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 Problems with mother-in-law/daughter-in-law? 

Dr. Elizma van der Smit August 2017

· Relationships,Life Skills

Please keep the following in mind: It takes two people to create a bad relationship and one person cannot blame for it alone. Research shows that these problems arise because two women fight for power and position.

How do I deal with the matter:

  1. Note to the mother in law

• Accept the responsibility to improve the relationship from your side. Ask her how you can make things better without complaining or giving a lecture about her behaviour. Focus on what you can do.

• Keep in mind that your daughter-in-law is not just an extension of your son, with the same feelings, thoughts and views. She is her own person with an independent life - do not expect her to do things like your son always did it.

• Although you think your son is near perfect and that the daughter-in-law is the fly in the ointment, remember that she is your son's choice for a partner. The more you rebel, the harder it becomes. Your son is an adult man who makes his own decisions - including decisions that you do not approve of. Don’t just believe that it is your daughter-in-law who is “persuading/ forcing your husband" not to visit the family or to miss Sunday meals - He is able to make his own choices!

• Make a great effort to try and appreciate your daughter-in-law. Make a list of things you like - even if it's only her chocolate cake. It will be difficult at the beginning, but forcing yourself to develop a different, more balanced perspective will greatly enhance the situation.

• Please do not "invade" your daughter-in-law’s privacy, no matter how well your intentions are. First call and keep it short. You will be more welcome if you respect their privacy and treat them as adults.

• Give her space as a new mother. She will of course feel more comfortable with her own mother and do not try to compete with her mother. She may feel that, because of your well-intentioned involvement, she does not get a chance to find her feet with her new baby and dad. Do not feel bad if she does not want your advice, she's probably hormonal, overprotective and would like to raise her baby in her own way, mistakes and all.

• Offer your help in any way that she might need, not as you would like to offer your help.

• Respect all of her rules, even if it is "unnecessary" according to you - like no candy or fixed sleep times, etc. If you ignore the rules and do what you think, she will interpret it as disrespectful as well as a reference of how you see her as a mother. Accept that she has reasons for her rules.

• Treat your daughter-in-law like an adult. And as an adult, she has the right to disagree with you and is not a minor in her marriage.

• Think before you speak and be very careful with whom you discuss her as it can cause enormous damage. Also do challenge her in front of other people.

• Assume that you are no longer the matriarch in the family and that your daughter-in-law is now the female head of your son's family. If pressed, he will choose his wife's above you as she should now be his # 1 priority. It does not mean that he no longer loves you or pushes you aside, it means he is a good man for his wife (just as you raised him to be). As soon as your son is married, you have to step back and take another role.

• Make sure you focus on your own life too. Get involved in activities you never had a chance doing while raising your children. You deserve to make yourself happy.

• Believe it or not, your daughter-in-law would love to have your love and respect. And that's probably why your relationship is tense - she may experience you as someone who does not approve of her.

2. Note to the daughter-in-law

• Do not compete with a mother-in-law. Remember that your husband plays two roles - namely a man for his wife as well as a son for his mother. He loves both and deserves it. No matter how hard you try - you cannot compete for the role between mother and son. Your role is to be a woman for him and not a mother.

• Be the first to break the ice and try to love your mother-in-law.

• Show respect. No matter how modern our thoughts and views are, respect for older people will never change. Listening to their counsel and accepting their "gifts" will always be of value. Respect the role she plays in the mom-and-son relationship, and even if she never becomes your friend, she deserves respect for being the mother of your husband. You fell in love with her son, in other words she had to have done something great!

• Be yourself. Your relationship with your in-laws must last for a lifetime and therefore it does not help to try to be somebody else.

• Although you do not have the same ideas, know that she is sincerely interested in your children and just want the best for them. Grandmothers have such a great need to love their grandchildren and it's a very special time in their lives - something they look forward to.

• Remember that you will be a mother-in-law one day and how would you like to be treated? How difficult will it be for you to "give up" your son or daughter and not be respected?

• Try think the best of her and focus on the things she does well. Show that you appreciate it and do not talk about her negatively in front of your children.

• Try to developing a better understanding by putting yourself in her shoes. Also find out how she wants to help and be involved, do not assume it would be in the way you want her to. She may not want to care for her grandkids because she has a life of her own. Also, remember that grandmother is not a free nanny - compensate her enough.

• Be proactive. Most mother-in-law’s wants to feel involved, but not "used". Keep her informed about the kid’s development and achievements. Send pictures and invite her to school concerts and special occasions. Allow them to spend time alone with grandmother and grandfather. This is the only way in which profound relationships can develop.

• Please ask her advice. She studied hard in the school of life and may have valuable information. You do not necessarily have to take her advice, but it is very nice to be asked for advice sometimes!

• Do not fight with her about everything, but it's important to stand your ground when you feel very strong about a matter. When you do not like what she does (e.g. candy before dinner), be firm and clear. For example, "I do not like candy before dinner, but after dinner they can have a nice time."

• If you are unhappy about your mother-in-law, do not bottle it up and fight with your husband about it. Choose to let go of something that does deserve your energy and negatively influences your marriage. If you cannot let something go - explain clearly how her actions and actions make you feel. You do not have to meet all her demands and expectations and set clear limits. Do not expect your husband to set these limits - it's your limits. However, it is very important for the man to be aware that your wife is your first priority now.

• Do not expect that she should treat you the same as her son. She is not so concerned about your work and interests as she is in her son’s. Her son will always come first to her.

• Try not to have a too thin skin and be quick not to take her comments and behaviour personally. Her intention is probably not to hurt you.

Summary for both:

• Keep forgiving and remember to say "sorry". Remember that you are on the same side - and that the children are not weapons. You might have different opinions and methods, but actually you just want the same outcome - for your husband to be loved and for the children to have the best chance in life.

• Always express gratitude and appreciation. We all want to feel important and appreciated.

• Friendliness and respect is a necessity, not a "nice to have".

• Leave your expectations of how things “should be".

• Remember the heart is big, there is enough space for everyone!

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This blog is only for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered therapy or any form of treatment. We are not able to respond to specific questions or comments about personal situations, appropriate diagnosis or treatment, or otherwise provide any clinical opinions. If you think you need immediate assistance, call your local doctor/psychologist or psychiatrist or the SADAG Mental health Line on 011 234 4837. If necessary, please phone the Suicide Crisis Line on 0800 567 567 or sms 31393.