How To Get Along With Your Mother-in-Law
26 Mar 2021 •12 min read
How to get along with your mother-in-law
"Monster-in-law": we've all heard the jokes, maybe made them ourselves, maybe even watched the movie starring Jane Fonda and Jennifer Lopez. But just how true is the trope of the over-protective, never-pleased, soon-to-be in-law? And if you do find yourself about to enter the momster's lair, what can you possibly do about it?
First things first, we think that it's important to recognize that conflict isn't limited just to mothers. Becoming part of a new family in any capacity may bring up some tensions or conflicts. Regardless of whether you want a super close relationship with your new mother-in-law or are just looking to avoid awkward Thanksgivings with your spouse's parents or family, we have a couple of tips that apply to all of your in-laws and can make those transitions as easy as possible.
How do I make my mother-in-law like me?
Pre-wedding or pre-engagement nerves are relatively common, but they can be made even more overwhelming if you are doubting your relationship with your partner's family. After all, it would make things so much easier if you could consider them your family too, right? Well, maybe, but don't make things harder for yourself than they need to be! Instead, take a deep breath and see where you may need some help first.
It can be difficult to get to know anyone, especially in a high-pressure situation, so as you're getting to know your future in-laws, keep it simple and allow yourself to find out more about what this process will look like. Spending time with your in-laws allows you to explore how they feel about you and vice versa. If you're really looking to make a good impression on your future mother-in-law, here are a few things that you can keep in mind when you're getting too stressed out.
Manage your expectations
It can be easy to become overwhelmed by this idea that you have to get along with every member of your spouse's family, but that's not true! After all, you might not even enjoy the company of every member of your own family, so it's not fair to hold yourself to an impossible standard. What's most important is that you have a level of respect for your spouse's family, if only for the way that they contributed to the person that you're marrying.
On the other hand, if you're excited about building new relationships with your in-laws and they seem less than thrilled, try not to take it personally. It can be difficult to navigate changing family relationships as an insider and as an outsider, so you may just have different ideas of what this relationship will look like. Try and find new ways of connecting, but it's okay if it's a little hard at first.
This can be one of the hardest things to remember when you're meeting any group of people, but it really makes such a difference! We can't say that your mother-in-law will love every single thing about you, but we can say that you will feel much better about any attempt to get closer if you are as authentic as possible. Like any relationship, you don't want to sacrifice the things that make you you just to gain someone's approval, and the right person will like you for your differences not despite them!
Ask for advice from the person who knows them best
It can sometimes feel hard to admit to your spouse that you're struggling with their parents. After all, your future spouse is their baby—how are you supposed to compete with that? However, we encourage you to have an honest conversation with your partner about how you're feeling. Children know their mothers more than anyone else, and it never hurts to ask to see how they can give you more insight. They've spent their entire life building a relationship with their mother, or any other family you may be dealing with, so they will only appreciate you taking the time to talk about how to make a meaningful relationship.
When you do have this conversation, remember to come at it from a place of genuine care and desire to build connections. Regardless of how many flaws you might think your mother-in-law has, they are family to your spouse. So take it slow, make sure to respect your partner's feelings in the matter, and maybe keep the ranting for your besties during a girls' night.
What are some things that good daughters-in-law do?
Again, we don't think that there is a perfect science to building the "perfect" relationship with your mother-in-law, but if you are looking for a few simple ways to foster a closer connection, we have a couple of ideas that don't take too much time and may even spark more genuine conversation than you thought was possible!
Like all of our advice, it's important to say that you are going to understand your situation better than anyone. Take what you need from this list and let the rest of it go! Whatever works well will provide you with a solid base to build off of.
A great low-pressure topic of conversation is family traditions! Mothers will love sharing stories of their kids around holidays or special occasions, and you will demonstrate an interest in making your house into a home to your spouse. Do they have a favorite soup when they're sick? What's their favorite Christmas song? Do they prefer homemade birthday cake or do they have a favorite bakery?
Even if you know the answer to any or all of these questions, what will matter most to your mother-in-law is that you asked. Most mothers just want to hear that their son, daughter, or child will be taken care of, and that fear is what leads to them being overbearing or overprotective. You have plenty of instances to prove to them that you know their child, but giving them an opportunity to share that lifetime of wisdom is sure to make a good impression.
Find something to do together
Instead of spending a few awkward hours around a dinner table at home, find a common hobby or interest that will get you up and moving—and consequently, up and talking. Getting along with your-mother-in-law doesn't have to be a chore; think of an activity that might even be fun for both of you! It's always easier to talk when you're not thinking about talking, and it might be more natural to ask certain questions as they come up in due course, instead of feeling like you're planning for an interview.
If you really think that you have nothing in common with your mother-in-law, see if your husband or wife can give you some insight into something that she would love to do together. It will mean the world to her that you asked, you can let her take the reins, and you could be getting along better than ever in no time.
Focus on the kids
One thing almost any mother-in-law will love to talk about is being a mother! If you and your spouse are getting ready to have kids or even just thinking about it, your mother-in-law would probably love to be as involved in that process as you'd let her be. Of course, set any boundaries that you'd like in advance that you will probably work through issues differently than her, but it's still a good place to start.
Asking what she would do in a certain situation with a son or daughter or asking for her help prepping for children in general will demonstrate respect for her skills as a mother and be a great way to truly feel like a daughter-in-law. Children have clearly been a big part of her life if she wants to be involved, so kids could be a great way to build your relationship.
This one might not be for every situation, but one thing that could be a good last resource is being honest and open with your mother-in-law. It could be sharing something that you're struggling with in married life or asking for what you need when you're going through a hard time with your children.
This obviously requires a level of vulnerability that you may not be comfortable with, but chances are your mother-in-law will appreciate how difficult it would be to come to her and at least try to help. This isn't a perfect solution; parents don't always give the best advice or say the right things, but she may just love the opportunity to get to know you on a deeper level.
Crowdsource advice from other mothers-in-law
If you really get stuck and you're still not getting along with your mother-in-law, remember that you have a whole community of people who love you and will want to help! Your own parents might be in-laws multiple times over, or you could have a coworker, an aunt, or the mother of a best friend who you might be able to ask. They might not have experienced the relationships you're seeking to improve personally, but they may be able to explain the way they felt becoming mothers-in-law or the way they got to know their daughters-in-law.
Getting some perspective can be helpful in almost any scenario, but we think it can be especially helpful in a deeply personal situation such as this one. Mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law have all had different experiences and different challenges, so don't be afraid to ask for help! Even if they don't fix everything, you won't regret having asked.
Is it OK to not talk to your mother-in-law?
We can give you all of the tips in the book about getting along with your mother-in-law, but at the end of the day, we can't change the way that you (or she) feel(s). And while respect goes a long way, you may find that, as hard as you try, something just isn't clicking. And that's okay! If you don't feel like the perfect daughter-in-law or like you are a long way away from seeing your mother-in-law as family, we want you to feel entitled to set some boundaries and allow the relationships to grow over time.
Being a perfect daughter-in-law has absolutely no impact on whether you're going to be a good wife or not. It's a little something extra that's lovely to be a part of, but it's not the end of the world, so protect your own mental health by not letting yourself be defined by the quality of your relationship with your in-laws.
Ultimately, your relationship with your spouse is the most important. With time, you might see your relationship with your mother-in-law improve, especially as she sees your relationship with her son, daughter, or child and realizes how happy you make each other. But there is no need to rush this process or keep trying to get it right if it's not meant to be.
We also have to acknowledge that while every family has its issues, some families are much more difficult to be a part of than others. While we do think that the terrible mother-in-law is a slight exaggeration most of the time, there's no doubt that challenging people do exist. Especially if your spouse has had issues with their mother for their entire life, the best thing for your mental health might be to set strong boundaries and expectations of what this relationship will look like.
If you still feel stuck with your mother-in-law, it's not the end of the world. Some relationships will always have issues, and sometimes, you will grow closer together over time. Honestly, the fact that you’re reading this right now demonstrates your commitment and desire to find a way to make it work, so we hope that we can help!
At the end of the day, your mother-in-law is just one more person that you can't force a relationship with, but it makes a difference to all parties involved if you continue to try. So if you and your spouse aren't sure how to navigate mothers-in-law, just know that you are not alone and that you can continue to take a deep breath and see how things go!