Let me start you off with a quick saying, dear readers, to get you in the mood for my story how to be a good mother-in-law: “Close one eye to keep friends. Close both eyes to keep relatives. Close both eyes and your mouth to keep your daughters-in-law.”
There is a houseplant called Mother-in-Law’s Tongue. Why? Its leaves are toxic.
I was widowed and I remarried, therefore, I had the experience of dealing with two mothers-in-law. They both had toxic tongues. My first mother-in-law should have been written up in the Guinness World Record under the “worst of the worst.” I am not saying this tongue in cheek.
One day, years ago, I gave a woman a ride to an event. We shared a bit of our history on the way to the luncheon. It turned out she knew my first mother-in-law. Out of the blue she said, “You had the worst mother-in-law in America. I don’t know how you survived.” It was true. The saving grace was my late husband. He always sided with me.
My second mother-in-law also had a toxic tongue but she was a hoot. She was widowed at forty-nine and became a uniformed Cook County Sheriff for the divorce court. She held the position until her mid-eighties. She told you how she felt… there was no mystery. One year, on Mother’s Day, I gave her what I thought, was a special gift, a Waterford heart paperweight. The following morning, at 7a.m., it was returned with a note, “I am returning your gift. I don’t like hearts.” I smiled and took it in stride because she loved me and I realized she was unfiltered. I did love her for her openness, her love for me and her committed love to her son, my husband and ultimate concierge, Shelly. She trained him well.
I am mother-in-law to two daughters-in-law. My relationships with them differ. My daughter-in-law, Jami, and I love one another. We are kindred spirits. I have an unusual relationship with my other daughter-in-law, therefore, I take a back seat.
How to be a good mother-in-law
- In 99% of situations, do not make negative comments. Hold your tongue. In fact, bite your tongue, unless the situation is dire and you absolutely know you must speak up. My rule of thumb: Speak up out of good conscience and then shut up.
- Get it in your head that you will never be her mother. Of course, your daughters-in-law will spend more time with their mothers. The way to equalize that situation: become best friends with their moms, darlings. And be a delicious and delightful grandmother.
- Have an open invitation rule. Birthdays, holidays and all family occasions are a time of togetherness. If you are invited to an in-law’s home make every effort to attend. Bring a gift to the mother. And, extend yourself by opening your home for family events. Your daughters-in-law should welcome this because the “family that plays together, stays together” and your relationship will hopefully grow closer. I really don’t think I am being a Pollyanna. My family does this. It works.
- Don’t be competitive. Be collaborative. Women of all ages tend to compete. Never go there. You will lose.
- Take a back seat. It is important to know your position in your family dynamics. My advice is: don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Be a visible and relevant woman and have a personal life.
- When needed, make sure you are on the scene. Prove your commitment to your daughter-in-law. Fly to her side. Open your heart. Give her your emotional support. This is how you layer positive relationships. If unable to travel to her side, you can Skype, email or text your daughter-in-law. No excuses.
Whether it is mothers and daughters or daughters-in-laws and mothers-in-laws there is never 100% compatibility. Accept that. I know no matter how conflicted you may be with a daughter, in 99% of cases, daughters will always love their mothers. There is the umbilical bond. You are her value teacher. With your daughter-in-law it can be a love or hate relationship. I personally pin the responsibility on us. We are older, wiser and truly have more to lose… like a son and our grandchildren. Enough said?