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Dear Son-in-Law-to-Be: A Letter

By Rosanne Ullman January 22, 2023 Family

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…

What to Call Me

Dear Son-in-Law,

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.”

You’re One of My Kids Now

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.

But You’re Just One of My Kids Now

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.

Listen to Our Stories

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.

If You Have Children

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.

The Love’s Built In

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.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

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?

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Dana

I loved your letter article. Thank you for the smiles and giggles.

Bernadette Wagner

Absolutely! I agree with everything you said about relationships with son-in-laws and want to emphasize that it is doubly true for daughter-in-laws. One bit of advice I give to all new mother-in-laws (but only if they ask) is not to come between their married child and their spouse. They need to be on the same team and it’s not wise to ask them to support you if it conflicts with their partner’s view.

Anne

Thank u! Enjoyed this.

Alison

I don’t usually feel the need to comment,but,having just read the letter to my son in law ( to be),it is perfect😁And even better,it made me laugh out loud which justn’t seen to happen so much these days.Hi to everyone from a chilly UK.

Leslie

Love this article!

Rosanne Ullman

Thanks, Leslie. I appreciate your taking the time to comment :).

The Author

Rosanne Ullman has a long freelance writing career. She is the author of the children's picture book The Case of the Disappearing Kisses, an admin for the Facebook group "Grammar Matters," and the creator and instructor of the Write My Memoirs Grammar and Writing Course.

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