To My Daughter's Future MIL: Respect Is a 2-Way Street
by Kathryn Hively
Photograph by Twenty20
You've probably already read the Scary Mommy post, "Mothers, Teach Your Daughters to Be Kind to Your Mothers-in-Law," that's been going around social media. The gist: A mom of a now 13-year-old boy begged us girl moms to do our part to ensure her son’s future wife doesn’t treat her like old trout and damage the relationship she has with her offspring.
The whole post left me baffled. I don’t have boys, so the worry of being "replaced" by my girls’ future spouses has never crossed my mind. I adore my girls, but I hope they find supportive partners to share the joys and frustrations of adulthood (preferably in their own home). Plus, the healthy relationship I have with my mother-in-law has little to do with my own mother. My parents taught me to treat my elders with respect, but respect differs from genuine affection.
I have one piece of advice for my daughters’ future in-laws: Do not treat my daughter as a threat and she won’t have a reason to treat you like a monster.
There were a few things in particular about this mom’s post that seemed to guarantee a bad in-law relationship. She bemoaned the thought of not spending the holidays with her precious son after he’s married. Um, yeah, that could happen, but it might not be because my daughter is "keeping him from you." Unless we all live within a two-hour radius of one another, they just might be visiting me instead. I fully expect to miss a Christmas or two with my girls once they have their own families. I’m sure I’ll cry, just like I do whenever I miss holidays with my parents to celebrate with my in-laws. My husband and I do our best to make sure everyone gets to visit the grandkids, but we can’t be in two states at once.
The mom also suggested that her daughter-in-law could reach out to her as an ally during marital disputes because she knows her son so well. Yeah ... no, thanks. Nothing says "healthy, adult relationship" like tattling on your husband to his mommy. Yes, my MIL knows exactly how stubborn her son can be. No, I’m not calling her when I need to convince him that he needs a new pair of work shoes. I put on my big-girl panties and handle that shit myself because that’s marriage. She dragged him to shoe stores for 18 years. It’s my problem now. An adult couple needs to learn to communicate without parental oversight. There might be slammed doors and hurt feelings, but with any luck there will also be growth.
While I won’t be giving my kids’ significant others advice on how to win an argument, I have one piece of advice for my daughters’ future in-laws: Do not treat my daughter as a threat and she won’t have a reason to treat you like a monster. It’s not my girl’s fault (necessarily) that your relationship with your child changes once they build a life with someone else. Keep an open mind and you could gain a loving daughter, without the sleepless infant years or brooding teen angst.
I’m about to vacation for two weeks with my MIL and I’m thrilled. We’re even spending a few days together without her son. I was only 18 years old when we met, but both she and her husband welcomed me from day one. I wanted them to like me because I liked their son. They wanted to like me because their son liked me. We showed each other mutual respect and the in-law relationship has grown from there over the past 17 years. That’s it.
I have about a billion other things I need to teach my girls other than to be kind to their future MIL (like, I don’t know, being kind in general and standing up for themselves when necessary). If I’m being honest, I have the relationship I have with my in-laws because they are genuinely nice people who have always treated me with kindness. Had my MIL made outrageous demands or criticized me unfairly, I’m pretty sure we would not be where we are today. While my parents taught me to respect my elders, they also taught me not to take shit from anyone. And I don’t. I’m scrappy as hell when I have to be, especially if I’m protecting someone I love. (And sometimes the animosity between a DIL and MIL arises from how a mother treats her adult son).
Believe me, I’ve heard enough MIL horror stories from my friends to know that I’m really, really lucky (and to understand why some moms might cower at the prospect of becoming MILs). However, instead of teaching my girls to be kind to their future MIL, I’ll model positive relationships and teach them the importance of family—which is exactly what in-laws become. I will also teach them not to waste their time with toxic people. So, if my daughter’s future MIL happens to be a bitch on wheels, don’t expect my girls to grovel for approval.