Wednesday, February 18, 2015

How to be a better daughter-in-law

A while back I wrote How to be a good mother-in-law, so it is only fair that this week I follow up with

How to be a better daughter-in-law

It has taken me a while to write this, because I don't want to come across as though I am a 'perfect' (or even close to perfect) daughter-in-law.  Especially when I am pregnant.  I am nasty then.  So I write this with great humility as I try to be a better daughter-in-law myself.   I asked my MIL to look over this since she does have two imperfect DIL's with whom she has developed great relationships.   

When two 'kids' get married, they combine (hopefully) the best of both homes, bringing together two different styles of styles of family life.  This melting of cultures is dynamic and ongoing, not static.
 As a new wife and mother, we can tend to try to protect our turf and this developing microsystem lest we feel pressure from outside sources to do things differently than we have hoped.   

For instance, like many new moms, I was pretty up-tight when I had just the one child.  I thought I knew it all, and I was ready to be combative if needed to protect my mothering turf.  But parenting gives you a great opportunity to grow in humility.  It took me a few kids and a few years to loosen up.  As a result, when I look back on my early parenting life, I see how I have grown, and I really can see my mother-in-law's side of things.  

I can identify 5 things that would really help smoother out many common smallish issues with which many mother and daughter-in-laws struggle.  I will saw however, that as my MIL pointed out, every MIL/DIL dyad is different, just as every MIL and DIL is a unique individual with expectations and desires of their own for that relationship.   Before I start though I have to give you the disclaimer… 

Many of you have real struggles with your in-laws.  I am not a shrink.  I am not a counselor.  Many of the stories I have heard have caused wounds within young mothers and fathers which will not heal without a lot of work from all parties involved.  I don't have any answers here for you loves except to keep praying.  I ask you dear reader to pray with me for those families that really are fractured and hurting.

Now for the rest of us with mostly functional relationships…

Be Patient

Put yourself in her shoes.  Can you imagine watching your children try to parent for the first time? I have a hard time watching them do anything without correcting.  Your child's grandparents are experts at it (albeit flawed) and we are admittedly generally less experienced.  Unfortunately for us, parenting is a public endeavor.  There are lots of eyes out there watching.  And they have to shut their mouths and just watch so that we can learn to become experts too.  So be patient with them.  They are having to turn over their 'jobs' to a new generation, and you can't possibly do it better than they did right away.  These grandmas may too be struggling themselves, they gave so much for so long and now and may be left with a void.  

Give yourself over to the role of mother with humility and dedication  

Unless your mother-in-law is just mean spirited, she will respect your dedication.  
Without complaining, be honest with her about your struggles and frustrations with motherhood.  Have open conversations, and open the door to some expert advice from her (even if you don't take it).  Draw your boundaries clearly and ask that she respect that.  This doesn't mean you have to tolerate things you are uncomfortable with.  For instance, if you don't want your in-laws stopping by unannounced, require that they give you some notice (and don't give them a key!). If she doesn't understand the need for seatbelt and car seats she still has to respect your rules (and the law too!).   My MIL also pointed out that some people are just insensitive, naive, or rude rather than mean-spirited.  

Love your husband enough not to nag him about his mother 

Recognize that there are certain things she is just going to do, so pick your battles and don’t put him in the middle.   He chose you for marriage.  He didn't choose her as a mother.  That said, I can't imagine how it would break my heart to hear someone complain about one of my favorite people in the world.  Assuming he has a healthy relationship with his parents, don't undermine that.   Similarly, don't badmouth your husband to his mother.  Many men are perfect in the eyes of their mothers so just don't start there.   When you have problems just talk adult to adult with her.  You are both grown-ups and grown-ups don't need to operate with 'go-betweens'.  

Build bridges

Your mother-in-law had a mother-in-law too.  Ask her what their relationship was like.  If there are issues between the two of you, it may be due to unspoken expectations.  If her mother-in-law was absent perhaps that is what she expects, OR she may be trying to correct that her relationship with you. She also probably has a lot of experience that you could learn from.  

Pray for her  

If nothing else, recognize that she did SOMETHING really right in raising your husband from boyhood to adulthood.  She is responsible for some of the things that you love in your spouse so celebrate that. Look for things that you really can respect about her, be thankful for those, and pray for her just as you would/should pray for everyone in your family.  


This is one my MIL had the wisdom to add:
"Make certain there are opportunities of you to spend time with your parents 1:1 and for him to spend time with his parents 1:1.  They aren't a threat, nor do they want to undermine your relationship - they just want to savor the fruits of 2-+ years of effort raising a little boy to a man.  If the outcome was good, that is especially important.  When people get older, things and techniques decrease in relevance, happiness and people increase in relevance.  The more they see his virtues, the more credit you get for augmenting and supplementing them too!".

Good luck and thanks for stopping by to think with me today!

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