by Deb DeArmond
I recently had the chance to speak with a group of wonderful women. All were either daughters-in-law or mothers-in-law. Some were both.
They came together to share their “women-in-law” experiences, as part of the research for the book I am writing. We spent a lot of time discussing their expectations and hopes for the in-law relationship. The question we asked was simple: ”What were your expectations of the relationship with your MIL or DIL BEFORE the wedding? And where did that expectation come from – what was it based on?”
Some had made assumptions that the relationship would be good- loving, caring, open and honest. They based these expectations on the relationships they had observed in life. Many of them spoke about the wonderful connection between their own mothers and their dad’s mom; in other words, their mother’s MIL. Others told of the strong and positive relationships they were aware of through the marriages of their sisters or friends. Their experiences led them to a set of positive expectations.
Others were wary of the MIL/DIL relationship. They had experiences, too. Unfortunately, they were not positive. Grandmothers who had been critical or harsh toward their DILs (their moms). Friends who had reported the negative impact on their marriage due to a difficult mother-in-law, who reminded them daily that they didn’t measure up to what she had hoped for her son.
In both cases, their experiences created a set of expectations or beliefs about the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship. Our beliefs prompt our actions. Our actions determine our world.
So how does this play out? Let’s look at an example:
- Experience: Let’s say I’ve seen lots of difficult, unhealthy MIL/DIL relationships in my life. I’ve heard the sad stories, I’ve seen the negative impact on the families. I’ve seen it portrayed again and again in movies, sitcoms, etc.
- Belief: The MIL/DIL relationship is never good. It’s simply not ever going to be anything but difficult and competitive. I anticipate that she will never accept me and believe she won’t ever see me as good enough for her son. I’m not her daughter, she’s my husband’s mother. She is someone to be tolerated.
- Actions: I exclude her as often as possible. I campaign against her with my husband and perhaps other family members when she has done something I do not like. I am offended by her easily, because I read ‘rejection’ on her face every tine she is in my presence. I am defensive and/or aggressive with her when she makes a suggestion or offers an opinion – even when I don’t necessarily disagree, but I see it as interference in my life.
- World: I avoid spending time in her presence and it is tense when we must be together. My husband feels caught in the middle of two women he loves and tries to stay clear of the drama. My children are aware that Grandma and Mommy don’t like each other, but are not certain why.
Our experiences form beliefs. We act on those beliefs, and our actions determine our world. Most of the time, we are not aware that this progression is occurring. It’s vey subtle. So what do we do? We can’t change our experiences. And even if our own experiences are good ones that create positive expectations and beliefs, it’s important to remember that your woman-in-law comes with her own set of experiences, too. They may be very different than yours, but every bit as real.
What we can do is create new experiences, together. If we can change our experiences, it will challenge our beliefs – our old way of thinking. That will leave us open to taking different actions, which can change the “world” we create.
What new experiences can you create for yourself and your woman-in-law? It might be as simple as an invitation to lunch or a quick email note to let her know, “I am thinking of you this morning and wanted to wish you a great day.” It may take perseverance – you might find her resistant. Don’t give up. Pursue relationship connections. You have a lot at stake – your DIL is the gatekeeper to your grandchildren. Your MIL gave birth to and raised the man you love.
Why should you go first? Someone has to! Do it because it will set you on a different and better path together. And because it will make your heavenly Father smile. So….ball’s in your court.