The role of mother-in-law is all over the place. As with most of your relatives, it’s not your choice to be related to the person who makes you a mother-in-law. But unlike your “blood” relatives, it is someone’s choice: your child’s. So this new person will become central to your relationship with your kid. You might as well get real from the beginning!
I’ve been mother-in-law – successfully, I believe – to one daughter’s husband for more than a decade, and recently another daughter, 35 years old, announced her engagement to a man I’ve met once. With a little experience under my belt, I’d like to warn – whoops, I mean share with – this freshly plucked clansman what’s in store for him.
Here goes my letter…
In our case, we don’t know each other very well. You met my daughter within the past few years, so there’s no habit to break of calling me “Mrs.” someone as might have been true if you’d met in high school.
I do not care what you call me, but just about all adults I know call me by my first name. I called my mother-in-law by her first name. Alternatively, if you want to call me “Mom,” I’m fine with that but suggest that you ask your own mom how she feels about it.
If you think you may ever need to get my attention, my advice is to figure out a name and begin using it right away. The longer you wait, the harder it will be. You may find, as my husband – your new father-in-law – did with my mother, that years have gone by and you’ve avoided calling me anything, and then it will be awkward to shout out some name to keep me from walking into a wall.
Or sometime down the road you may end up uncomfortably calling me what my dad called my mom’s mother – “Grandma.”
As people say, “No matter how old you are, you’re still my kid.” We worry about our kids, and now you’re one more person for me to worry about. I will want to be informed that you’ve arrived safely, recovered from the flu, landed the job you wanted and so forth.
The other thing they say about parents is that we’re only as happy as our least happy child. Now that you’re in that mix, please try to not be my least happy child – but if you are, you can tell me. I dislike being out of the loop.
I want to have a relationship with you that’s separate from my relationship with my daughter. I’ll occasionally call you for no other reason than to chat.
When you were dating my daughter, I may have hung up your jacket for you, offered to scoop you a bowl of ice cream, or pretended that serving hors d’oeuvres before dinner was a normal thing for us to do. No longer.
I don’t wait on my kids, I don’t pick up after my kids, and you’re now family, not company, so do not expect me to answer the door wearing shoes. Really, do not expect me to answer the door. You’ll be given a key, so use it. But, honestly, text first.
You’re young and strong. I will ask you to lift heavy things, reach top shelves and possibly even take out the trash.
However, our home is your home. Within reason, anyway. Eat whatever you can find in the kitchen, turn on the TV without asking, find a towel and go ahead and take a shower. You’re welcome here anytime and free to invite whomever you like.
The kindest thing you can do for all of us a generation above you is to let us tell you what it was like in our heyday or relate all the funny goofs our children, including the one you married, committed growing up. We have the videos, and you will be asked to watch them.
Please stay awake, and do not interrupt these home videos the way our granddaughter did when she was four, proclaiming, “I don’t want this to count as my screen time!”
Although we have thousands of stories, we still repeat ourselves. It’s okay to mention that you’ve heard that anecdote before, because we can replace it with another one. We’re sure you haven’t heard them all yet, and we’d rather enthrall you with a new tale than force you to fake-laugh in reaction to a punchline you know is coming.
Whether to have kids is your decision. I will not nag or even ask.
If you do have children, I will try to align with your rules for them. If any of your rules strikes me as ridiculous, I will have a hard time fighting my passive-aggressive tendency to mention that to the kids. I’m asking in advance for forgiveness.
I already love you, because my daughter does. The love is unconditional, but if it pleasantly turns out that you make my daughter happy and you’re a good dad or uncle to the grandchildren I already have, you also can count on me to mostly keep my small criticisms to myself and be grateful every day that you’re now one of us. Welcome to the family.
Have you recently gotten an addition to the family? How did you welcome the person in question? Did you write them a letter or did you share your rules/expectations verbally? What would you say if you were in this situation?
Tags Adult Children
I think his is a great idea, I think it would help tremendously to put the new member to the family at a great ease. Many questions they might have would be answered in a very loving manor.
Thank you for your comment, Barb! I hope it shows him that we approach everything with openness, love and humor. And people who enter the life of a writer soon learn that we writers tend to hear the late Nora Ephron whispering in our ear: “Everything is copy!”
I thought this article and letter was very poor advice. It’s all about her – the mother-in-law. Her rules, her expectations and her perspective. It is all very cringe-worthy. Why not just let the son-in-law find his own way into his wife’s family? If it were me, I would bake him the biggest cake ever and write on it “You Are Ours Now To Share and Adore”.
I took it as tongue-in-cheek. I’m forwarding it to my son-in-law!
Yes, that’s how I intended it, Danna! I hope your son-in-law enjoys the fun.
Interesting, this came across as kind of old, cranky, and Karen-like to me, too. There’s a dated view among some older women that we have to be angry and outspoken in order to be seen and heard. I disagree. I think about our son-in-law of three years. We just started loving on him from day one and, wow, has he ever returned that love.
My lovely daughter’s name is Karen—please don’t use it in a demeaning way. It’s hurtful to both of us.
Agree. Just don’t get the Karen thing, but it is hurtful and cringe-worthy, also, obnoxious unto itself.
Please stop with the ridiculous Karen comments.
OK, just a couple of ideas to possibly bring you all into the 21st century.”Karen” could just as easily have been “Susan” (my name) because it is a name from the fifties. It is women from our era that young people too often see acting in an entitled, clueless manner. It is also women from our era who behave in the way I described above – a bit put out by the fact that we are now old and sort of out of touch and behaving grumpily about that. If you don’t want to seem old and out of the loop to your kids and other young people, don’t act this way. Also, if this is a blog to help teach us things about getting older, we need to pay attention to one another and learn.
Not sure we read the same letter! It was sweet, full of humor and thought provoking. Hope you have a better day today, Susan.
See my reply to Karen, above.
I agree about loving him from day one! I don’t think I write in an angry voice, but I appreciate your opinion.
Oops. I believe you missed the humor. It was written with tongue in cheek. Please reread it with that in mind and I believe you will find it clever, charming, and humorous. Cheers.
Glad you saw the intended humor, Antoney! Thank you for your comment.
There was obviously a lot of sarcasm in this article and she says she already loves him unconditionally. Relax :)
Ha, relax for sure! Alanna, I appreciate your support that it’s ok to not take everything so seriously, even this important life event.
Lana, I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy the article. I meant it in good humor. I do intend to adore him, as you advise. I’ve had the joy of loving my first son-in-law for 12 years now, so I’m expecting the same this time around.
what a great letter. I’ve said virtually the same thing to both of my Daughter-in-laws, as well as the respective moms. I will never tolerate abuse, verbal or physical, from either side, and while that isn’t common in our family, it was in one of theirs. After having one of them question me about it, I assured these moms that my sons were not raised to feel that hitting, criticizing or cursing a spouse is acceptable–not in any way, shape or form. and that if anything ever progressed to that, I’d be the first one making the call to the authorities.
Daneen, I think it’s great when the two moms can be friends. I really loved my first son-in-law’s mom, who unfortunately died last year. I look forward to getting to know the mom of my new family member as well. Both moms should have the couple’s best interest at heart, which is already a lot to have in common.
Not such a great story!!
I’m afraid that my son-in-law turned out to be a bad ‘un.
He left my daughter and his son’s, then 10 and 8 for another woman
Having abandoned his first family, he’s gone on to have another. Not content with just abandonment he refused to support them financially desperate having a very well paid job!?
I’m left feeling that I never want to see him again. Unfortunately, by the time this happened I had been widowed. Had my husband, my daughter’s father been alive he would have shared both my daughter’s pain and mine.
I hope that she will find an honourable man at some point but obviously she is cautious.
I am so sorry for your experience, Lesley. Of course, every situation is different. Certainly we don’t all end up approving of our children’s choices. I’ve been very lucky so far.
I absolutely LOVED this! Thank you!
Thank you, Leslie! I’m glad you saw the humor :).
I loved this article and in fact sent it to our son in law and two soon to be son in laws. We have experienced some of this humorous and lovely stories first hand. You described it well! Thank you!
Thank you for your comment, Janet! Good luck with your weddings – that’s a whole other topic LOL!
So did I! I’m glad I’m not the only one who thought it was cute and kind of touching.
Thank you, Sylvia! Glad you enjoyed it.