Mother-in-laws and daughter-in-laws are family partners fused together by circumstance and law. To be thrown into a close family relationship without giving consent or being consulted is a daunting challenge. But it’s a challenge that can be overcome. The mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship is without question a complicated dance. Yet, by the very nature of the relationship, these two women are expected to immediately move freely and beautifully in synchronized harmony overnight. The connectedness and closeness is rarely realized overnight.
It never did occur to me that it would be the hardest dance ever until I got married. Yet it also never did occur to me that I would empathize with my mother-in-law until I became a mother. Thoughts such as “what if I become a monster-in-law next time” and “would my daughter-in-law feel comfortable or threaten with my presence” did cross my mind whenever such conversation topics arises among my friends who are mothers. Having being married for 4 years and a mom for just a year, I’ve come across tons of mothers (new and experienced) who have shared their thanksgiving and also woes about their relationships with their mother-in-laws or daughter-in-laws.
The question is, “How is your relationship with your mother-in-law/daughter-in-law?” and “Would you like to move gracefully in tandem with your in-law and to enjoy the relationship with her?
As dancers would know, one of the consequences of learning to ‘dance’ is the risk of stepping onto the toes of the dance partner. Even with much effort to avoid hurting the other and without ill intentions, often toes are bruised. As inadequate as you are in learning to move gracefully in tandem with my in-law, I find that the book “The Mother-in-Law Dance” by Annie Chapman has taught me a lot of good values and wisdom in managing with the relationship I have with my in-laws as well as to prepare myself as a good mother-in-law to my future daughter-in-law. She offers her experience in the delicate negotiations and gentle understanding that is required for establishing loving, healthy in-law relationships through the conversations and questionnaires she has gathered to complete the book.
I hope that this summary of learning will benefit you as it has done for me:
1. Get to know her as a person, not as an in-law
This is one of the BEST advice I have received from her book: her own daughter, Heidi, tried advising Annie with regard to her daughter-in-law Stephanie. “Mom, don’t treat Stephanie like you treat me. She has an incredible mother. She doesn’t need another one. You should get to know her and not assume she thinks like me or likes what I like.”
Indeed, they already have an incredible mother and they don’t need another. However if your mother-in-law has been treating you like her own daughter, don’t fret. It’s probably her way of accepting you into the family and we can do our part by getting to know her as a person and not as a mother-in-law. Don’t assume too, that she thinks like your own mom.
2. Guarding our words; covering with love
Someone once asked me, do you know why God has created us with two ears and one mouth? So that we can learn to listen more than we speak! Indeed, many have failed the art of active listening, including myself. Annie would suggest a “test” of whether something needs to be said. The three questions we should always ask before opening our mouths are: is what I’m going to say true? Kind? Necessary?
When we say things that are hurtful and damaging to others, those words are like water that has been thrown out of the bucket, once they have been poured away, they cannot be retrieved. We can say sorry for all we want, but we can’t take back the words that have been spoken. As such, the best way to keep our words from inflicting unintentional hurt is to keep them in our mouths.
If you really need to raise something necessary that may potentially hurt the relationship with your in-laws, discuss it with your husband first and work out a plan together as a team to ensure that it is the done in the gentlest manner.
3. Setting boundaries without building walls
The old adage “Fences make good neighbours” is never more true than when it comes to living close to family. Setting healthy boundaries such as respecting personal space and time is important to allow healthy relationships. One example of a healthy boundary is to always call and inform your in-laws a day in advance, before you leave your house and before you make your appearance at their doorstep and house.
4. Appreciation and Acceptance
Every individual longs to be appreciated and acknowledged for what he or she has done. Mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law are no different. The relationship can be greatly enhanced if both are careful to express that mutual appreciation genuinely.
Accept one another as uniquely created beings who have been brought up in an entirely different manner.
5. Mending the bridge
This may sound challenging but know that it is possible you if are determined to mend the bridge. Keeping it clean and not bearing grudges with one another is the first step to mending the bridge. Try not to let “little things” build up in a clothes dryer can have devastating consequences. Allowing unresolved, unintentional hurts to collect can burn to the ground the fragile relationship between two women who love the same man. It is better to correct gently and quickly deal with conflicts to avoid build up and a broken relationship.
By Yvonne Chee
This article was first published in The New Age Parents e-magazine
Read the Part II – Overcoming Conflicts With Your Mother In Law