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Being a good mother-in-law and/or being a good daughter-in-law is easier than one might think. It involves a little common sense, sacrificial love and the right frame of mind. The suggestions below have come from talking with many, many daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law. It comes from anecdotal evidence, not scientific proof. Keep that in mind but I think you’ll find that there is a lot to ponder and quite a bit of truth in the suggestions below. May your relationship with your mother-in-law and any daughters-in-law you may have or someday have be reflective of the love between Old Testament Ruth and Naomi. If you don’t recall their story, start here:
A nice summary of the story is here as well: http://www.womeninthebible.net/1.13.Ruth.htm
If circumstances do not permit this type of deep and meaningful relationship, simply proceed through life with love and kindness. Be realistic about what your mother-in-law or daughter-in-law will be or do. Some will never be what they can and should be, and that may very well not be your fault. People respond and act from a variety of determinants including childhood experiences, personality, and personal decisions. Setting boundaries may be necessary for self-protection in any relationship, but always one must respond in love and kindness with others, even while being firm. Fortunately, negative in-law relationships are the worst-case scenarios, and most mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationships can be fulfilling even if not perfect. With a little TLC, and by following the advice below, most mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationships can improve and be rewarding and positive, which is a blessing not only to them but also to the children/grandchildren and the husband/son, and everyone around them.
First, we will consider how to be a good mother-in-law.
-Do not criticize your daughter-in-law’s hair, her clothes, her house, her children, publicly or even privately to your friends. Do not roll your eyes or make sarcastic remarks. If someone’s physical or moral being is in imminent danger, you may, in fact, should intervene, but do so the way you would want to be approached. Do this kindly, and not in an embarrassing or accusatory way.
-Recognize that your daughter-in-law has unique gifts and talents, which are not necessarily the same as yours. Recognize that she has unique weaknesses and stresses/struggles, as well, which are not the same as yours. Compliment her on the former. Ignore or support her in the latter.
-Understand that you both love her husband, your son. Don’t force your son to choose between her and you. In other words, don’t compete. Don’t try to prove you are the ‘alpha female’ and dictate how holidays are to be celebrated, where the two of them should live, how they should raise their children etc. A man “leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body” (Gn 2:24). That being said, realize in giving birth to your son and raising him for the Lord that you will always have a special place in your son’s heart. You have paved the way for him to be a man of God, a good husband and father. You are special to him in a way that no other person can be. You nursed him as a baby and cared for him as a child. You taught him about life and now must release him to follow his own mission as you did yours. No one can take this relationship and special bond from you. Don’t be threatened by his wife. He can love her well because you taught him how to love. Your son doesn’t love you less because he loves his wife. It is not a competition. She is not your rival.
-Respect your son’s new family. Do not drop in unannounced. Do not demand that your son cater to your wishes. Do not ask him to stop what he is doing to come to your house on a whim and fix a window or paint a room or fix the plumbing. If you need help, it is fine to ask but don’t treat him as your teenaged son with Saturday chores. Respect his position as husband to his wife. Feel free to request your son’s help if you need it, but do so respectfully. If his wife is wise and kind she will encourage him to help you with reasonable requests. Do not speak ill of your daughter-in-law to your son. Ever.
–Treat your daughter in law equally as you would your own daughter. Feelings are not love. Chosen actions demonstrate love, which is a decision. It is natural you may have stronger feelings for your own flesh and blood daughter but your daughter-in -law should never see that. She is your adopted daughter now. In St. Therese’s biography we read that she treated one of the sisters in her convent, whom she did not particularly like, with extra love and kindness, so much that after she died other sisters thought that the one she really did not like was her favorite. God allows crosses in our lives to help us reach spiritual maturity. Treat your daughter-in-law the way you would have liked to be treated by your mother-in-law.
-If you don’t like something, bite your tongue. Don’t assume your daughter-in-law wants advice on her hair, her house, her clothes, her parenting. Give advice only when she asks or if someone is in immediate serious physical or moral danger. Trust that your son chose a good helpmate. Bite your tongue. Bite your tongue. Chew gum if you have to. Bite your tongue.
-Miscellaneous thoughts: Buy a thoughtful present (it doesn’t need to be expensive) for her birthday. Be available. Trust her judgment. Compliment when you see her doing something well. Offer to babysit but don’t demand. Respect her way of raising her children, your grandchildren. Don’t just call your son on his cell phone. Call her occasionally too. Don’t exclude, but do include. Try to build your own relationship with this girl your son loves enough to devote the rest of his life to. Be encouraging. Be cheerful. Pray for her. Be patient with her. She is young. She will make mistakes. You did too. Forgive. Overlook. Remember your own mother-in-law.
-Demonstrate temperance. Don’t eat in excess. Don’t drink in excess. Demonstrate the behavior you hope she will emulate, but show, don’t tell. Be a model for her. Be the older woman she will want to be like. Help her grow in wisdom and grace. Leave pettiness behind. Thank God for this new daughter into your family and pray that she and your son will grow in holiness and goodness and that you will be a Titus 2 woman, showing example and love to them for the rest of your life.
Now for the daughters-in-law- Here is how to be a good daughter in law….
-Respect the mother of your husband. Respect and honor her as the one who raised him to be the man you love. Recognize that she has gifts and talents, which are not necessarily the same as yours. Recognize that she has unique weaknesses and stresses/struggles, which are not the same as yours. Focus on the former. Try to ignore or support her in the latter. If you want to show appreciation for the man who is your husband, send his mother flowers on his birthday and thank her for giving him life. On special days send a note that you appreciate the man he is and the role she played in raising him well. Compliment your husband in the presence of his mother. She will take it personally. As she should.
-Do not criticize your mother-in-law’s hair, her clothes, her house, her food, her attitude, publicly or even privately to your friends. Do not roll your eyes or make sarcastic remarks. If you want to build a relationship with her, you must not, repeat must not make disparaging remarks about her to your sister, your mother, your friend. You may certainly ask advice of a close confidant, but try to treat her the way you would want to be treated. She is not perfect. Neither are you. Imagine your son’s future wife talking about you. What would you want her to say?
– Understand that you both love your husband, her son. Don’t force your husband to choose between her and you. You are not rivals. Your husband owes his mother honor and respect, but he is your husband first now. Try to encourage his relationship with his mother. If he tends to forget birthdays, remind him about hers. Ask him if he would like you to select a nice gift for her. Encourage him to offer her help if she seems to need it. If she is a widow this will be more necessary than if not. Invite your in-laws over for Sunday dinner once a month or on some regular basis. Your husband will appreciate the effort and so will his parents. Do not speak ill of your mother-in-law to your husband. If there is an issue between you that needs to be discussed you may bring it up, but do not complain about petty things. It’s not fair to him and pits her against you.
-Treat your mother-in-law the way you would treat your own mother. . Treat her with the respect and honor you would treat your own mother. Feelings are not love. Actions demonstrate love, which is a decision. It is natural that you will have stronger feelings for your own mother than for your mother-in-law, but she doesn’t need to know that. (see above) Show her extra love and kindness even if she irritates you, annoys you and makes you feel stressed. It is fine to distance yourself from critical people, but important to be pleasant in everyone’s company. Your husband will appreciate this effort.
-Ask your mother-in-law’s opinion. She is probably dying to give it. You don’t always have to follow her advice, but she has many years of experience and probably some wisdom in some areas. Try to learn from her. Ask for some of your husband’s favorite recipes from her. Include her in your husband’s birthday celebrations. Invite her over. Encourage your husband to spend time with his mother on special days such as her birthday. Be generous if she needs occasional help. Don’t be selfish with your husband’s time. She gave him life. You are his wife. Realize you both love your husband. Don’t compete. Don’t try to prove you are the ‘alpha female’. Do not demand that she cater to your wishes. Sacrifice for each other.
-Pray for her. It can be a difficult transition, as well as satisfying, to watch a son grow up, move out and start a family of his own. It can be difficult for a mother-in-law to face the aging process in general- a decline in others needing her, a decline, perhaps in health and in her mind, beauty. Validate her worth and positive attributes when you can. Be a friend. Love her.