This is how it begins: Your guy pops the question and tells you that his family is just going to love you, especially his mom. You’re the daughter she never had. You assume that means she’s going to be supersupportive of all your choices, will offer help when you ask for it, but otherwise, stay out of your life and marriage. How perfect.
Meanwhile, his mom has a fantasy of her own. She assumes that since you’re so crazy about her son, you see her as an authority on marriage and children—and her son. Of course you’ll want lots of advice from her because you want to be just like her. She can’t wait to start “helping.”
Call it the clash of the fantasy lives. The result: 60 percent of women use words likes “strained,” “infuriating” and “simply awful” to describe their mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship.
The Five Biggest Mistakes Mothers-in-Law Make:
1) Assuming your daughter-in-law wants your advice. Most don’t want to hear “This is what I did so this is what you should do,” says Apter.
2) Thinking the mother-son relationship will not change after his marriage. Instead, says Apter, “mothers should assume that they will need to negotiate” a new way of communicating with their sons. “Mothers have to find a new mode of asking for their son’s help or giving him advice and getting access to him,” Apter said.
3) Offering to help out with housework or disciplining the children. “Offers to help are often perceived as criticism,” Apter said. “Walking into the house and saying, ‘Let me iron my son’s shirts for you,’ implies to the daughter-in-law that you think that’s her role, and she may bristle at that notion.”
4) Trying too hard to be nice. “Some women are so worried about being perceived as an awful mother-in-law that they are too polite, they never say anything spontaneous, and that can put a real strain on the relationship,” says Apter. “You shouldn’t act as if you’re worried that any disagreement could make the whole relationship fall apart.”
5) Criticizing your daughter-in-law to your son. “This should be obvious but it’s worth highlighting how damaging this is, because the son is very likely to bring up the topic with his wife,” says Apter. Not only is she likely to get mad at the mother-in-law (“Why didn’t she tell me to my face!?!”), she’ll probably feel resentful toward her husband as well (“Why are you bringing this up to me? You’re supposed to be on my side!”). “It just makes things worse,” said Apter. “It’s better to talk to your son and daughter-in-law together.”
The Five Biggest Mistakes Daughters-in-Law Make:
1) Being thin-skinned. “Don’t take offense at little things that aren’t meant personally,” says Apter. Daughters-in-law can be very sensitive to anything their mothers-in-law say about the appearance of the house or the behavior of the children, Apter said. “Daughters-in-law expect their mothers-in law to be critical and they tend to take offense too easily.”
2) Taking a confrontational stand too quickly. If your mother-in-law expresses a view that differs from yours, you don’t have to get your back up about it, Apter says. “You can just say, ‘That’s interesting, and I’m glad that worked for you, but I think I’d like to try it this way.’ You can show respect for someone else’s experience while still making it clear that you want to do things your own way.”
3) Expecting equal treatment. “Don’t expect your mother-in-law to care as much about your career and your potential as she does about her son’s,” Apter said. “It’s not that she is incapable of valuing a woman’s career, but she is his mother, and her son will always come first to her. It really helps if you expect that and try to see it from her point of view.”
4) Letting things slide at the start. If you find that your mother-in-law is interfering too much, or visiting too often, or offering too much advice, don’t put off talking to her about it, says Apter. “It is much better to start out by setting limits. Otherwise, bad habits become quickly ingrained. If a mother-in-law is good at manipulating things, once she succeeds at it, it’s hard to change things later.”
5) Failing to put yourself in her shoes. A mother-in-law is more likely to respect boundaries if she is reassured that she will continue to be a respected and important part of the family, and that you will make an effort to include her in your family’s life.