When an adult child gets married, it can be difficult for his/her parents to navigate their new role as an in-laws. I am learning this myself, as my oldest son got married in the not too distant past. Unfortunately, our culture has created a negative stereotype of in-laws (particularly mother-in-laws), but your own experience can be a positive one! Here are 5 ways to be an amazing mother-in-law:
1) Expect and Embrace Differences A family unit can thought of as a sort of “organism;” it has its own traditions, belief system, and even its own quirks. When a new person enters this family (through marriage), there are bound to be differences. Recognize that there is no such thing as a completely seamless transition, and expect your new son-in-law or daughter-in-law to do some things in a new way. You can learn to celebrate these differences as well! It can also be helpful to talk about family expectations in order to navigate this change.
2) Give Advice Only When Asked As a parent, we have years of experience and wisdom that our children may still be learning. But as your child has branched out and is now creating a new family, be careful to not be overbearing or imposing. Resist the temptation to say everything you think, as these newlyweds are developing their own traditions and lifestyle. You may do certain things differently, but only give your advice or insight when you’re specifically asked for it.
3) Respect Autonomy In any relationship, there’s always a balance between separateness and connection. This is certainly true of your relationship with your child and his/her spouse. You want to respect the autonomy of their new family while still maintaining closeness. Remember that they are now their own unit and are not an extension of you! Let them have their experience. For example, perhaps you would really like them to spend the holidays with you. It’s a good idea to let them know they are welcome and invited, but then leave the decision up to them. If you have a hard time knowing if you are crossing a boundary and becoming overly involved in their lives, communicate about boundaries.
4) Offer Compliments Freely Take time to notice the positive about your child-in-law and freely compliment him/her. Something as simple as “I am so impressed by the way you handled your baby’s tantrum” can help build a strong connection and validate the other person. Don’t underestimate the power of a sincere and specific compliment.
5) Look Inward, Don’t Blame If there is any tension in the in-law relationship, it’s a chance to look at yourself and contemplate what you have to learn. Ask yourself why you are hurt or why something is bothering you, and you’ll find that it can teach you something about integrating this new person in your family.
If you’re struggling with in-law-relationships, we can help! Find out how by emailing us.