My mother-in-law is one of my wife’s best features. If you think that’s rude, I’ll also add that one of my own best features is my mom. Both my wife and I scored with incredible mother-in-laws, which is pretty rare, but absolutely amazing. Life is so much better when the couple enjoys each others’ families, especially the moms because they tend to have more household power as it’s the moms who are more likely to plan birthdays and special occasions, babysit, and buy presents while men… avoid thinking. I would never tell someone to not marry a great person because they had a rough family, but I would give a few warnings. For instance, set some firm, healthy boundaries as soon as possible to protect yourselves, your relationship with your partner, and your relationship with the in-laws like sometimes it’s a lot easier appreciating people when you don’t see them very often (e.g. aim for Easter, a summer visit, Thanksgiving, and Christmas). It would also behoove the couple (I love the word “behoove”) to establish other people to be the main supports whether siblings, friends, and/or mentors because every couple benefits from outside help. I’d also recommend to keep in mind that apples don’t usually fall far from trees, so there’s a good chance your partner is going to end up like the mom or dad physically (scary) and behavior wise (potentially very scary), especially after kids enter the picture. It’s amazing how people change after kids.
The most important thing I would point out, from my experience as a therapist, is there are a lot of potentially great mother-in-laws who have been mislabelled as terrible and brushed aside by guarded wives. I have met some genuinely wonderful women whose daughter-in-laws didn’t like them, which didn’t make any sense. These were very gentle and kind women who would be more than willing to drop off a meal when it was needed or to be there to listen. In these situations, however, the guy married a partner whose judgement is clouded by misunderstanding, there’s jealousy, or his partner just sucks as a person. Why would a guy marry a bad person? Easy – guys are dumb (said with love and acceptance that as a guy I know I’m dumb). For instance, did I marry someone very opposite of me because opposites attract? Nope. I dated my wife because she was really hot and I married her because her hotness outweighed her craziness (or so I thought… kidding). Does that sound like the actions of a wise person? Nope, but I married a hot girl so I win… yes, that’s how it works. In all seriousness, most guys don’t marry women for their looks or personalities: (guy) “A girl will actually date me? I better put up with anything she dishes out because I don’t ever want to be alone.” This statement is sad, but often true. Fortunately, there are a lot of great women in the world, so this dynamic often works out… but there are always exceptions and some guys marry total witches; like if their insides were better represented on the outside, they’d have green skin, giant warts, and extra toes… on their faces.
What’s great about my mom and my wife’s is they are similar insofar that they’re both really good people, but they also have their own specific strengths. For instance, my mother-in-law is one of the best people I’ve ever met at just talking to fill in silence. I don’t know how she does it, but she can even make conversation with people who have the social skills of tree stumps, which I know because she has had conversations with actual tree stumps. Add the fact that she has this ability to play and make activities out of nothing and there’s a reason my two year old loves being with her. The other night my mother-in-law took a spoon, a bowl of water, and some rocks to show my daughter how the rocks turn colour when they get wet – woo. If she told me she was going to do this, I would’ve smiled politely and said good luck while thinking this would be as fun as talking to a tree stump. When she showed my daughter the stones and water, was I right? Not even close. My mother-in-law had my daughter captivated for twenty minutes until they were called for dinner; twenty minutes on essentially nothing. Whoa. She has a gift. Of course, all abilities have a good and bad side. For instance, some insecure parents could get jealous of her abilities or they might get frustrated by how her ability to play causes her to get easily distracted or how much she can talk could be a problem. Fortunately, I was taught a long time ago the importance of appreciating the good of a quality while not letting the downside get to me as much. Everything has a good and bad side and by focusing on the positive you can appreciate people better. Plus, she makes it easier to like her because she really is a very lovely person.
Unlike my mother-in-law who is a talker, my mom is a great listener and loves being alone. On her own, she loves to cheerfully whistle and sing as she putters around the house cleaning, which also means she seems to have endless patience with babies. At the same time, when she’s with people, she is very quick to ask a question rather than talk, which makes her great at helping others talk, a skill that is very beneficial with older kids who want to be heard. Whereas my mother-in-law can talk for hours, my mom can listen for hours. Both have their benefits and their drawbacks. While my mother-in-law loves to play, my mom is a worker. She’s the first to make a meal to share and she’s great at organizing family dinners. The downside is she can have a hard relaxing and having fun. My mom’s generosity also means she’s terrible at accepting anything in return. I learned the best thing to do is show appreciation, but I know some people who’d struggle with this… my wife being one of them, but she’s gotten a lot better at accepting this. My mom is also a very lovely person.
Both our mother-in-laws are incredibly gentle and kind, which is wonderful… but again, everything has a good and bad side. Because they are both so gentle and kind, they’ll never bring up a problem they might have, so you never really know if they’re hurting or not. Them being so nice can also make you feel worse about yourself when you’re not as gentle and kind. Fortunately, my wife and I don’t get jealous and do our best to reciprocate their gentleness and kindness, but it’s amazing how even gentleness and kindness can be misunderstood by the wrong person: “You’re hiding something to get me later, aren’t you?” Fortunately for our families, my wife and I have great mother-in-laws who have great kids-in-law (yes, I just called myself great) who appreciate what they bring to the relationship, which means we have great relationships.
Mother-in-laws can be the greatest gift to a marriage or the greatest fight. It’s all in how we want to see each other and act.
This week may you see the good in your mother-in-law (if she is good) or protect yourself where you can.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people (like me)