I’m a bit nervous to write this post.
Do you remember when your friends who had no kids, gave out free and usually critical advice about how you were parenting your child?
That went over like a lead balloon.
But I was asked to write it. A post about mothers-in-law, or in-law relationships in general. So write it I shall, although I have yet to attempt MILness myself. I write it respectfully and with humility.
I have had three mothers-in-law, and haven’t been close with any of them. That may say something about me, I’m not sure. Two of them weren’t in the picture very long (much to my embarrassment). The last has had that status for many years now, and we were… amicable. Never best buddies. She loved our son, and I was grateful for that.
Let’s first say that there are some absolutely fantastic in-law relationships out there. If you have created one of those, no matter which generation you are, kudos to you. Your children will benefit immensely, as will your relationship and yourself.
As a therapist, however, I’ve heard a myriad of problems within the in-law domain, and from both generations. Here are some common complaints, and my own (cautious) recommendations. Usually the problems come when children arrive, and either the new grandparent fears that they won’t have a close relationship with their new grandchild, or the new parent worries about the impact of the grandparent’s influence over their child.
“My DIL isn’t trying to be close to me. She and the kids are always with her own mother.”
Well, if she’s close to her mother, then of course she’s going to turn to her first. You have to have the inner security and self-esteem to know that it will take time to build a relationship with her. Jealousy will only complicate things.
Maybe try to get to know her mother better yourself. Or suggest times when you can take the kids, so that she could be with her mother by herself. Honor their relationship, and time and patience will permit you to build your own.
“My DIL has no relationship with her mom, but she still seems withdrawn from me.”
People who never had a good relationship with a parent are not always yearning for that. They’ve learned to be very self-sufficient, even guarded with others.
Find out things she likes to do, and suggest doing those activities together. Hopefully, she will learn that you’re not going to be pushy, but you want to understand what she enjoys and get to know her slowly.
“My MIL does things with the kids that I’ve said aren’t what we want.”
This is often the result of the son (or daughter if a lesbian couple) not having clear boundaries with the MIL, and either inviting her opinion and/or her disregard for the message, or not having developed the skill to confront her.
However, there could also be something going on within the couple — perhaps resolution isn’t actually being reached. The son may be agreeing with both the MIL and his wife.
In both cases, the therapeutic work must involve the son. The MIL needs to listen and be respectful, and the DIL needs to understand the couples’ communication as part of the problem.
“I can’t believe my MIL spoils the kids so much. We get them back and they’re so tired and sugared-up, it takes a day to get them back into our routine.”
This can be true with an ex’s in-laws, or current in-laws. There seems to be something about not having total responsibility or maybe not living in the same city that makes leniency (later bed times, hours of video-watching, and donuts) more palpable. “I don’t get to see them much, so we do what they want.”
The good news is that, unless they let them eat nuts and they have an allergy to them, most of this is harmless. You are the parent, and what you teach them will be what they learn. A few days of shameless spoiling isn’t going to hurt them in the long run. However, in the case of a grandparent having an addiction that prevents them from following through with rules and discipline, this is an issue of safety and needs to be confronted within the family.
So many of the complaints above are based on the perception or assumption of manipulative or hidden agendas. If you can stop yourself from making that assumption, then ask yourself this question: “What do I know about my DIL or MIL that would explain her behavior, that has nothing to do with me?”
The answer you get will most likely add clarity to your thinking, and help you realize your DIL or MIL is not malicious. Maybe she’s just not always who you want her to be.
But not intentionally trying to get under your skin.
And, by the way, when my son gets married, and I’m wondering why my DIL never texts or sends pictures, please send me this link.
I’ll get over myself.