It’s been seven years since I first wrote this post, and I still stand by it today. With my eldest daughter engaged to be married, and soon to have a mother-in-law of her very own, I decided to dust it off and bring it back for everyone who might have missed it the first time or just in need of a reminder.
A very sweet reader, Katie, asked about my good relationship with my in laws.
She wrote “How long did it take? I’m having an extremely hard time with it all. I feel like there is so much tension when it comes to parenting Ethan. I don’t understand how to fit them into our lives. I’m definitely unlike them and it feels like we’re always clashing. I just don’t get it.”
Katie, a bit of advice from someone who’s been married a while and is now part of a close-ish family.
1. This is real life; it’s not a fairy tale. It’s hard to remember this, because we all have fantasies of girls’ lunches and how wonderful holidays with the in-laws will be. They’ll love our children, and the warmth of that will spill over onto us. When that doesn’t happen, it’s easy to feel as though you are loved only for certain parts of your anatomy. I have a friend who refers to herself as the “family uterus.” The glow that lights up the world of her husband and children never quite makes it over to her. You can be bitter and angry or you can learn to deal with it and let it go. Make the decision to deal with it, it will save you a lot of time and heartache.
2. Never complain about your husband to his parents. It’s important, so I’ll repeat it. Never complain about your husband to his parents. They don’t care about all of the things that he does that are annoying. All they hear is that either you think they did a bad job raising him, or their little boy lives with a woman who doesn’t appreciate him. You have friends. They’re not your mother-in-law. There’s a reason for that.
3. If your husband’s job takes a lot of time, requires travel, etc. don’t whine to his parents about his being gone. It doesn’t come across as the loving wife who just wants him home, you come across as needy and a burden on their son. Tell them you can’t wait for him to get home, but then move on quickly.
4. Have a life outside of being married. Find a hobby, a circle of friends, volunteer, be up on current events, something for you to talk about when you talk to his parents. It helps them to see you as something other than the girl who stole their son, and gives you a topic to steer the conversation toward if it begins to get uncomfortable. It also gives you the confidence to deal with it if they never like you. You’re fabulous, so it’s their loss.
5. Be yourself. It took me years of living in a house decorated with country blue and yellow with flowers everywhere, because it’s what my mother in law liked, before I gave up and started decorating with my own eclectic mix. I’m happier in my surroundings and my in laws like me better, too. Trying to be what I thought they wanted was a lie and they could smell it on me. Instead of making me a part of the clan, it made them wonder why their son would want to be with a dishonest person. Now they get to see the woman their son fell in love with, and they can see the reason why. Who you are is lovely, go with it.
6. Don’t share too much information. His parents don’t want to know every minute detail of your life together. Please, please, please keep private stuff private. A good rule of thumb is: if you won’t tell your grandmother, don’t tell your in laws.
7. Call them regularly to update them on your family. I know this seems like a contradiction after #6, but it’s not. I call mine religiously every two weeks and text pictured of the kids every couple days. It’s enough time that they wonder how we are, but not so frequent that it invites meddling. Tell them about the baby’s first steps, how he likes to throw the Cheerios, and about the sweet way your husband looks when he falls asleep with the baby on his chest. Think of the things you would want to know if your baby was living somewhere else and tell them those things. Ask questions about his childhood and let them reminisce. You’ll both be happy you did this.
8. Send flowers and cards for every birthday, anniversary, and holiday. Let your husband sign the card first; you sign it second. It gives them the illusion that he remembered. Your mother-in-law will know it was you, she has a husband, but it lets her pretend that he did it. You can get an ego, or you can let her be happy. Go with happy.
9. There is a saying that “A son is a son until he takes him a wife, but a daughter is yours for the whole of her life.” There’s truth to that, and they know it. They’re very frightened by you. Your whim can determine how often they see their baby for holidays, how easily they get to talk to him, and you are the gatekeeper for the grandchildren. They are a bit desperate. Calm their fears by making sure they know that you don’t have any desire to cut them our of your lives. Make sure that holidays are split with your family 50/50. A girl’s parents delight in a wedding because they are gaining a child. A boy’s parents cry because they could be losing one. Help them to see that they are keeping their son and gaining you, too. (Whether they want you or not.)
10. Be polite. I don’t care what they say or do, there is no excuse for rudeness or snarkiness. You’re better than that. Be nice.
11. Pray for them. Nobody can change a heart the way that God can. Try everything else. Then make sure you pray.
It took years for us to get to the good place we are in, but you can get there. Just be calm and in control.
As for how they are with your son? He is your boy not theirs. Be firm about this and don’t ask their advice unless you are willing to listen and give them a say.