I’ve heard a number of women say this, always accompanied by a grimace of distaste. There are many derogatory jokes about mothers-in-law, and it seems to be a relationship fraught with danger. As a result, it is a title few desire.
We married against the advice of both our families, and I must admit, they were right: we were far too young. His family didn’t approve of me, mine didn’t approve of him, and both families were intent on parting us even after we were married, determined to make us choose between spouse and parents.
Each mother-in-law criticised her child’s mate constantly and loudly. On the one occasion when the two mothers and one grandmother met, hostility and enmity were loudly voiced, and they never met again. The fathers simply absented themselves. No help or advice was forthcoming, and no opportunity to create division avoided. Our parents’ approach was to be extremely antagonistic, and as a result, we all missed out on the relationship we could have had.
When it came time for our daughter to marry, my husband and I were determined not to make the same mistakes our parents did. We decided that instead of losing our child, as our parents had done, we had the opportunity to gain another family member, and so to expand our own horizons.
When our daughter and her fiancée married and moved from our home country of England 35 years ago, I wondered if we would ever see her again. But we knew he cared deeply for her, and that they had known each other for some time.
When I was visiting them some years later, my daughter, who was under some stress, suddenly burst into tears. I automatically turned to put my arms round her, but she turned to her husband. For a moment I felt devastated, but then realized that was right. He was the one she should be looking to, and I was the one who should retreat.
In time, my husband and I also moved to Australia, and for a few years we lived near our daughter and son-in-law. It was a wonderful time, as our grandchildren were by then just entering their teenage years.
What I’ve learned
If I could offer any advice as a long-time mother-in-law and grandmother, it would be two simple rules:
1. As a mother-in-law, never criticise your child’s spouse. Your part is to be helpful, reasonably objective, positive and supportive. Criticism will only exacerbate any problems and be divisive.
"With a positive and constructive attitude toward our son-in-law, we were able to make a contribution toward a successful marriage for our daughter."
2. As a grandparent, never come between parents and children. There will obviously be times when you think your children are being too harsh with your grandchildren (or too soft), but you are not there to interfere, only support, and, only if asked, advise (translated "suggest," not "tell").
When our daughter married, we gained another son who has been a wonderful husband and father, and he has also been most punctilious in ensuring that we and our daughter get together regularly despite high travel costs, and I am most appreciative of this. Over the years we’ve spent enjoyable holidays together and even shared some crises and problems, something that would have been unthinkable for us with our own parents.
We also gained good friends in our son-in-law’s parents. At first I was apprehensive about meeting them, but we now have a real friendship. We are confident that they, like us, have accepted the others’ child as a family member in every sense.
No, I’m not being a "Pollyanna" about this. I know my son-in-law has faults, just as I know my own children have, but they can be overlooked in love, and are more than compensated for in other ways. And I realize that not everyone has the blessing of their child marrying a spouse like our daughter’s. But I do know that a mother-in-law can do a lot to help her child’s marriage by being as positive as she can be about her child’s spouse — and a lot of damage to her relationship with her child by being negative.
I like to remember the story of Naomi and Ruth in the book of Ruth. Naomi believed that at her age, life held little more for her. But through her daughter-in-law she gained a whole new life. Being a mother-in-law can add so much to your life, and not least of course is when grandchildren come along.
Muriel Hacker, originally from England, now lives in Perth, Western Australia.