My tips to TAME a mother-in-law
Of All the different relationships in family life, the one between a mother-in-law and daughter- in- law is often the most tenuous.
I have friends who’ve been at loggerheads with their husband’s mother for years. They dread her visits and ignore her advice.
far from forging a close bond, there exists instead a shaky truce, silently negotiated. (To use the word ‘truce’ might make you think of war, and it’s true — sometimes this relationship can become downright embattled.)
Take a friend of mine, who is a petite size 8. her mother-in-law, who had lost a lot of weight, sent her bags of her discarded size 16 clothes with a note: ‘Thought these might come in useful when you want to make Ben proud.’ Wow. Passive aggression at its height.
Not quite family, but never really friends, the mother and daughter-inlaw relationship has tension from the start. It brings together women with different values and upbringings, with the expectation they should agree on what it means to be a wife and mother.
I must admit that, when I first met my husband, Sten, I feared I’d fallen in love with a mummy’s boy. We met at a party when I was 28 and I quickly realised he was close to both his parents (his dad, Peder, sadly died last July).
having had a difficult relationship with my own mother — complicated by the fact that she was manic depressive, so, growing up, it was my older sister to whom I turned for support — I found it rather strange that Sten and I were always going to visit them.
No one could say that Sten ended up marrying his mother. Prue is organised, cultured and sophisticated, while I have a chaotic mind, am a bit of a philistine and generally look like a slob.
my passion for Prue comes from her hands- off approach to our marriage. She’s never once interfered with unsolicited advice or foisted judgment on my many failings.
That is not to say she is an unreachable wall of silence. far from it: I know she is a wise ear when I’m worried and she has proved herself an invaluable source of understanding when I most need it.
The result is a close connection that goes beyond the traditional maternal bond.
To be loved by your mother-inlaw is a rare thing. I appreciate how lucky I am, especially as research tells us that only four in ten married women enjoy a stress- free relationship with their husband’s mother.
Building a relationship — or even just a truce — takes time and patience, but it’s worth it.
here are some of the lessons I’ve learnt along the way . . .
What makes her tick?
IN MY experience, the best way for mothers and daughtersin-law to avoid building resentment is to chat openly about their life experiences and views on childcare.
Ask questions such as: ‘ What was it like for you bringing up children?’ and ‘how did it feel?’
After I got married, I asked Prue so many questions about her upbringing, her marriage, her years parenting three wild boys.
My hope was that she would be open with me and, although I took her by surprise, it brought us closer. So acknowledge your mother-in-law’s views.
When you have learnt more about your husband’s mother as a woman, then you will know where her expectations come from. You might not agree with her, but she will feel valued.
Nip feuds in the bud
The easiest way to make your mother-in-law feel that she’s no longer part of your spouse’s family is to keep her, and any reference to her, out of your home.
So make sure you have as many photos of his side of the family as your own. If you don’t, she’s going to feel slighted. And she may begin to feel threatened by your side of the family.
This is how feuds can start: with the absence of a single photograph.
Tell her that she cooks something better than you, or that her dress looks stylish. Compliments are an easy way to make your mother-in-law feel good.
If she sees you as competition, however, she’ll feel demoted at worst, and competitive and nasty at best. Neither of those positions is a good one.
Value the experience
There are always two sides to every story.
Discounting your mother-inlaw’s viewpoint as incorrect simply because it differs from yours is a serious mistake.
Instead, give her the benefit of the doubt to try to discover why she views a situation differently.
remember, you don’t have to follow her advice, but can delve into her years of experience.
TheY say that being a grandparent is the most wonderful thing in the world and I, for one, can’t wait. You get all of the joys of being a parent without any of the difficulties.
So know that, at the very least, your mother-in-law is madly in love with your children — always a bonus!
Ask her to help out
NexT time your mother-in-law is in your house, put her to work. She can help you fold the laundry or take your other half out for a break. Mothers are used to being busy and, when she is in your home as a ‘guest’, she might feel she’s been put out to grass.
Reap the rewards
WheN we are new parents, or even more seasoned ones, we are lucky to have someone there who can support us. When my mum died in 2007, ten years or so after my dad, Prue stepped in. I know that when I want to confide in her, she will listen sympathetically. I didn’t just marry Sten, I married his family, too. Prue lives five minutes away. Sten’s two brothers and their families are also close by. I can see how happy it makes my husband that I love his family as much as he does. To love your mother-in-law is not always easy, but in the long run, it will be worth it. So put in the effort and reap the rewards of this life-enhancing (and marriageenhancing) bond.
Firm friends: Susannah and her mother-in-law Prue