An Important, Yet Often Neglected Relationship: Part Two

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Read Part One here.

The steps to insure that doesn’t happen are I believe doable by any mother-in-law and daughter-in-law who desire to enrich their lives and the lives of their family by not just getting along, but by sharing mutual respect and ideally a genuine friendship.

First, the desire for a positive relationship must be there. When I realized that my son was serious about the young woman that is now his wife, I wanted to have a good relationship with her because I knew that if my son felt in any way he had to choose between the two of us, I would lose. As hard as that was to think about, I also knew it was the way it should be. We raised our children with godly principals and one of those is that when a man gets married, he is to leave his parents and cleave to his wife. To us that meant he is to stick to his wife, support and protect her emotionally and physically even if it requires distancing himself from his parents.

A new wife should desire a positive relationship with her mother-in-law also because it’s the right thing to do. The fact that the wife loves her son is proof she did something right in rearing him and should earn her some respect. And, a daughter-in-law really can learn a lot from her mother-in-law about her spouse that could help their marriage if she’s willing to listen.

Secondly, once the desire is there, steps can be taken to build the relationship. The best way to do that is to get to know each other. During our son’s enlistment I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to spend a lot of time with his fiancé, our DIL now.  Through our time together we learned each other’s favorite books, foods, movies, we’d go shopping together so I learned her styles and she learned mine. She’s tell me that her friends got tired of hearing about my son, so we’d talk for hours just about him. The result was that we developed a friendship separate from the relationship she had with my son. A friendship I cherish to this day.

I realize this isn’t going to always happen for various reasons, including distance, personalities, interests, etc. However, paying attention to small things like favorite flowers, books, music, foods, colors, and her hobbies go a long way in getting to know someone. Then that knowledge can help start a conversation or purchase gifts that will be appreciated because they were thoughtful. The key is to show even a slight interest. 

The next step would be if both live in the same area to occasionally spend time together without the rest of the family even if it’s to meet for quick cup of coffee, or a short walk. If distance is an issue, commit to a telephone call or email at least twice a month to check in. It doesn’t need to be extremely personal just a quick hi, to let the other know your thinking of her and care.

I realize many mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law may be thinking it isn’t worth the effort and maybe it isn’t to you right now, but there may come a time when it will be important. Right now the 25-year-old son, of a very good friend of mine is in the midst of an extremely critical health situation. During his time in ICU she and her daughter-in-law stayed with him 24/7 and continue to work together to care for him as he prepares for a serious surgery. As I’ve watched this scenario take place, I’ve wondered how different it would be if my friend and her daughter-in-law didn’t get along.  It would’ve created more tension, but the respect and concern they have for one another has made an extremely difficult situation more tolerable as they work together caring for the young man they both love.

For military families, the probability of a serious situation similar to what my friend’s family is enduring is obviously higher because of the risks involved. If it were to occur, everyone in the family would need to work together to create the most positive atmosphere possible for all involved which will only happen if there’s already open and positive communication especially between a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law.  For that reason alone I believe both should consistently work on their relationship because the last thing that needs to be added in the midst of any type of family crisis is tension caused by an unhealthy relationship.

I realize all relationships between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-laws aren’t going to be perfect, and that isn’t necessarily the goal. The goal is to be respectful of one another. I also realize that only one or the other may be willing to take the step toward a better relationship, and that’s okay. We aren’t responsible for others actions or reactions, all we can do is to follow through on what we is right because in the long run that’s going to give us a more positive and calmer attitude and the effort will be greatly appreciated by the man involved.

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