Tips for Brides-to-Be Understanding your Mother-in-Law

You’ve probably heard the horror stories – about mother-in-laws disapproving of and even tormenting their new daughter-in-laws – and maybe you’re a little afraid yourself of what to expect. Chances are it’ll be okay – as most mother-in-laws and daughter-in-laws do get along just fine. You’ll get along with her even better if you understand her circumstances, such as understanding why she may think and act the way that she does. While every family is different, here’s what you can possibly expect to find:

Mothers are very protective of their sons. Your mother-in-law probably played a large role in raising your husband-to-be, given older generations tended to have fairly strict gender roles – with the woman (who may or may not have worked) usually raising the children and the man playing the primary income-earner role. In our culture, especially with more traditional families, a boy was held in high regard, and the mother gained some ‘prestige’ for having a boy – so she may be a little hesitant at first to ‘hand’ him over to you. The more comfortable she becomes with you (which takes time), the more comfortable she should be in letting him go. She won’t be comfortable with you if you take exception to her behaviour and challenge it at every opportunity; even if you’re in the right – it’s sometimes easier to let it go … consider it as some short-term pain for long-term gain.

Mothers take time to change with the times. A traditional mother has for years looked forward to the day she would be relieved of household duties by her daughter-in-law, which may have been the tradition within her own family for generations. It doesn’t of course work that way in Canada (and really has stopped working that way in many parts of India) – in this day and age, gender roles aren’t so rigid; still, these expectations can lead to great conflict between daughters-in-laws and mothers-in-laws, with the former upset with the expectations placed on her by the latter, and the latter upset because she feels the former isn’t fulfilling her expected role in the family. Of course, while this is happening, the men in the household can continue to enjoy the benefits of all of this.

You don’t need to conform to what she expects – all you have to do is remember how she probably feels. She can adjust to whatever the reality may be, but probably just needs a little time. Your husband-to-be hopefully can both be a support to you, as well as help be a bit of a ‘buffer’ between you and your mother-in-law as the two of you try to establish your own mother-in-law / daughter-in law relationship. Don’t let him just sit on the sidelines – he’s got a role to play in all of this. At the same time, he’s not there to take sides, yours or hers … he’s simply there to help ease any tensions or awkwardness that may arise from time-to-time.

In many ways mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law should be allies, given they both have experienced patriarchal customs that have at times marginalized them. The sooner you and she can realize your commonalities – through trying to understand each other’s experiences – the greater the satisfaction you will have in the mother-in-law / daughter-in-law relationship.