From books to TV and movies, mothers-in-law have been vilified since the beginning of time. It’s no wonder that some people tread lightly around their mother-in-law. Our relationship with our mothers-in-law may never be perfect, but if you’re a parent you should not only like her, you ought to make her your best friend.
When I started dating my husband, I liked many things about him, including his family. I especially liked his mother. She was nice, a gracious host and a devoted wife and mom. She also welcomed me into their home, even at Thanksgiving. I was always treated well. Then my husband and I announced our engagement and things changed. Perhaps she didn’t think I was the right person for him, because dinners that were once warm and fuzzy weren’t so anymore.
Our engagement was only for six months. I was 31 at the time and didn’t see the point in waiting any longer. So I went straight into wedding planning mode. I was planning a 150-person wedding in Manhattan and in my mind my wedding plans were modest. I recall talking to his mother about our wedding and getting a less than enthusiastic response. She didn’t seem to understand why I was doing this or why I was doing that. One day she finally said to me, “The best weddings are backyard weddings.” From that moment I wasn’t sure what kind of relationship I was going to have with her and I wasn’t confident it was going to be a good one.
After we got married my relationship with her didn’t change. She was never outright rude to me but from time to time would make comments that bothered me. Sometimes she seemed critical of me and would point out what she thought were my flaws.
Three years into our marriage my husband and I made another announcement. We told our family that we were pregnant with triplets.
From the moment my kids were born until this day, my mother-in-law has cared for my kids as though they were her own. She cheerfully takes care of them every time she is called upon and even does household chores. She is the best grandparent and mother’s helper I could have ever asked for. Of course there were times when I wondered whether she was there for me or if she was just there for the kids. Over time, though, I realized that it didn’t matter. Her being there for the kids was the same as her being there for me. Her presence allowed me to take breaks from the kids, eat and sleep because I knew she loved them and they were safe with her.
My mother-in-law also helped me deal with the stress of motherhood emotionally. On days when I felt drained by my responsibilities she would encourage me and tell me that it will all pay off in the end and to just “hang in there.” She also helped me with my marriage. While we never talked about any specific issues with my marriage (because that wouldn’t be helpful) or about “her son” (because that definitely would not be helpful) she still helped me. We talked mostly about her experience as a wife and she gave me advice in her own thinly veiled way.
We are taught to think of our mothers-in-law as our adversaries and women who are only interested in their sons. Perhaps some of that is true. Perhaps some of that will also never change, but if you’re a parent you ought to make your mother-in-law your best friend. She is one of the few people in this world who truly cares about what happens to your family and will be there for you, and if not for you, for the kids. Our mothers-in-law are also women and they are mothers who’ve been there and done that. So they can help us in many ways. They can help us navigate the challenges of life, of marriage and of course, motherhood.
Happy Mother’s Day!