She accepted me from the beginning. Shortly after David and I started dating he invited me to his parents’ home for dinner. His mom had prepared an elegant candlelight meal and seemed delighted to have me. Little did I know that although he was a third year college student, I was the first girl he had ever brought home to meet his mom and dad.
Two and a half years later we were married and along with a husband and a new last name I had acquired a mother-in-law. Looking back, I know I didn’t do everything perfectly and probably didn’t always meet her approval but to her credit I’ll have to say she never let me know it. As far as I could tell, she thought I was the perfect wife, the perfect daughter-in-law and later, the perfect mother.
This fundamentally important relationship can add joy or pain to our lives so it seems worth the effort to invest in its care.
Years later when I stood giving a tribute at her funeral, I acknowledged all the things she had done right as a mother-in-law. I talked about what we had loved doing together and what I had learned from her through years of being part of her family. It was a lovely feeling to want to honor my husband’s mother in this way. Our years together had been pleasant and memorable ones and for that I have always been grateful.
And looking back, I realize there are things I did to contribute to the good relationship we had as well. I’m not sure I was aware of them at the time but now that I’m a mother-in-law myself, I see how they benefited her positive feelings for me. This fundamentally important relationship can add joy or pain to our lives so it seems worth the effort to invest in its care.
Here is a short list of suggestions for keeping the good mother-in-law vibes coming your way:
- LOVE HER SON. That may sound like a given since you obviously loved him enough to marry him, but there is nothing that endears someone to a mom more than being kind and caring to her child. As you progress through life and meet health, financial and various other sorts of challenges, being a source of joy, comfort and encouragement to your husband often deepens a mother-in-law’s respect for you as his partner.
- ENCOURAGE YOUR HUSBAND TO LOVE HIS MOM. Some men love their mothers but really don’t know how to express that in a way that is meaningful to her. As a woman, you have the unique opportunity to help him gain insight in this area. Suggesting he give her a call or set aside time just to be with her on occasion gives honor to a relationship that existed years before you came into the picture. It also diffuses feelings of jealousy or displacement she may have harbored when you became the number one woman in his life.
- FIND COMMON INTERESTS. My mother-in-law loved to play bridge and grew beautiful roses. I had never played cards or gardened in my life. I tried to learn to play bridge but could never quite master the art of bidding and couldn’t remember which cards had been played and which were still in hand. I finally quit trying to force myself to do something I didn’t enjoy and focused on what we could share with equal pleasure. Both avid readers, we would discuss the latest books we had read, go on shopping sprees together and share recipes we had tried. Although she was a very accomplished cook and I merely a novice, culinary adventures were something that brought us together. I still don’t know how to play bridge!
- VALUE HER LIFE EXPERIENCE. There are probably things that you and your mother-in-law are never going to see eye to eye on and that’s okay. What is important, however, is that you honor her by valuing her life experience and the wisdom that comes with years. The first time my in-laws visited us in our tiny one bedroom apartment, my father-in-law called his wife into the bathroom to look at my perfectly neat and carefully organized closet. My mother-in-law took one look at it, turned to me and said, “Just remember, Darla, it’s the second wife who always gets the maid!” I knew from that statement she was telling me that in a marriage there were other things more important than tidy closets and perfectly folded linens. I’ve never forgotten her words and in our marriage have tried to keep my priorities straight even when my closets weren’t.
- KEEP HER UP TO DATE ON YOUR FAMILY. Because we never lived in the same city, I always tried to give my mother-in-law a call at least once a week just to check in and to keep her current on our lives. She especially loved it after we had children and I would call her with the latest funny story or misadventure of one of our offspring. When we would visit in their home, David would usually go off to do something with his dad and she would always invite me to share a second cup of coffee in the mornings. I sometimes felt like I was the informational link between her and her grown son. Offering to share a window on your world makes a mother-in-law feel included and connected and is certain to earn you some points!
- TEACH YOUR CHILDREN TO LOVE HER. No matter how difficult your mother-in-law may be, it may be good to remind yourself that if it were not for her you would not have the gift of your husband or your beautiful kids. Your children are one of her rewards for the effort and energy she poured into raising her son. Teach them to love and respect her and help them find ways to bring her joy. The golden rule of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” is never more appropriate than in a relationship like this one.
Although few people experience the closeness and the bond shared by perhaps the most famous daughter-in-law and mother-in-law of all time, Ruth and Naomi, it is definitely in our best interests to maintain that relationship and to keep it at its best. Even after the death of her husband, Ruth wanted to be by Naomi’s side and to be claimed as part of her family. When Ruth later remarried and had a son, the Bible says “ Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him.” (Ruth 4:16)
My children called my mother-in-law Mimi. She died before any of them had children of their own but when our first grandchild was born nearly eight years ago, my son said, “Mom, since Mimi is no longer here why don’t you be the new Mimi.” And that has been my grandmother name ever since. I can’t think of a nicer tribute to my mother-in-law than to be called by her name.