Becoming a family involves more than just a husband and wife. Even before you have kids or step-kids, you gain in-laws. You’re faced with navigating an adult relationship with the people who gave birth to your spouse, possibly at the same time that your spouse is learning to have an adult relationship with his parents himself. For those of us with in our second or third marriage, we may also be entering the sandwich generation, the time when one is taking care of both their children, and their parents. These factors, while serving as inspiration for many mother-in-law jokes, can make developing a good relationship with your in-laws difficult, but for the sake of harmony, and the health of your marriage, a good relationship with in-laws is important.
Two men were in a pub. One says to his mate, “My MIL is an angel.” His friend replies, “You’re lucky. Mine is still alive.”
I’m pretty lucky. Both mothers-in-law that I’ve had have been angels. I was only 18 when I got married, and my first husband’s mother very adeptly moved into a role where she was able to be a friend and a mother-figure at the same time. Around to give me advise, she never pushed it on me. My ex and I had only been married about a year when my mother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer. It was not diagnosed early and had metastasized to several areas of her body before it was caught. As she became gradually weaker I realized that my obligations were growing. With three daughters, her son, and husband, most everything was attended to, but little things…visiting her, helping with groceries, helping clean house, bringing a meal, or making her a snack were necessary. While I did these things willingly and happily, it was also with a sense of obligation, because she was my mother-in-law, and part of my new family.
Q: Why do they bury mothers-in-law 18 feet down, when everyone else is buried 6 feet down?
A: Because, deep down, they really are very nice people.
I got pretty lucky with my second marriage too, I again gained a wonderful set of in-laws. My mother in-law is kind and generous, ready with help and advise, but never pushy. Above all, she welcomed me into her family without reservation, when she could easily have been judgmental. Loving his family as much as I do is a great relief to my husband as well.
My ex-husband never held back from telling me that he “hated” my mother, and had little respect for any other member of my family. Living with that was hard, almost impossible sometimes, and the source of countless arguments and tears. Once we had kids the poor relationship with my mother just compounded as he would threaten to restrict her access to them. His feelings toward my family were no longer just a problem between the two of us, they affected our sons too. My current husband and I have this in common as his ex-wife was not fond of his parents, and her feelings toward them, which she very openly shared, put a great strain on their marriage as well.
But what if a mother-in-law really isn’t a nice person? While I believe that it is my responsibility to get along with my in-laws no matter what; I do understand that it isn’t always easy. I did have one in-law “issue” at one time. My first husband’s oldest sister didn’t think much of me, and while not hostile, didn’t keep it a secret either. My response was to be really, really nice to her, not necessarily because it was the right thing to do though, but mostly because I thought it annoyed her. And I’ve read Dear Abby and Ann Landers since I was a kid, which means I’ve heard some pretty horrendous mother-in-law stories. There are some women that make the lives of their daughters-in-law pretty difficult. I’m also a potential mother-in-law myself. My two oldest sons have long-term girlfriends, one of whom lives with them. Both of these girls are wonderful, and good for my sons. I also know that I tend to keep them at arm’s length, I could definitely be warmer and more welcoming to these girls who have taken my sons away from me (just joking). Obviously though, the dynamics of the relationship between mothers and sons are powerful and emotionally charged, when another woman enters it, the emotions can overtake a relationship. Add to that any anti-social behaviors one or more parties may already possess and you have the makings of some pretty bad holidays. I’m sure that being kind, even just being respectful, can be effort when a one feels hostility from a spouse’s parent. But making that effort to find common ground, to be patient and kind, even to just be courteous and respectful, will result in a more harmonious relationship with your spouse, and a much happier family life.
I told my mother-in-law that my house was her house. She said ‘get the hell off my property'” Joan Rivers
Earlier this month my mother-in-law required open heart surgery. My sister-in-law, my husband and myself (along with my step-daughters) all traveled to Washington state to be by her side and help coordinate her care after she would be discharged and we’d gone home. Fortunately, everything came out ok, and my mother-in-law should soon be enjoying better health than she’s had in many years. But there were a few days where I felt I needed to be ready to make that 8 hour drive back up to stay with my in-laws to help ensure an environment conducive to healing. I’d have gone willingly and happily, but above all, I’d have gone because it is my obligation as a daughter-in-law and wife to do so (and as the only unemployed family member).
Fortunately my in-laws are doing well on their own. Mom is rapidly improving, and dad is blossoming as her care-giver. I have no responsibilities at this moment, but am aware that I could become the cheese in this sandwich family again. And that’s ok. A more important thing for me to work on though, is to be ready to be the kind of mother-in-law that I’ve been so lucky to have myself when my sons get married. And when someday, I need the care of a family member, maybe my future daughters-in-law will want to be there for me, lovingly, willingly, and with the same feeling of obligation.
Ariana Gruver is a mother (and landlord) of 3 grown sons. Being single after 25 years of marriage seemed pretty awesome, but then Mr. Right walked into her life, bringing with him two little girls. Starting over again, moving from vibrant Portlandia to the soggy Southern Oregon Coast, changing from a full-time career to being a part-time insurance agent, thrice-weekly stepmom, growing blogger, and full-time wife, she is embracing adventure and sharing her experiences and lessons on her blog. Still Growing. You can learn more about her by following her on: Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/