Life is surely full of relationships. We are born the child in relationship to our parents, and we may simultaneously become someone’s brother or sister. In our extended family, we will likely have grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins.
At a young age, I don’t believe I thought a great deal about those relationships. They were simply assigned to us and we accepted them. They came with this whole package of life we inherited at birth.
If and when we marry, we take on new roles as wives, as daughters-in-law and sisters-in-law. Someone may become our mother-in-law or father-in-law. We feel our way through the complexities of our spouse’s family relationships carefully. After all, they were formed long before our arrival.
My most recent relationship role is that of mother-in-law. Currently in my 70s, I now have one more new welcome role. Perhaps because at this stage in my life I am given more to thoughtfulness, the role feels both exciting and daunting.
During a casual dinner in the week following my son’s wedding, my daughter-in-law and I discussed these new roles.
How do they feel? Are we settling into them? Are there traditions, cultural or regional differences that we will need to learn further about one another? How different is it that while our son is still our son, now his extended family is a greater part of him?
All these considerations don’t seem, on the surface, to be all that dramatic a change. Even though there are many physical miles between us, it has been satisfying to see our son change from a single guy with an airtight schedule to a man who welcomed his fiancée and her family into his life while he became a part of theirs.
They will do well.
Back to exploring my mother-in-law role. I have no advice to give as I am just settling into this new dynamic myself. Having watched many friends experience this relationship, some successfully and some not so peacefully, I have set out some guidelines for myself that I will do my best to follow.
Understand that my relationship is no longer to my son alone, but to this wonderful couple and the family they are developing. I will be as supportive to them as I have been to my son. I will be available but will leave it to them to let me know when my knowledge, advice, and opinions are needed.
Expect there will be many cultural differences, some with a big “C” and some with a small “c”, to respect and understand. Every family has its quirks, habits, and traditions. Some of those are within the family, some are tied to their larger community and society.
My job will be to understand that this new family that was recently created will be letting go of some of our family’s traditions and molding their own.
Enjoy the pleasure of deepening our acquaintance with our daughter-in-law. While we have had many years to develop a relationship with our son as he grew from childhood to manhood, I expect to enjoy just as much getting to know our daughter-in-law in depth.
On the reverse of that, our son likely knows his parents better than we know him. My job will be to be as open to my daughter-in-law so that sense of family goes both ways.
Consider this as a life adventure. Trust that we as in-laws will be a positive addition to our new daughter’s larger family as she will be to ours. I’m looking forward to this new phase of life unfolding.
Be myself. I expect my daughter-in-law to do the same. Avoid any attempts to be what I am not. We expect to be in these roles for a long time, so being comfortable with who we are will make the years ahead so much more pleasant.
When did you become a mother-in-law? Do you have further advice or thoughts on this or other new relationships that come our way in our 60s and later? And finally, why aren’t there any father-in-law jokes? Let’s have a chat!