Being a mother-in-law can be a wonderful experience, but also tricky.
Your son or daughter has just married, and now there is someone else in your family with a different background and a different set of values.
It might also be possible you have some emotional baggage from your own mother-in-law relationship which makes you nervous about being one yourself.
Regardless, here are some tips to help you be a good mother-in-law and make the most of this new family dynamic:
- Acknowledge to yourself that you are not the central woman (if you have a daughter-in-law), or one of the main central people (if you have a son-in-law) in your child’s life anymore. While you might think you have accepted this, you possibly might not have. If acknowledging this brings up difficult feelings for you then it might be worthwhile talking to a counsellor or psychologist to walk you through those emotions. You now have another individual in your child’s life who loves them like you do, so by making the most of your relationship with that in-law, you are showing love and support for your child.
- Do not criticise your in-law, even to your child. Your child has chosen your in-law as their life partner; criticising the in-law will only cause fractures in the relationships between you, your child, and your in-law. While there might be times your-in-law does something you are concerned about which warrants feedback, present the feedback in a constructive manner and appropriate context (such as new grandchildren present).
- Remember your child and your in-law are starting their own family with their own rules. These rules might be very different to what you would have and there might be some which you completely disagree with. Unless these rules are harmful, I recommend following them as it shows you are respecting them as a couple.
- Give your opinion when asked, or if appropriate, ask them if they want it. You are someone with many years’ life experience with a wealth of knowledge to match, and I know you would love to share it to help them out. However I suspect you also would not have appreciated someone trying to give you advice all the time when you were newly married so keep this in mind!
- Be open with your in-law. If you are unsure where you sit with them or what their expectation of the relationship is, then have an open discussion with them (and your child if appropriate) about it. Do not get defensive if their expectation is not what you wanted; while you may feel hurt, you do not need to act on that hurt.
- Consider your in-law as part of the family. While this might be difficult, considering them part of the family and then acting on it will help you two come closer. How this plays out will depend on your relationship. Family events are a given, but them calling you mum or dad is not.
You are not alone if you are finding it difficult becoming the mother-in-law, let alone learning to be a good mother-in-law.
The transition often signifies more than just your child getting married, and can leave a large hole in your life. This can be disjointing and even impact how you view yourself, so if you do find yourself struggling with your in-law relationship or the change itself, I recommend contacting myself or another professional so we can help you through the transition.
Hannah Jensen-Fielding is a Brisbane therapist working from a strengths-based integrative approach, as she believes more momentum is gained by looking forward at the future and who we can become. She has a keen interest in providing relationship counselling, for example to help people with in-law problems.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call Vision Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3088 5422.