How To Have A Great Relationship With Your Mother-In-Law

In-Law relationships are tough and can stress a marriage. Here are some tips to make them easier!

mother in law/daughter in law

When a little girl envisions her wedding, she thinks about being a beautiful princess in a dreamy dress preparing to live happily ever after with her Prince Charming. What she rarely remembers is that there is a woman in this scenario who raised her handsome prince and who believes that he belongs to her.   UH OH! The fairy tale is fractured! … or is it!?

The Mother-in-Law (MIL)/Daughter-in-Law (DIL) relationship is often very complex for a variety of reasons. My own experience has been great, though it wasn't always easy. My Mother-in-Law, Terry, is wonderful! She warmly welcomed me into the family, she has always been supportive, fairly undemanding (I'll have to explain that one to her!), and has worked harder than anyone I have ever seen to develop and maintain relationships with me, her oldest son's wife, her daughter's husband and all of her grandchildren. She is truly an inspiration and I have often told her that she should write a "how-to" book for other Mothers-in-Law. (We're actually considering working on one together!)


The road started out a bit bumpy between us with some misunderstandings and some minor disagreements, but through communication and even some limit-setting on both of our parts, like telling each other when we have crossed the line, our relationship is in a great place 26 years later!

Q: How many mothers-in-law does it take to change a light bulb?
A: One. She just holds it up there and waits for the world to revolve around her.

Mothers-in-law have gotten a bad rap, historically. Jokes like this one have long been part of our society and the challenges don't seem to be letting up. Think about the MIL's on television. On the old show Everybody Loves Raymond, Raymond's wife and mother struggle on a daily basis – mostly because the MIL is critical, intrusive and over-bearing. How about the movie Monster-In-Law starring Jennifer Lopez and Jane Fonda? Hollywood showed an extreme example that even came to blows!


The Key is Accepting One Another As-Is!

One DIL lamented to me that though their MIL is a lovely woman, she doesn't understand why she doesn't want to spend time with her grandchildren. This brings up a very important point. Not all grandmothers are doting, adoring and looking to shower love and attention on their grandchildren. For whatever reason, it simply isn't her style. Perhaps more MIL's and DIL's would have better relationships if they simply accepted each other, as is, and not try to change one another. We all have hopes and expectations, but they may not be shared by others.

Cultural differences can further complicate the MIL/DIL relationship. Coming from different ethnicities, different religions, and different parts even of the same country is hard enough. But even if you're raised on the same street, in the same town, going to the same church, the culture inside a person's home is different! Not to mention conflicting personalities and temperament styles. Some people move quickly and others more slowly. That can be a source of annoyance, too. There is no end to the difference, but the quest is to find the similarities and to respect one another regardless. My Mother-in-Law and I discussed this at length and here is our advice and guide to having a great MIL/DIL relationship:

How to be a terrific mother-in-law:

  • Remember that your son is an adult who is married and on his own now. If you want to maintain a good relationship with your son, make friends with your DIL.
  • Observe boundaries – they are a unit – you are not a part of that unit.
  • Now that he's married, he now makes all decisions with and in consideration of his wife – and you should, too!
  • Respect your son and his wife even if they don't do things the way you would.
  • Offer opinions only when asked first.
  • Give the younger couple lots of space to grow and figure things out on their own – even if you think they're making mistakes!
  • Be positive! Don't assume the negative first.
  • Be patient and be honest with each other in a respectful and compassionate way.
  • Make sure you think before you speak.
  • Be accessible, but not demanding.
  • When they have children, do not over-grandmother! Don’t be so good that you're invasive and overstepping the boundaries. Don’t try too hard!
  • Observe how your children treat their children and try to do the same when you're spending time with them. It's not your place to agree or disagree with their rules; they're not your children.
  • Make sure that the amount of time that you spend together is comfortable for them, too. You don't want to make your visits too often, or not often enough. Check in with them on this one.
  • Be there for them if they need you, but don't live for them alone. Make sure that you have a life of your own so that you're not invading your children's lives. You'll also be interesting to visit with when you have things to share from your own life.

Let's keep in mind that the challenges in the MIL/DIL relationship are not always the fault of the MIL. We mustn't forget that relationships are two-way streets. Here are Terry's and my thoughts on being a terrific DIL:

How to be a terrific daughter-in-law:

  • Remember that your gain may feel like your MIL's loss. Have compassion!
  • Keep in mind that she has been the main woman in your husband's life and completely adored by him since he was born.
  • Be kind, even if your MIL is driving you crazy. It's how you honor your husband – by honoring his mother.
  • Keep in mind that you think your husband is pretty terrific. If she raised him, she can't possibly be all bad. (No, it probably wasn't an accident!)
  • Be open to the possibility of being friends with your MIL from the beginning of your relationship.
  • Let your MIL know that you're interested in her as a person.
  • Extend yourself to your MIL and open your heart and your family to her.
  • She's not your mother, so assume that you came from different planets – be curious about your differences, and not judgmental!

In-law relationships are difficult, complex and multi-faceted under the best of circumstances. When all parties involved can be kind, compassionate and honest, there is greater likelihood of having a fulfilling and nourishing relationship, and don't sweat the small stuff!