Now that Michelle Obama’s mother is living in the White House, will the cruel jokes and snide remarks about mothers-in-law finally stop? Will Marian Robinson, as first mother-in-law, be able to pave the way for acceptance, even respect, for this much-maligned branch of the family tree? Only time, and the nightly comedians, will tell.
If you have a new son-in-law yourself, you can use Mrs. Robinson and other successful in-laws as your guides. Let them teach you how to adjust to your new role. It’s not easy. Once you’ve made the final payment for your daughter’s dream wedding, you may find yourself relegated to the back burner.
Instead of you, your daughter’s new husband is now the one who shares her confidences. After spending the past couple of decades as an active and involved mom, do you now feel like a Lame Duck? Even more important, how can you learn to relate to the guy who is now the center of your daughter’s universe? Here are a few tips to get you started with your own son-in-law:
1. Move slowly into the role of mother-in-law, remembering that your daughter’s spouse arrives with his own issues, unique temperament and family rituals. Learn more about him and his family rather than expecting him to blend into yours. Remember that family loyalty goes both ways.
2. Imagine the situation from your son-in-law’s perspective. Recognize that he wants to build and strengthen his new family unit. Doris is trying to let go of her need to continue such a tight relationship with her daughter. “I know she is bonding with her husband, so I don’t snoop or ask too many questions. As an only child I don’t like to go halves with anything, so it’s hard for me to share my precious daughter. But I know that her husband has to be the focus for her now.”
3. Respect your daughter’s choice and learn to love her life partner. By focusing on how happy your daughter is and on your son-in-law’s positive qualities, you’ll be building on the mutual good feelings. This can serve as an emotional savings account you can draw on later when other situations lead to tension between you.
4. Hold back on your opinions, advice and constructive criticism, at least until there is more trust in the relationship. This can be a challenge, as Nancy found: “I’m very careful about what I say, so I don’t think my son-in-law knows that I’m holding back. We get along fine on the surface but I hope that some day we can deal with deeper issues.”
5. Avoid hot button issues like finances, religious observances, and work/home responsibilities. By taking sides, you make it harder for the newlyweds to sort out these issues for themselves. When you have expectations that are not shared by them, recognize that now it’s their turn to make this type of decision.
6. Be available to help when asked but don’t intrude. As the new couple settles into their routine and lifestyle, they may ask for your help or support. Pitch in and be responsive to their needs when you can, but don’t overstep the boundaries.
7. Find support from your spouse and friends. When you’re frustrated, share with others who will understand what you’re going through and use them as a sounding board. When all else fails, laugh together as inductees in the sisterhood of mothers-in-law.
These tips can help you build the kind of relationship with your son-in-law that Marian Robinson has with President Obama. He and Michelle respect her and trust her to help with their children. Embrace your new role of mother-in-law. You, too, have the power to make this an enriching chapter for everyone in the family.
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