In Her Words
The Other Woman
How to love your mother-in-law
By: Kristin Blank
Most of us have heard our friends or sisters lamenting what “his mother” said or did to her. Countless movies, books and diary entries are devoted to the “mother-in-law problem” (see Monster-in-Law, starring Jane Fonda and Jennifer Lopez, and Snowed In by Christina Bartolomeo as just two of many examples).
But life with a mother-in-law doesn’t have to consist of bitten tongues and kicks at your husband under his mother’s dining-room table. Harmony can exist between the wife and the mother-in-law, the two most important women in a man’s life (before daughters sit on his knee, that is).
Find common interests – besides your husband. I was lucky: The first time I met the woman who would become my mother-in-law, I spied on her shelf a tattered copy of Jane Eyre, which I’d spent the previous summer studying in England. We took to each other immediately.
Maybe you both like scrapbooking photos, earned an MBA or love Thai food. Seek to know each other as people – you are, after all, more than just her son’s wife, and she is more than just your husband’s mother.
Understand her perspective. She’s used to being the number-one woman in his life, and now she’s expected to step back. Just as you know things about him she never will, she knows him in ways you can’t. She knows what shape his baby teeth took and how his first laugh sounded. Remember how much she loves him, and help her through his transition from single son to husband.
Don’t fight battles your husband should. If there’s a problem between the wife and the mother-in-law, it’s the husband’s job to help smooth it out. Just as it would be the wife’s job to help her husband through a problem with her own mother, the husband should step up – don’t fight the battle alone and don’t force him to take sides, because it will only create more animosity.
Be the bigger person. If your mother-in-law wants to serve pot roast when she knows you’re a vegetarian, you can’t stop her. Ask about her favorite vegetable side dishes and suggest swapping recipes. Hopefully, she’ll respond to your outreach. And you can always serve eggplant when it’s your turn to cook!
Accept the situation. She will always be his mother, and he needs both of you. While things will never be perfect, hopefully, over time, the two of you will find a way to connect, whether you do so out in the garden, through e-mailed notes, or over your shared obsession with reality-TV shows.