One of the greatest gifts we get in life are relationships. We choose our friends and partners. These connections can bring us a lot of joy. However, we don’t get to choose our in-laws. Chances are you’ve had struggles with an in-law. Maybe your friends have, and you’ve heard about their conflicts or, if you’re like me, you’ve done couples therapy work to help navigate through in-law challenges. Let’s be honest, it can put stress on a marriage. Matt and I have been together for almost 19 years, and married for 10. Families are not perfect. Conflict is inevitable–it happens. Like the quintessential mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationship, for example. I asked my mom friends and Instagram community to open up about their MIL relationships. There were common bothersome occurrences that can be avoided with communication, compassion, and consideration. A therapist friend once said, “If you name it, you tame it.” So perhaps if we talk more openly about it we feel less alone, and can move forward mindfully to resolve issues. I’ve compiled a list of “dos and don’ts” to help recover from MIL missteps.
RELATED READING :: Goodbye In-laws, Hello Happiness
Before you read further, let’s check in with ourselves. The words “Mother/Daughter-in-law” may be triggering for some. So before you start reacting, I want you to take a moment to pause. Do the following as needed:
- BREATHE. Take several deep breaths in and out.
- LET GO. Mindfully release any tension you may feel on the exhale.
- BE OPEN. If you’re a MIL reading this and something is stirred within you, let that be an invitation to explore that feeling more without judgement and proceed to listen and read with compassion. You want to be a collaborative grandmother, not a complicated one.
Mother-in-Law DOs and DON’Ts:
Your Daughter-in-law’s Appearance:
- Tell her she is beautiful and/or share a positive compliment about her appearance. During pregnancy and early postpartum months there are hormonal changes and sleep deprivation that may make your DIL feel uncomfortable in her body so only say things that uplift her.
- Comment on weight gain, weight loss, or telling her “you look tired”.
- Assume she is pregnant or ask when the next grandchild is coming.
Kid’s Birthdays and Family Events:
- Ask what your DIL wants or needs for the baby.
- Use the registry lists.
- Ask how to help with the event or what to bring.
- Buy the biggest, brightest, and loudest toy that may not fit with their decor or inside their house.
- Bring a dish that she didn’t request. A menu may already be set for the occasion.
- Invite your friends or other family members without asking.
Mother’s Day and Other Holidays:
- Accept that your DIL may want to celebrate a holiday honoring her own family traditions.
- Be flexible by celebrating on a different day or part of the day.
- Assume that this is your day, and your day only. You may be the matriarch of your family, but she is now the matriarch of hers.
Dissagreements, Conflict, and Opinions:
- If you don’t have anything nice to say, say nothing. Hold back in sharing your opinion especially if it’s something that cannot change or it’s clear that your DIL feels strongly about. If you’re not sure if you’ve done something wrong or you feel like there’s a distance between the both of you, kindly ask her about it.
- Listen without interrupting. Hold yourself accountable for your actions. Even if you mean well, it’s possible to be offensive.
- A sincere apology goes a long way. It will show your DIL that you are considerate of her feelings.
- Have a passive aggressive comment. Just because you didn’t outright say it, doesn’t mean it wasn’t said.
- Assume you did nothing wrong.
- Expect your child or other family members to take your side, and go against your DIL.
- Respect your daughter-in-law’s parenting style. With the generation gap, there are new studies, research, and resources.
- If you’re babysitting (and want to babysit often), follow your DIL guidelines and instructions without hesitation.
- Give advice, ONLY if she asks you. An overwhelmed parent may simply need your support and not to fix anything.
- Ask permission to give your grandchild treats, toys, or screen time.
- Offer to take a grandparent course or read the parenting resources that your DIL is interested in to keep you up to date with modern parenting.
- Compare how you raised your children to her.
- Have a negative reaction or response to how your DIL mothers.
- Give unsolicited advice – it may cross a boundary. Just because you did it and it worked, it may not work for her.
- Give any food, drinks, toys, screen time, etc. that your DIL does not allow.
Respecting Space and Body Boundaries:
- Schedule your visits in advance. Ask how long they want company over.
- Accept that your DIL will feel more comfortable with her family after the baby is born.
- If you DIL is nursing, she may want privacy.
- Ask permission for your grandchildren’s affection, “can I have a hug/kiss?” and accept that they may decline. Build trust by respecting her space so she’s more willing to welcome you in her inner circle of support with open arms.
- Come over unannounced or stay for too long.
- Assume your grandchildren want to show affection.
- Feel entitled to be anywhere or do anything because you’re the grandmother, especially places like the delivery room or spending the night.
Accept Your Place:
- Accept that after your child marries, your DIL is the #1 priority. Recognize that this marriage holds precedence over you. If this brings up insecurity in you, reflect on it with professional support. Therapy is cool!
- Try to compete with your DIL.
- Feel threatened.
- Think that you have been replaced – a mother is different than a wife.
Some of this may seem like common sense, but mistakes happen. Without holding ourselves accountable it can leave a bruised relationship. So instead of keeping things awkward, or feeling like you’re on thin ice let’s mend these missteps. This will not happen overnight. This is a practice that will cultivate harmony and ease.
Did this resonate with you? I would love your insight. What are your dos and don’ts? Please leave a comment below.
Photo Credit :: Jules Kennedy Photography