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How NOT to be a Monster-In-Law

How NOT to be a Monster-In-Law
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By Kitt Walsh

When I was given the assignment to write about Mothers-In-Law, I turned to my son and said, “Should I write about Ouija Boards? My mothers-in-laws are long dead.”

I had two mothers-in-law in my life and both were doozies in their own way.

The first was a Holocaust-surviving Jewish mother with an only son and an unlimited supply of guilt to pour upon his bowed head. The deep sighs whenever I did anything to displease her (which was often) were enough to drive me crazy. She lived down the street and that marriage didn’t stand an iceberg’s chance in hell.

The second was a 4 foot 10 inch drill sergeant of an Irish Mother. She had three sons, all well over 6 feet tall, and when she told them to sit down so she could hit them—they sat down. She could scald the flesh off of you with her razor tongue and one rarely left her presence unbloodied. Still, she was such a type, straight out of Central Casting, that I had to laugh (it helped that I, too, grew up in an Irish family.) Her son (not in her hearing) called her “Taras Bulba.”

But they (and their sons, come to that) are dead and buried and now I am the mother-in-law, a better one, to be sure, than the ones I had, but there is always room for improvement.

Here’s a few things I learned about being a mother-in-law along the way (some the hard way, by not following my own advice):

A son’s a son till he take a wife; a daughter is a daughter all of her life: Sorry, mothers of sons, you will now be replaced in your son’s life by another woman. She will do for him everything you used to do for him (not as well, of course) or he will learn to do those things himself. (If he still turns to you, there will be trouble in paradise.) All future communications, including arrangement of social events, will be done through his wife. Daughters will still phone home for husband advice, baby advice, and how to get stains out of a carpet. Daughter-in-laws will call their own mothers.

Don’t give advice until asked. On anything. This will necessitate much tongue-biting. Bite away. By the time there are grandkids, you may need a mouth protector.

Stop making assumptions: Your daughter or son-in-law came from a different background and upbringing. He or she will do things differently.

While you are at it, give up expectations: If you aren’t included enough for your liking in the young couple’s life via calls, Skype or visits, or if they want to include you in holidays and celebrations, consider it an unexpected gift and take then up on it whenever you can. This is how memories are made. Having any other expectations is just working on a premeditated resentment.

Compliment (sincerely) your son or daughter-in-law: Find something you like about everything they do (especially child rearing) and tell them so.

Butt out! You don’t get a vote on their kid’s names, where they live, what job they should take or what schools they should choose—or anything else for that matter. You had your own marriage and your own kids. Now it is their turn.

Call before you visit: Don’t drop by for a cup of coffee. This isn’t a 50’s sit-com.

Don’t criticize, even inadvertently: Don’t clean up the kitchen, rearrange the spice shelf or mop the floor “to be helpful”. It will be taken as criticism. You may, however, offer to pitch in if the chore is already underway.

Don’t complain to your son about his wife or your daughter about her husband: No matter how mad they are at him or her in the present moment, this too shall pass, and suddenly you will be seen as a disloyal bitch.

Play by their rules: Only buy organic gifts if they are “green.” Recycle and compost their kitchen scraps. Don’t give their kid chocolate, buy your granddaughter pink tutus or read fairy tales if you have been asked not to do so. If you don’t know their preferences, ask them. Their house, their rules.

Be respectful: Treat your daughter or son-in-law like you would wish to be treated. I find it helps to remember that these people will be the ones who may be in charge of putting you in a nursing home someday.

Say you’re sorry and never make your kid choose sides: If you’ve gotten off to a bad start (like opening your big mouth before they got married), apologize and start again. And never put your son or daughter in a position to choose you or their spouse over any issue. They may be grown, but he or she is still your child and it’s not fair.

Get a life: If you don’t have one, get one. Find a group of friends, take a class, start traveling, get a part-time job, volunteer, pay attention to your own marriage or love affair and take your laser focus off someone else’s marriage—your child’s.


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