When a group of women get together, inevitably, complaints will start flying. They will lament about their thighs, crow’s feet and grey hair. They will bitch about toddlers who refuse to use the potty and teenagers who roll their eyes. They will go on and on about husbands who can’t get dishes into the dishwasher and who want sexy time on demand.
And, eventually, as women do, they will complain about their mother-in-laws.
So often, I sit amongst my friends and listen to the trials and tribulations they go through with their “monsters-in-law”. Grown women who cannot find common ground with the woman who raised the man they married. I’ve heard stories of passive aggression, hurt feelings and birthday presents from hell from so many friends that I’m often left scratching my head. And in one particular story, a mother in law’s gift for a First Communion almost resulted in a physical altercation (in my friend’s defense though, it was a doozy of a religious pendant).
Every time I hear such a story, I become silent. I become speechless because I don’t know what to say or how to support my friends. As they expectantly look at me to chime in with my own tale of woe, I simply look back and shrug my shoulders. I got nothing, sister.
Because, you see, my mother-in-law is my friend.
And after almost 20 years, she’s one of my BEST friends.
Do you want to throttle me now?
It needs to be said, however, things weren’t always this way. When I met my now husband, I was a mere twenty years old and had ZERO experience in the “being a daughter-in-law” department. Suffice it to say: I had a lot to learn. A lot.
In fact, just ask me sometime about the first Thanksgiving I ever hosted. The one where my mother-in-law showed up on my doorstep with a new Cuisinart food processor and her apron, practically giddy over the idea of teaching me how to make her gravy. That would be the same year I exercised a youthful temper tantrum over wanting the holiday to go “my way, not hers” and things went downhill from there. What ensued was a War of The Roses style battle that lasted for weeks and the casualty list had exactly one person on the roster: my husband. He was caught between the two women who loved him the most and neither side was budging.
Thankfully, due to some serious work by my hubby and father-in-law, a peace treaty was forged. But not before a VERY uncomfortable meeting in a neutral location where grievances were aired, tears were shed and accusations flew. We left that dinner, though, with a new understanding for each other and a promise to do better every single day for the man we both loved.
And we did, much to my husband’s relief.
Over the years, I have learned the following about being a daughter in law:
She loved him first and has entrusted him to me. In the same way I worry about my son meeting “The Right One”, she did, too. At the end of the day, we are both mothers who love our children.
You have to give respect in order to get respect.
Sometimes, you have to admit you were wrong and that you might have hurt her feelings. The words “I’m sorry” go a long way.
Recognize that she is your ally: she knows him inside out and backwards. She can help you understand his inability to load a dishwasher and why he’s cheap.
It’s not a competition and it’s okay if he likes her cooking better. She’ll be glad to teach you the secret behind her split pea soup and Christmas cookies. Just ask.
Don’t discount her opinion just because it’s different than yours.
Don’t send your husband to fight your battles. Put your big girl panties on and own up to your feelings. But be nice about it. Remember what I said about respect.
She may not be your mother but she is your husband’s mother. She’s earned the right to have you at least hear her out.
When you can’t seem to agree, get your husband’s baby album out. It will be nearly impossible for you to both remain angry and maybe the sight of your hubs in his diaper will make you both giggle.
She wants to be your friend. Let her and you won’t be sorry.
I recognize my relationship with my mother-in-law is atypical. I realize that I’ve been blessed with a woman who respects me as a mother and a wife but I also know it’s because I’ve worked my ass off over the years to earn that respect from her. As old fashioned as it sounds, I’ve shown her that I’m taking care of her son and treating him the way she always hoped a wife would. I can only hope and pray that my son finds a woman who will do the same.
And, if my future daughter-in-law is reading this, I promise I will never, ever show up with God awful jewelry for a First Communion present.
This post originally ran on LifetimeMoms.com in January 2015