The relationship between mother-in-laws and daughter-in-laws is complicated. At its best, it can be like finding a long-lost daughter. At worst, it can be a center of tension for the entire family.
When you think about it, having a daughter-in-law is a beautiful thing. After all, this is the person that your son has chosen from the billions of women in the world. She is also the mother of your precious grandchildren. And, while this may be hard for many mothers to accept, she is now the center of your son’s life.
So, with so much riding on the mother-in-law to daughter-in-law relationship, why is it so hard to get right? Why do so many of us feel a sense of tension, or even outright hostility, from the most important woman in our son’s life?
Perhaps there are generational differences or cultural misunderstandings. Or, maybe we have a subconscious desire to continue to control our children, leading to power struggles with the other people who influence their lives.
Whatever the reasons, it is in everyone’s interest, including your own to build a strong relationship with your daughter-in-law. Not only is this a part of good grandparenting, but, it is also practical. After all, can you think of a single person, other than your husband, who has the ability to influence so many interactions in your family?
Part of the journey of getting older is watching our kids grow up and find happiness in their lives. We want them to be independent. As we become grandmothers, the goal should be to integrate our children’s families into our own, so that the whole becomes greater than the sum of the two. Doing this requires us to build a strong relationship with our daughter-in-laws.
Here are a few suggestions to help you do exactly this.
If the only point of connection between your daughter-in-law and you is your grandchildren, you are asking for trouble. Try to build a relationship with your son’s wife in a way that transcends grandparenting or domestic roles. Be open to opportunities to spend time together. Are there any activities that you both enjoy? Would she be open to grabbing a coffee once a month, just the two of you?
Don’t expect to become best friends and definitely don’t pry into her relationship with your son, but, enjoy the process of getting to know her. No-one is perfect, including your daughter-in-law, but, your son loves her “warts and all” and this should be a compelling enough reason to look below the surface.
No one wants a meddling mother-in-law. In fact, the way that grandmas are portrayed in the movies probably has a lot to do with the way that we are sometimes treated in real life. Expecting their mother-in-laws to interfere, new moms have a tendency to put up their defenses, making it hard for us to build positive relationships.
Be patient and give her plenty of examples of how you don’t conform to the mother-in-law stereotype. Let her do things her way, especially when it comes to raising her children. You may not agree with all of her decisions, but, don’t forget that you were in her place once.
New mothers are doing their best in a difficult situation. Like a Chinese finger trap, the more you pull, the more tangled your relationship will become. She will be much more likely to listen to your advice if you let her feel like she is in control.
If you’re a grandparent, feel free to share advice about raising children, but, don’t preach or judge. This is one of the hardest things to do as a grandma. After all, we have learned so many lessons the hard way and we genuinely want to help. The gentle approach is best. Let her be a mother in her own style and let her learn lessons in her own way. She will come to you for advice if you earn her trust.
One of the best ways to build a strong relationship with your daughter-in-law is to add value to her family on a practical level. Moms are constantly stressed, so, offering to help with the grandkids or other practical matters will almost always be appreciated.
By all means, offer to babysit, or, help with shopping and cooking. But, don’t expect her to call you “mom” or share her deepest secrets with you. Just like you did when you were her age, she is trying to build a life, one step at a time. You don’t have to agree with all of her decisions, but, you should respect them. The more independence you give her, the closer you have the opportunity to become friends.
Once you become a grandmother, your relationship with your daughter-in-law changes in dramatic ways – some better and some worse. On the one hand, you may feel more motivated than ever to get involved and “help out.” You want to share your wisdom, love and experience in a positive way. On the other hand, your son and his wife are going through a time when they need to feel like they are in control.
While your son and daughter-in-law are feeding, clothing and educating their kids, you get to swoop in and add some sparkle to your grandkids lives. Kids being kids, you may find yourself slipping back into the role of parent from time to time. But, if you want to maintain a good relationship with your son and his wife, it’s critical to understand their perspective on raising a child.
Ask plenty of questions. How much TV do they feel comfortable with their kids watching? What kinds of rewards and punishments do they consider to be appropriate? What role, if any, do they want religion to play in their children’s lives? What rules have they established that you should also try to enforce? The more you ask, the more your kids will trust you with their kids.
If you disagree with a particular decision that your son and his wife have made, be extremely cautious in voicing your opinion. If you do feel the need to say something, you will accomplish more by providing gentle advice than by disagreeing with them outright. You may even end up agreeing with them once you understand their thinking.
Every daughter-in-law has a mother of her own. If possible, building a relationship with her mom is a great idea. Not only will it give you valuable insights into your daughter-in-law’s personality, but, it will also provide a valuable connection in her family.
Try not to be competitive with her mom. It is natural that your daughter-in-law will lean on her mother heavily. She may even favor her mother over you when it comes to spending time with the grandkids. Try not to take this personally. The best approach is to handle the situation with humility and to build relationships on “both sides of the aisle.”
Finally, keep in mind that we are all human and that we all make mistakes. Family relationships can be complicated and messy, but, if we take the time to understand each other, they can be the strongest and most important connections that we have. Be forgiving with your daughter-in-law and with yourself! Most people don’t set out to create conflict. We are all just muddling through as best we can.
If you approach your relationship with your daughter-in-law with humility, generosity and laughter, you will be well on your way to building one of the most important relationships in your life.
What do you appreciate most about your daughter in law? How have you built a good relationship together? Leave a comment below and let us know.
Award winning journalist and writer, Ellen Pober Rittberg, joins me in this edition of the Sixty and Me show. She shares her insights about the unique life experiences and relationships that grandmothers can share with their grandchildren. Enjoy the show!