Family unity and healthy interactions, who could possibly be against that? Not many! I've got two daughters-in-law who are precious to me and one more soon to be welcomed joyously into our family. I find myself always trying to be a well intentioned, non-meddling mother-in-law. Sometimes, I even succeed. Sometimes I don't.
So, in a quest to be loving, gracious and wise in my dealings with my sons' wives, I did some digging, probing and surveying. I asked daughters-in-law of all ages - newly married to married for decades - what would they like their mothers-in-law to know in order to maximize healthy relationships between them. Below are my findings:
COMMUNICATE: Tabitha advises that when a daughter-in-law asks a mother-in-law to do something, all parties should be clear on the parameters. For instance, Tabitha continues, "If I am asking my mother-in-law to help me out the first week I am home from the hospital with a new baby, before she commits or re-negs, we both should have a clear understanding about what I am asking. To stay in our home or a hotel? To clean the house? To cook? To do feedings? To watch the other children? Make sure you both know what's being asked, what's expected and what is agreed upon."
BABY-SIT: Bella told me that as a daughter-in-law, she would have appreciated more babysitting on a regular basis from her mother-in law. She says, "Although my mother-in-law was a kind, loving lady, she was clear that this was my responsibility - to be with my own kids - she already had had her 'turn'. My husband and I were desperate to have a little time to ourselves - we really needed it. What I learned: I make myself available now to my son and daughter-in- law! And if I had it to do all over again, I would have been more forthcoming with my mother-in-law about our need as a couple for a little alone time away from the kids to recharge our batteries."
EMBRACE DIFFERENCES: Rina says, "I would like my mother-in-law to honor me for who I am and the family from which I came - which includes our religion, approach to life, celebration of holidays and methods of communication - even if they clash with hers. I had a sorority sister who was Jewish, married to a Presbyterian. Every year, her mother-in-law gave her a piece of Judaica for a holiday gift. I thought that was such a heart-warming gesture. And so did she!"
RESPECT MY MOTHER: Sarah talks about the importance of her mother-in-law realizing that she has a mother who is very sensitive to the fact that she needs to share her daughter with another woman now. "When my mother-in-law invites me to do girlfriend activities, like shopping and having lunch, it's easy for me to feel torn. On the one hand, it gives us a forum for friendship beyond our mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship, but I also have to be mindful of my own mother's needs and feelings. I would ask my mother-in-law to be sensitive about this and to have a little patience, especially in the beginning, so that things can be allowed to evolve naturally."
INCLUDE, SHARE, COMPLIMENT: Jill said she started to get along much better with her mother-in-law when her mother-in-law started doing three things: including her in family discussions, inviting Jill to share with her if things were starting to go amiss and complimenting Jill on the way she does things: like makeup, child care, cooking and treating her son with love and respect.
ZIP YOUR LIPS SHUT: Samantha said the best advice she can give to mothers-in-law is to pick your battles, especially in the beginning. "Do your best to bite your tongue and not interfere unless there's a super important issue. That way, you and your daughter-in-law stand the best chance of starting off on the right foot. For example, if in your own home, you always make French Toast from scratch, but your sons's wife serves him frozen French toast, let it go. There are more important issues to tackle."
PROVIDE A SAFE HAVEN: Helen says, "I would like mothers-in-law to understand that if there is tension between us, your son is going to feel very pulled and anxious. Therefore we need to work together from this shared mindset so the man we both love is not caught in the middle of our squabbles. The best gift a mother-in-law can bestow is providing a comfortable, stress free environment when the family gets together."
CURB YOUR SELF-ABSORPTION: Connie got right to the point. "My mother-in-law over personalizes and tends to see things only from her vantage point. I would like to advise her not to over scrutinize, to lighten up, laugh more and look less diligently to find fault. And I am going to try to share a little more with her so she has a frame of reference for our actions and behaviors."
TREAD LIGHTLY: All of the above women - no matter their age - concurred that newlyweds don't want urgings from their mothers-in-law to hurry up and get pregnant. Tina summed it up succinctly. "We are not baby making machines. And we were not placed on this earth to fulfill your desire for grandchildren."
NO LITMUS TEST: And from Gail: "The biggest No-No? Talking about your son's old girlfriends and/or ex-wives. Please don't."
THINK ABOUT THIS: Geri summed it up: "The son you raised chose to marry me. How bad can I be?"
Previously published in www.americanisraelite.com/archives/category/incidentally-iris
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