When your child gets married, it’s a time for celebration. Not only are they beginning a new chapter with the one they love, but you also gain a daughter- or son-in-law — exciting stuff. And maybe out of the deal, you’re gaining a daughter or son you feel like you really connect with, making you even more likely to smother and coddle the newlyweds. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to help. But there’s a reason why around 60% of women say their relationship with their mother-in-law is “strained” at best or “simply awful” at worst.
Don’t make this one horrible mistake that will wreck everything.
The worst mistake: Assuming your child won’t change after they get married
People change over time, there’s no doubt about it. And the absolute worst mistake you can make is forgetting your child needs to grow and develop on their own. Once your child is married, the dynamics of your relationship are likely to change — and that’s totally OK. Psychologist Terri Apter tells Newsweek “mothers should assume that they will need to negotiate” the new way they’ll interact with their married offspring. You certainly won’t lose them, but you’ll need to keep this in mind.
And this isn’t the only mistake you should avoid. Here are a few more that are just as bad.
You stop by their house without telling them
If your son or daughter just got married, you probably assume they need all the help they can get. This means bringing cleaning supplies to the house and showing up unannounced with homemade baked goods every week or so, right? We know you’re trying to help, mom-in-law. But as Terri Orbuch, Ph.D., tells Grandparents.com, your newly married child needs “autonomy, they need independence, and when you come by unannounced, you undermine that.”
You criticize the person your child married
There’s no rule saying you have to like the person your child chooses to marry. But at the end of the day, you have to be respectful of their decision to wed — and criticizing your son- or daughter-in-law will only create unwanted tension. Psychologist Melanie Greenberg tells HuffPost you should try to focus on what you have in common with your in-law. And you have to accept your in-law is the most important person in your child’s life. Do your best to build bridges instead of burn them.
You give unsolicited advice
We know you want to help, but sometimes the best thing you can do is keep your opinions to yourself. FamilyLife asked multiple women about what they wished their mother-in-laws did differently. Many said they only wanted to hear advice when they asked for it. “Be quick to encourage; don’t question, criticize, or give unsolicited advice.” Otherwise, your desire to help may sound more like nagging — definitely not what you want.
You criticize their parenting style
Grandchildren are a wonderful addition to any family, but now’s not the time to tell your child or their spouse how to parent. Orbuch tells Grandparents.com you have to “tread very lightly” when it comes to giving advice about how to raise children. There will likely be differences in how you chose to raise your kids versus how they’re going to raise theirs, and that’s OK. “You have to recognize this. Lots of things are said from a place of love but are still deeply insulting.” Focus on what they’re doing right rather than what they can change.
You take sides during their arguments
If you’re close to your married child, it’s natural for them to call you up and complain whenever something goes sour in their relationship. As much as you want to agree and console them, you should refrain. Dr. Laura Schlessinger suggests sitting with the couple and explaining to them they can’t come to you to complain about each other. Instead, you should tell them you can help them work through their issues together. This will prevent a lot of conflict in the future.
Here’s some advice on what you should do
So, what’s the right way to go about being the best mother-in-law you can be? First of all, you need to learn to be fully accepting. And as the Miami Herald notes, “You have to be part listener, part diplomat, part psychic, part cheerleader, part sounding board, [and] part always-willing hostess” to be an amazing mother-in-law. Yes, it does take a lot of skills, but it’s also a very fulfilling journey that requires “giving up claim and welcoming strangers.” Be your best, most open self — you can’t go wrong with that.