How to Be a Great Mother-in-Law

A great mother-in-law?? Okay, most days, I’d settle for just being a good one or even simply not messing up a relationship too badly. I’ve been a mother-in-law for 17 years now. We have five kids—three daughters and two sons. All of them are married, so I have both sons- and daughters-in-law. And the things I’ve learned over the years have come mostly from the mistakes I’ve made.

When our daughter Allison was a newlywed, she was about to drive overnight alone on a trip. “We don’t want you to do that. It’s too dangerous,” we said.  After further discussion, she came to us and said, “This is not really your decision. You have to let me and Will decide what to do.” As hard as it was, she was right.

Since I’ve been in the school of “in-lawing” for quite some time now, I thought I’d share with you five things I have learned from my own life, as well as from friends, which I hope will help you as you attend this “school” with me.

1. Our priorities change when our child gets married.

When our child marries, the priority relationship is no longer our relationship with that child but their relationship with each other. The most important thing now is to cultivate their marriage. So when our newlywed daughter calls and says, “Mom, I am going to buy a couch. What kind should I get?” our answer needs to be, “What does your husband think?” We have to step back from being the primary counselor to pushing them toward each other. God’s Word describes marriage this way: to leave, to cleave, and to become one flesh. Many marriages run into trouble because either the husband or the wife does not leave emotionally. We in-law parents can contribute to this problem by continuing to be too involved in our kids’ lives. It’s time to relinquish them to each other.

If possible, encourage your newlywed kids to live away from both sets of parents during their first two years of marriage. Geographical distance will promote the emotional leaving and will encourage the needed cleaving.

2. Be patient in building the relationship.

We want our families to be close. We want to have a deep friendship with our new son- or daughter-in-law. But sometimes, we expect this to happen too quickly, and we can suffocate the new family member. If our expectation for an instant, close-knit family is too high, we will be disappointed. It’s important to remember that anything that is new is awkward. It is often hard for a new daughter-in-law to embrace her new family instantly. Give the new member some time to adjust. The first two years are likely to be a time of slowly grafting him or her into the family.

3. Focus on common interests.

We have to work patiently at building a relationship with new in-laws. Find out their interests and study the things that interest them. If they are “into” natural foods, study nutrition. If they are in business, try to learn about their particular field. Do things with them that they like.  If they like fishing, go fishing. If they are readers, read what they read. Be interested in their lives. Get to know their friends. However, remember there is a delicate balance between overwhelming them and ignoring them.

4. Ask your own child how you can love his or her spouse well.

Usually we want to love our in-law child, but often we don’t know how to go about it. His or her love language may be completely different from ours.* Ask your own child, “How can I love your spouse well this year? What can I do that would communicate love to him or her? Is there anything that I am doing that is offensive to him or her?”

Do not speak negatively about your child’s spouse to your child. This puts your child in an awkward position, and if he has to choose who to support, he must choose his wife. Remember their marriage is the priority relationship. This does not mean that you can’t discuss things, but it must be done very carefully.

It’s helpful if we don’t distinguish between our child and our in-law child. I have five children, but since they are all married, I now have 10. Mentally, emotionally, and in every other way, I try to think of them equally and treat them in the same way. It’s always a process.

5. Be quick to ask forgiveness and to grant grace.

We are going to blow it as in-laws a lot. It’s important to say, “I shouldn’t have said what I did (or done what I did), and I need to ask you to forgive me. Will you forgive me?” I’ve had to do this many times to all of my kids and my husband, but I’ve never felt like doing it. Often I’d rather say, “But you should have or you shouldn’t have …”

We go asking for forgiveness not because we feel like it but because we are commanded to. Feelings take time to heal, and trust can take time to be restored; but this process cannot begin apart from going to another and asking for forgiveness. We must assume the best, remember our kids are young, and strive to grant extra grace. And we have to recognize that God is much more patient with us than we are with ourselves. We never obtain a final degree in the school of parenting. We will always be learning!

 

 

*The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts (Paperback)

Marriages may be made in heaven, but they must be nurtured here on earth. In this new paperback edition of Dr. Gary Chapman’s bestselling book, The Five Love Languages, he explains how people communicate love in different ways, and shares the wonderful things that happen when men and women learn to speak each other’s language. Chapters are categorized by love language and each one ends with simple steps to express a specific language to your spouse and guide your marriage in the right direction.

Do you have a question about your relationship with a mother-in-law? We'd love for you to share in the comments! And if you happen to BE a mother-in-law, we'd love to hear from you too! What have you learned from your experience as a mother-in-law!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

43 thoughts on “How to Be a Great Mother-in-Law

  1. AMEN! Thanks for posting…now if I could just get my mother-in-law to read this…

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
  2. That's exactly what I was thinking! I wish there was a polite way to give this article to my mother-in-law. I can't think of one, so I'll just have to tuck the information away for the day I am a mother-in-law.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
    • Thanks Melissa! It is a great idea to make a list while you have little kids of the things you want to be and do and not be and do when you are a mother-in-law!! Some of these things will drop off you rlist later or be changed and some will be a real help!

      Blessings, Susan

      VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
      Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
    • Melissa, I would encourage you to pray about an opportunity to share this with your mother-in-love. If she is like most of us, she longs to have a friendship with you. When you feel you can humbly, kindly with love and respect share it with her, please do. Love her as Jesus would and leave the rest to him. I’ll be praying for you.

      VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
      Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  3. Great article! I've been blessed with great in-laws and my husband says the same about my parents. One of the things I've learned is that having a Godly, mom-figure, mentor really helps me. If I have a question or struggle I can ask her, we'll talk and pray about it. Rather than share some of the struggles I have with my mom (long distance) or my spouse's mom (close by) I'm not putting me or my spouse into a negative light with someone at the wrong time. We feel very comfortable asking for advice from our parents/in laws and we are all on the same page that that is what we are asking for, but we still have to make our own decision as husband and wife what is best for our family. It is often easier just to tell them what's going on in our lives with a positive attitude and ask them to pray for us as we try to do the things that God wants us to do.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
    • Thanks Suanna,

      We do all need mentors! At every stage and season. And we can all be a mentor to someone else!

      There are a lot of older women who would love for a young women simply to ask them out for coffee and “pick their brain” about life!

      Thanks, Susan

      VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
      Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  4. This is a great article! I am a mother-in-law, and it's been one of the greatest blessings ever!

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  5. Hey Darling,
    I loved the blog. You've said it all. There's nothing more I can teach you. What wisdom God has given you and I even learned a few things from reading your blog. Prayer, prayer, and more prayer have gotten me through it, and now I'm trying to instill in the grandchildren what knowledge God has given me through all the years. I love you.
    Tucker

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  6. Thank you! I have sent it on to some of my friends who are mothers-in-law …. and also bravely to my co-mothers-in-law! But I do have great relationships with them too. A very helpful article. What a privilege all this parenting and in-law parenting is; tough too, but the toughness is worth it for the love and the joy. We are blessed.
    Penelope

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  7. Great article! My mother in law has always been amazingly gracious about keeping her thoughts and opinions to herself, so I have never felt judged by her…just accepted and loved. I realize that at times she remained silent…but silence was her kind way of not agreeing, but not wounding. I will try to remember that when I am a mother in law some day!

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
    • I love your thought about silence. Great wisdom! Thanks for sharing with all of us!
      Susan

      VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
      Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  8. I really like this article. #1 in particular hit home with me, while I am not a mother-in-law my husband and I struggled in the first two years of our marriage to set boundaries with our mothers (this included his and mine). I was hard for our mothers to understand that we were starting our own family and that they had to "share" us with a new family, this was very difficult especially around holidays.
    I want to encourage other ladies out there who may be struggling with their mother-in-laws or their own mothers. Set down and have a frank discussion with your spouse about how you expect holidays to go or how you expect visits / involvement from family to go. Make sure you are both united, each spouse should then go to their respective families and set the boundaries.
    In our case, my husband and I had decided while we were engaged that the only fair thing to do on holidays was to have an every other year policy. If we went to my families house for Easter one year, the next year we went to his families house for Easter. I will be honest, it wasn't easy and the mothers balked but we stuck to our policy and after the first 3 years of marriage it was longer an issue.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
    • Heather, I love it that you talked about this before you were married. That is real wisdom!
      Blessings, Susan

      VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
      Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  9. Thank you for sharing!!! I loved everything you said and we certainly need Jesus to live out those 5 things which is exactly what HE wants for us!

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  10. Thank you, Susan! Your wisdom is greatly appreciated! Thankful to have had a great relationship with my inlaws! I'm not a mother-in-law yet, but very much looking forward to that day! Also, just want to say that I'm so glad my daughter gets to spend so much time with a significant portion of your family! Their daily influence in her life is invaluable!

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
    • Karen,
      Thanks so much! I love your daughter. She is such a blessing!
      She obviously had a great role model in you!
      Warmly, Susan

      VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
      Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
  11. Glenda,
    Thanks for these thoughts. You have a good point. I merely suggested that it can be a healthy thing if couples leave the first 1 to 2 years of their marriage. I know this is not always possible. And I agree that it is very nice when the grandkids are close by. Still, for some it’s easier to learn to cleave emotionally to each other when you are on your own in the beginning of your marriage.
    Blessing, Susan

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
  12. Hi Susan,
    I am a mother of three sons and three wonderful daughters-in-law. I pray for their marriages every day and realise that sons must leave and cleave and establish primary relationships with their wives and build Christian families of their own. I would encourage mothers of daughters to talk frankly to their girls about sharing holidays and be willing to have every other Christmas dinner without a beloved daughter in the interest of fairness. My own wonderful mother did this and sharing all holidays equally with my husbands family endeared me to them and built a strong, loving relationship. It also let my sons see that Dad's family was as important as mine.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
  13. YES!!!
    Great thoughts. Holidays can be a huge issue in families. We have to share! I”m so thankful that you sent this in!

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
  14. Good Morning Susan,
    This is really good. So well expressed – it communicates to the heart. Thanks for taking the time to articulate your thoughts and what you have learned on your journey.
    One thing I did, that I found to be a blessing to my daughter in laws, and so good for me, was to take them out to lunch and clearly express to them my letting go. I am very close to each of my sons and I did not want that to be a threat to them. I wanted them to know that they were now his "go to" person. And I was stepping aside.
    Also wanted to share a thought with the young mothers. I had a very difficult relationship with my MIL. I came upon a sermon by Jill Briscoe on Ruth and Naomi. I was so excited. I was certain she would answer my problems. Her first sentence on the matter was, "The problem with most mother in laws, is daughter in laws! I had to rewind the cassette (showing my age!) and hear it again. I am not suggesting that this is always true. But I will say that her talk was the beginning of God's most powerful work in my life. Thankfully before my mother in law died with cancer, we had a beautiful loving, accepting relationship.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +2 (from 2 votes)
    • Sand,
      This is profound and such a help. I love your idea of the lunch with a future daughter -in- law!!!And the point by Jill Briscoe is such a good one! Thanks for replying!
      Love, Susan

      VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
      Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
  15. Best article I've read on in-laws! How often you misunderstand or are misunderstood as an in-law. Point #2 was especially insightful, be patient. Thank you! This is something I will share with others.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
  16. Very wise article and encouraging comments. After trying very hard to follow many of those suggestions for about three years with my daughter in law I am still walking on eggshells. I get little thanks for thoughtful deeds or gifts. We see each other only 3 times a year because we live far away and she makes no effort to talk in between times. I now have a grandchild that I want to be a great grandmother to but must continue to walk lightly when I want to buy or care for him. I continue to pray. Please write guidelines for the daughter in laws and ask that they understand what the mother in laws are going through. Those little ones that they hold to their breast now, will soon tell them they do not want them around. Life goes by fast and they will soon become a mother in law wanting to build a relationship with a daughter in law.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +3 (from 3 votes)
    • Thanks Susan!
      I will work on some thoughts for daughter in laws! Prayer is the first, last and best solution.
      I hope you will receive some encouragement today.
      Blessings, Susan

      VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
      Rating: +2 (from 2 votes)
  17. Thanks I am a mother-in-law and want to be the best I can be at it. I especially love being a grandma! Ellee I love you so much!

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
  18. I'm really interested in the topic of in-law relationships. This is the first resource I have found that speaks to the mother-in-law and challenges her to really work on her relationship with her childrens' spouses. Why is it so rare to find anything that addresses the mother-in-law? Are there other resources like this you would recommend?

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +3 (from 3 votes)
    • Thanks so much for this comment! It has been hard to find other resources for me too! Barbara Rainey and I talk about it a little bit in our book on the Empty Nest.
      I hope to write some more blogs on this so keep your ideas coming!
      Blessings, Susan

      VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
      Rating: +3 (from 3 votes)
  19. What wonderful advice! I've been a mother in law for 9 years now and it's certainly a growing process and not two in law relationships will be the same. Long before my sons got married I had decided that I would be a good mother in law (or try my best). So I kept a reasonable distance and tried not to get to involved. About a year after they married my son makes a comment to me that my daughter doesn't think I like her because I rarely come over. Had I done number 4 above I would have found out that my daughter in law

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
  20. I have been a Mother-In-law for almost 17 years. I have done my darnedest to be a good friend, supporter, and positive presence in both my son and daughter-in-laws life. I am failing. I don’t make any comments on her parenting, house maintenance, or financial status. It is not my place to do so. I give money as needed, give gifts for all birthdays and at Christmas, and maintain a savings account for my grandsons.. I think she is wonderful, talented, and a superb mother. However, my daughter-in-law makes it a point to emphasize my shortfalls. I am and I acknowledge that I am a crummy cook, inexpert seamstress, and non-creative person. This is the truth. I hear about it often. However, I am an engineer with multiple degrees, successful career, good retirement, and a comfortable lifestyle that I created all by myself. I left my n’er do well husband because he was a poor husband and an extraordinarily poor father. My son was 7 when this happened. I supported my son and myself very successfully without alimony, child support, or any material goods from the marriage. I just left and took my son with me. My daughter-in-law is beautiful, talented, fun, intelligent, and dislikes me. I am a self-acknowledged poor homebody. She is a gifted homemaker and a stay-at-home-Mom. I thought I had enough love and patience for both of us. I don’t. If I want to see my grandchildren or them, I must drive to see them, buy lunch, and try not to be a bother. I feel very much the outsider looking in. I can never babysit or have them to my house. It is too far for them to drive (52 miles one way). She visits her mother very, very often (30 miles one way). Please note that her mom is kind, smart, fun, and a wonderful friend. I love her and am blessed to have her in my life. I know I am not as much fun, or as creative, or motherly as her mom…I don’t spend all day in the kitchen or knitting because it is boring. Her mom, literally, is talented at everything. I would rather be working in the garden, hiking, kayaking, or building something. So, I respect my in-laws tremendously, they and their family are stellar and very special to me. But, my daughter-in-law thinks I am the biggest loser on the planet. No, I don’t drink, smoke, or do drugs. I would rather tap dance, do ballet, aerobics, or go fishing. In the 17 years I have been in their lives, they have called me maybe 3 times. Her mother calls me more than they do. All communication must be initiated by me. I never get a thank you for gifts or cards I send. I think they are trying to tell me something. Yup, I am a slow learner. I think I love them too much. So, I am not going to call anymore. My son’s dad never calls him, never writes, visits every few years, and contacts them only at Christmas and his birthday. Grandsons are not recognized. I had been calling once a week to stay in touch, but I am going to stop that. We truly live in a wonderful world. I don’t need to have this type of a relationship in my life. There is so much I could give to my grandsons and to others, so I am volunteering to become a Big Sister again. I will see my grandsons again someday, but it doesn’t look like they will play with me or go hiking with me any time soon. Yes, I am heartbroken, but God has other plans for me. Thank you for listening.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
    • Oh Sunny…. This is heartbreaking…. I want you to know that I would give anything to have a Mother in Law who cares about her daughter in law and the relationship they should be sharing as much as you do…

      It sounds like your daughter in law, and my mother in law were cut from the same cloth… They would probably get along famously.

      I share your frustrations and heartache – I see so many Mother in Laws on here that seem to just adore their daughter in laws, and while I’m happy for them, I am just so green with envy… My Mother in law doesn’t like me – never has – and it breaks my heart that she never will…

      That said, your post has really inspired and encouraged me to keep in mind that just like you, there are other plans that God has in store for me. It’s ok that a loving Mother in Law isn’t one of them, and one day – when it’s my turn to be a Mother in Law – I will be better because of it. 🙂

      Ms. Sunny – You certainly have a kind heart, and I’m sure that there will come a day where your daughter in law – and my mother in law too, for that matter – will realize that they both missed out on an amazing and loving relationship. And then again, maybe not…

      But that is ok too… We have other plans in store for us to be worried about it. And I am so thankful for that!! 🙂

      VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
      Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
  21. My oldest son has been married for about 3 yrs. I don’t know how to be a mother in law, instead I would rather stay a friend to her. We have been close even before they were married. My husbands side of the family has a business and all work together including my daughter in law. The family gets into squabbles every once in a while so I like to keep her and my relationship separated (kind of private) from the rest of the family. I do stay out of her business and I stay pretty much to myself when it comes to family squabbles. We never get into arguments with each other, we respect each other also. If you have any input on this I would appreciate it. Thanks !

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
  22. Thankyou so much for helping me navigate my way as a first time mother inlaw. The tips were great and I look forward to the future with joy.!!!!
    heartfelt thanks
    Susan .

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
  23. I am not afraid of being a mother in law to my son in law of 19 years. We have a great relationship and it has always been easy. My daughter in law is another person altogether. She does not work and my son has full financial responsibility for their household. He also does the lawn work and 1/2 the laundry. It is hard to be quiet on these issues, but I constantly remind myself that it is his life and his marriage, but it is hard. They have no children. What can she possibly do all day to keep her so busy. I used to ask her to go shopping or for a walk, but I stopped. When I drive past the house and I see her in the kitchen, (she lives in one of my houses and it is a block away) I call just to say hello and she sees it’s me on the phone and doesn’t even answer. I guess I was trying too hard, but I have stopped.
    I remind myself that without children, she will never be a mother in law, so I don’t have to worry about teaching her how to be a nice one. I will continue to be nice whenever we are together, but she is not now nor will she ever be a daughter to me, as my son in law is a son to me

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
  24. i have a friend, she has very nosy and mean middle eastern inlaws that are interfering and making trouble for my friend marriage al the time, and they have a lot of influence on her insecure husband, they complain and lie to him and fuel him up againt her and her family (her parents), and he comes home fighting with her and they end up not talking for months sometimes, long story short now because of all the trouble and fighting her inlaws caused my friend and her kids are not going over to her inlaws anymore, now the sister inlaw is telling the husband (my friends husband) that he is not a man because he should not let his wife to take his kids to her parents, inspite because she is not coming over with kids to inlaws.!!!!

    my friend is really stressed im worried about her i dont know how to help her please advice God bless thanks

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
  25. This is a great article. How do you suggest a daughter-in-law address the fact that her in-laws, especially the mother in law, do not at all treat her like their daughter, but just like their son’s wife. I mean to say that they don’t ever ask me what I am doing or how my work is going, they only ever ask me about my husband. Also, at Christmas they gave me a small gift and my husband a large very expensive gift. I don’t begrudge him the gift at all, it just hurt my feelings very much because it was so obvious that they don’t even want to try to make me feel like a daughter or equal member of their family. The same thing goes for birthday presents his very large mine small. Even when she texts me she texts to ask about him, and after I answer the text she doesn’t even reply to what I have said. These are just a few of the smaller things that go on, in general I feel very unwelcome but they always tell my husband “they love me and are praying for me” , which seems really strange considering their unkind behavior.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)

Adult Sons

A recent comment on our blog came from Elaine, who wrote to say: Right now the “when-then” in my life is “when our oldest son decides to include us in his life again, then I will be happy.” She wrote with an obvious sense of loss and pain over this changed relationship. I am so grateful Continue »

Bayer

I heard a new Bayer aspirin commercial the other day. It said,“You always took care of your children. Now it’s time to take care of yourself.” The woman in the ad was like me, a member of the boomer generation, likely an empty nester. And Bayer is right. It is time to take care of ourselves so Continue »

Honoring Your Parents

My mother, Jean Peterson, laid a strong foundation for the woman I am today. To honor the investment that she has made in me and to express my gratitude for it, I wrote a tribute to her in 1987. Here is an excerpt of that tribute that she still has hanging on the wall in Continue »

You’ll Always Be His Mama!

By Deb DeArmond That beautiful bundle I’m holding is my new grandson, Kohen. He is 16 weeks old and already making himself heard in this world. Just ask his parents about the sanctity of sleep. They have a whole new appreciation for it these days. We celebrated his mama, my daughter-in-law, Heather, at a baby Continue »

Alzheimer’s Rescued Me

There have been two dear people in my life who have been diagnosed with the mind-twisting disease of Alzheimer’s. My heart has been seized by grief on more than one occasion when precious memories and the ability to grasp the here and now have been just out of reach in these precious women. Coming face Continue »