Mother-in-laws. A combination of words that can strike fear, anxiety or even anger in a marriage. In the average household, the mother-in-law can be seen as the equivalent to a Disney princess stepmother. Why Disney never capitalized on mother-in-law villains beats me. But while we all smirk at the stereotypical mother-in-law figure that has been painted by culture and media, we also need to be the change to restore those stereotypes, the family unit and even our marriage.
My mother-in-law and I have a great relationship. We even call each other just to talk. Gasp! I know. This is almost unheard of but at the same time, she and I have worked very hard to develop a healthy relationship. That’s why I want to share with you what I’ve learned interacting with my mother-in-law as well as watching my mother and mother-in-law deal with their mother-in-laws.
Even if you’re in a situation where you don’t think your mother-in-law will want to reciprocate the work in restoring the relationship, the change has to start somewhere. Might as well be you! If you personally are not willing to make the change, you won’t see your relationship change and there will always continue to be tension. You need to be the change you desire.
Here’s how to be the change and start having a good relationship with your mother-in-law:
1. Be Intentional
Find time to spend time with her and create conversation. This can be as simple as recipe sharing and cooking together (food always brings people together!) or going over old family photos and hearing stories about her childhood and your spouse’s childhood. Being intentional with her shows that you care and aren’t looking to shut her out or cause a rift in the family. It also shows that you’re serious about the relationship between the two of you.
2. Stop Complaining and Start Accepting
Complaining gets you nowhere but accepting will change your perspective. I know, you’re wondering, “How do I accept someone who loathes my existence?” The easiest way to stop the complaining is to find something about her that you are thankful for. It can be something like how great of a grandmother she is to your kids or how great of a job she did raising the man your husband is now. If your relationship is really strained, keep it simple. Recognize what her strengths are and be thankful for them.
3. Be Respectful
This one is easy to talk about but a tough one to follow through on. Work on putting your pride aside. Even if it means you have to be the bigger person, know when to say sorry and be the first one to say sorry.
4. Don’t Gossip
Proverbs 16:28 (NIV) “A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends”. There’s so much truth to that verse in the Bible. Gossiping and speaking negatively about your mother-in-law can actually hurt your marriage and make your husband feel uncomfortable or stressed. Whether you’re sharing how you feel with your husband or even mentally thinking to yourself, effectively communicate how you feel rather than spewing negative words. Don’t call her the b-word. Replace it with, “She makes me feel frustrated by…” Name-calling might feel good in the moment, but it will do nothing to resolve a frustrating situation with her and create division in your family. Ask yourself, “Can I say this in front of her?” If you can’t say it in front of her, than it’s considered gossiping.
Much like in a marriage, misunderstandings with your mother-in-law can cause a rift. The best thing (and yes, I’ll admit sometimes the hardest) is to communicate boundaries rather than assuming that she already knows. Without communication of those boundaries, how else is she going to know she has overstepped and is causing frustration? Setting boundaries creates a lot of peace on both sides of the camp.
On the other side of things, communicate with your spouse on how you feel about your mother-in-law. The last thing your husband/wife wants is an all out war between you and your mother-in-law. Therefore, holding in how you feel helps no one and often times, your spouse will step in and help communicate to her on how she can remedy the issue.
6. Give Her Some Space
Sometimes your mother-in-law wants to spend a little one-on-one time with her baby and that’s okay! It doesn’t always need to be you and your husband/wife and her. What’s the saying? Two’s company and three’s a crowd. This can certainly be the case in this situation. Let them have a lunch or special outing together without you. The result will be a happy mother-in-law that doesn’t feel smothered. And if you have a strained relationship with her (I’m guessing you do because you’ve gotten this far), you get a little time to yourself without her there. Get a babysitter and book a spa appointment. Win, win!
7. Stop Competing!
You don’t need to be better than her. She’s also not necessarily better than you. Even if she is competing and comparing herself to you by putting you down or making you feel guilty, you need to remember that your husband married you for a reason.
8. Learn to Glean from Her Wisdom
Even if you’re still learning to respect her, she’s older than you. She’s been through a lot. She’s learned a lot. She’s a veteran of marriage, family and life in general. Chances are she’s gone through your situation and even if she may not have handled it with grace, she’s probably learned what not to do! She also comes from a different background, which means that she might handle circumstances differently and it might actually be refreshing to get a different point of view.
9. Find Ways to Include Her
Often times, you mother-in-law is offended because she feels like she’s being left out. Don’t let her feel like she is being replaced or that she’s not important to you and your nuclear family. She’s still a major part in the family and plays an important role (especially when kiddos come along). Let her know about family events, send her photos of the grandchildren often, even if you don’t have kids, keep her updated on you and your husband/wife’s adventures.
10. Learn from the Past
I learned a lot about my mother-in-law by observing how she interacted with her mother-in-law. I quickly learned what drove my mother-in-law crazy and what kind of relationship she really desired. I learned what not to do and also what to do. It was a very valuable lesson and a crash course in really getting to know her.
What do you and your mother-in-law struggle with? Have you learned any other great ways to help grow a relationship with your mother-in-law? Let us know! We’d love to hear from you.