Have you ever been to a wedding and heard the minister read the following words? “I will go wherever you go and live wherever you live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.” If you aren’t a Bible scholar or familiar with the book of Ruth, you may think those sentences are about a woman’s love for her husband or vice versa, but they aren’t.
Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi, had an exceptionally close relationship, and their story has a happy ending. Ruth married Boaz, and they had a son, making Naomi a very proud grandmother. Why am I telling you this? Because the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationship doesn’t always run as smoothly as Ruth and Naomi’s did.
“My mother-in-law does her best to come between my husband and me,” a young woman states angrily.
“My daughter-in-law doesn’t allow me to see my grandchildren as often as I would like,” says a grandmother tearfully.
Which one is right? Maybe neither of them, and maybe both. Women are sensitive creatures, and when it comes to relationships with in-laws, life can get complicated. The worst thing about conflicts between in-laws is that often grandchildren get caught in the crossfire. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are some tried-and-true tips to help troubled relationships.
1. Respect. Mothers tend to see their children as “their babies” no matter how old they are, but the truth is that if our sons are married, they are not our babies anymore. While your relationship with your son may change, it doesn’t have to weaken-but it will if you and your daughter-in-law can’t get along. All battles have one thing in common: Someone wins and someone loses. Don’t take a chance on damaging your relationship with your married children. Respect their privacy, their decisions and their homes. Don’t go visit if you aren’t invited, and don’t offer your opinion unless you are asked (and even then be careful how you answer).
2. Positive reinforcement. My pediatrician once told me, “Catch them being good and then reward their positive behavior.” This works with adults as well. Think back to when you were a new bride. Did you feel insecure and take everything your mother-in-law said as criticism? Have you ever considered the possibility that maybe your daughter-in-law wants your approval but doesn’t know how to ask for it? Give her sincere praise and encouragement. It will help her self-esteem and bring you closer together.
3. Setting the example. What is your marriage like? Are you a positive, happy person? The only marriage most children experience (other than their own) is their parents’. We teach best when we teach by example.
4. Kindness. Go the extra mile when it comes to family relationships. Remember the saying “No one ever wishes on their deathbed they had spent more time at the office”? Family matters. If there is something about your daughter-in-law that irritates you, overlook it. Your son loved her enough to marry her, didn’t he? What difference does it really make in the scheme of things if she paints her whole house purple and decorates with orange and red accessories?
Big deal.What makes your son and his wife happy may not be what makes you happy, so get over it. If your daughter-in-law gets sick, make the family some chicken soup or take the children to the park so she can have some time to rest. Even if you’ve tried before and have been rebuffed, try again and again and again. Kindness counts when it comes to cementing the cracks in a relationship.
5. Patience. We never fully understand what it’s like to walk in another person’s shoes. We can try, but it’s just not possible. There may be circumstances that you don’t know about that cause your daughter-in-law to act in a way you don’t understand. Be patient. Chances are she doesn’t understand why you do the things you do either. Everyone has their own particular idiosyncrasies-yes, even you.
6. Communication. Time and time again ministers will tell you that marriages disintegrate because of failure to communicate, and so do other relationships as well. If there is a problem between you and your daughter-in-law, take her out for a cup of coffee or have her over for a glass of tea and talk. Sometimes just taking the time to say “I care about you” or “I want to help” may be all that’s needed. If she doesn’t want to talk, tip number 7 applies!
7. Keeping silent. Know when to open your arms and shut your mouth. It’s hard, I know, but it can be done. There’s a good reason they say “Silence is golden.” Think about it.
8. Prayer. I am a strong believer in the power of prayer. Just because “I can’t” doesn’t change the fact that “He can.” Take your problems to a greater power.
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Teresa Bell Kindred, grandmother of Abby, is an author of several books, including Mom PhD: 6 Steps to Mastering Leadership Skills for Mom. Read more of Teresa’s writing at her blog, NanaHood.
TERESSA BELL KINDRED