prefers her own family – isn’t that natural? Didn’t you prefer your family to your husband’s? That doesn’t mean she doesn’t like you, she’s just more comfortable with her own. Likely, she’s stretched very thin. Raising a family is very hard, and if she’s also juggling a career, free time is precious and scarce. Be the kind of MIL you wish you had. Focus on her positive qualities. Try to see what your son loves in her. Appreciate whatever time you do have with the grandchildren and your son. If they are making time for you, even if you wish there was more, it’s because they love you. Be proud that you raised a son who prioritizes his wife and children, even if it hurts sometimes that he’s gone.

As for the DILs, yes, probably your MIL wants more time with your kids and husband than she gets. She loves them, she misses them. Try not to see that as a condemnation of you. Maybe she doesn't like your cooking, or disagrees with your parenting, or thinks you should take better care of her son. You don't have to take this personally. Let her think what she wants. Try giving her some time with the kids when you're not hovering over her. Send your husband too if she needs supervision. Go have some time to yourself. You know you need it.

For both MILs and DILs, decide to love each other. My MIL taught me that was possible. There was a girl one of her sons dated for a while, and when I criticized her, my MIL said, “I don’t want to hear anything bad about her, because if my son decides to marry her, we’re going to have to love her.” I found this idea radical at the time, but now I believe it to be true. I probably can’t force myself to like someone, but I can decide to love them. How to put this into practice? Imagine your MIL or DIL as a small child, before the world messed them up. Assume the other means well, even if it comes across as judgment. If necessary, limit the amount of time you spend with the person, but when you’re together, focus on the positive, and try to forgive her for the rest. 


  1. My friends and I have had endless conversations on this topic and we think we've arrived at what we believe is the explanation...not an answer, mind you, but an explanation. Observation has shown us that women tend to more closely align with their mothers and when they marry, their husbands tend to go along to get along in terms of the daughter's family. They tend to see them more often, communicate more frequently. Poor guy does what he is told. So my friends with married daughters are more involved, my friends with married sons, not so much. And that isn't by choice. Even though the son's mother may have been pro-active in being overly kind, biting their tongues, and wearing beige there still seems to be some distance. We think it could be territorial...women, like cats, tend to stake out their space. And are loathe to duplicate the mother (recipes, etc) because they really don't want to be viewed as a substitute mother. It's a phenomenon, yes? And a conundrum for sure!

  2. Julie, I admit that this theme was on my mind when I penned my MIL post. I have heard these stories from friends who are mothers of sons, who feel like they are runners up when it comes to quality time with grandkids, the special holidays and other life events. I like your advice to be the kind of MIL you wish you had. To love each other, even if you struggle to like each other. After all, you have that one great thing in common -- love for the man who is son and husband. I was amused at Jacqui's observation about staking territory. There probably is some biological thing going on -- wouldn't it be fun to see how National Geographic would explain it?

  3. Hi ladies, Thanks for the thoughts from the MIL side of things. I would love to hear from more MILs about this issue. Maybe the lack of honest communication worsens the problem? I am the mother of a son, so one day I will likely be a MIL. I will try to follow my own advice. Until then, I feel extremely grateful for my MIL, the wise and generous Kate, who I not only love, I genuinely like.