When mum-in-law is your best friend

It’s perhaps the toughest, most complex ‘social’ relationship one handles: trying to 
make peace with your spouse’s mother. It has spawned jokes and television soap operas... and real-life horror stories have been swapped down the ages. But then, there are those who’ve found love, affection and friendship— not discord

By Simran Sodhi

Published: Sat 9 Apr 2022, 11:46 PM

One of the toughest relationships in our lives is with the better half’s mother and that applies for both partners. It’s a tricky territory. In most cases, the mother is the centre of her son or daughter’s existence and then suddenly a stranger bursts onto the scene and demands equal, if not more, love and attention.

We are usually used to hearing ‘unpleasant’ stories, but there are some out there who appear to have managed this relationship very well. So, what is it that needs to be stirred right for the spouse’s mother to accept and love her child’s partner? Is there a formula to it or does one stick to the basics of affection and patience — and time eventually will make the rainbow shine?

Jennifer Thompson is a Kindergarten/Grade 1 elementary librarian. An expat from the US, she has lived in Abu Dhabi for over three and a half years now and proudly says that her mother-in-law is the absolute best.“In over 22 years together, she has never been anything but supportive to me, my husband, and my two boys. She is kind, caring, thoughtful, and fun! She plans outings and surprises for us when we’re home in the summer, and sends care packages to all of us here in Abu Dhabi — and so much more. Also, she is easy to talk with and so much fun to be around! She and I share a common faith and she was also a teacher just like me, so we have so much to talk about. I am very thankful that God blessed me with such a wonderful friend/mother-in-law!”

Jennifer admits that this is one relationship that can be tough. Her mother, for instance, did not have a close relationship with her mother-in-law, and “it was a point of strife between my father and my mother for most of their married life, so I have seen what the reverse can be like”. But it doesn’t have to be that way. “If a mother-in-law is open to a loving relationship with a daughter-in-law without feeling any jealousy with regards to her son, it can be a wonderful thing.” Her own relationship with her mother-in-law started out on a positive note and strengthened with time, “especially after my two boys were born”.

She has useful advice for those planning to tie the knot on how to nurture this one really important relationship. “I would recommend that the wife-to-be make it a point to try to connect with the mother-in-law from the get-go. It makes everything so much easier between spouses if the wife has a loving relationship with the mother-in-law. Also, I believe that it is better to make a good first impression so that the relationship begins on a positive note.”

Many of Jennifer’s friends, like her, share a healthy and happy relationship with their mothers-in-law. “I would say majority of people I know have good relationships with their mothers-in-law, although there are some exceptions. I think it depends on if the mother is willing to relinquish control of her son, so that he can really leave and cleave to his wife. Since I witnessed the difficulties my mom and dad had as a result of discord between my mom and her mother-in-law, I know how important it is and how blessed I am… It makes things so much easier between my husband and me.”

‘She is your elder and the mother of your spouse’

Jim Uren, who works in the HR sector, has been living in the UAE for two years now. He is British and his wife is Emirati. Jim considers his mum-in-law to be his best friend. “She’s so giving and generous, she cares unbelievably about her children, and is a great role model and a strong woman,” he points out.

We should view relationships with in-laws as an extension of our relationship with our spouse — not as a competition for time or space in our partner’s heart, is how Jim explains the dynamics of this bond which, for many, can prove to be especially hard to manage or understand. He admits there are a lot of people who don’t share a great equation or understanding with their mother-in-law, “From a male perspective, some men want some sort of control or ‘ownership’ of their partners and I think the same is sometimes true for women. I do however feel this is outdated and unhealthy.”

The upside of having this great bond with one’s mother-in-law is how it then adds to the peace and happiness quotient of one’s 
married life. “My having a good, healthy and loving relationship with my in-laws and her siblings gives my wife not turmoil or strife, just love and affection.

Reem Al-Ramahi is an elementary school teacher but these days she is more of a stay-at-home mom who occasionally substitutes. She has been in the UAE for more than 17 years and has also been married for the same amount of time. “My mother-in-law is my friend because she is sweet and gentle and has my best interests at heart… She adores her grandchildren, and always shows us all a tremendous amount of love and affection.” And it’s been like this from day one.

“My advice to newly-weds is this: remember that your mother in law is a person with feelings and emotions. Do not hurt her by being disrespectful or trying to shut her out of your life. Instead, try to understand her. She spent at least two decades of her life raising your spouse and she wants nothing more than to ensure her child is happy. One day, if you have children of your own, you will finally understand how parents feel about their children… Think of your mother-in-law the way you think of your own mother: she loves your spouse just as your mother loves you. Be her friend and advocate and she will be yours.”

Reem believes that being thankful for the love and attention that your mother-in-law showers on you and your spouse is important. “Do not try to block her from your life. This will only hurt her feelings and will hurt your spouse and will cause tension in your relationship. It is important your future children observe their parents being respectful to their elders and knowing there are feelings of mutual love between all members of their immediate and extended family,” she adds.

While her own mother-in-law is easygoing, there are many others who are not. “But you still owe her respect… She is your elder and the mother of your spouse. You’d want your spouse to show your own mother respect. It is the very least you owe her.”

‘She’s been a mom to me’

Rupali Thukral is a homemaker who has been living in the US for the last 11 years now. She shares a great equation with her mother-in-law and says, “I discuss everything with her, including all my gripes about my husband and my daughter. She’s never treated me any less than her own daughter. In fact, her daughter believes my mom-in-law listens more to me than she does to her own daughter and son.”

The relationship started off on amazing note. After the wedding, when Rupali reached home, her mom-in-law asked her a question which set the tone for their relationship. “She asked me if I wanted her to be a mom-in-law or a mom? I said mom and that’s exactly what she’s been to me.”

Rupali believes it’s important to know what you want before you set expectations from others. “Be upfront about your likes, dislikes and discomforts from the beginning. But be logical and reasonable. Remember you’re an equal partner in the marriage, not lesser.”

Her relationship with her husband, she points out, has greatly improved because of her mom-in-law. “She makes him realise that I love her as much, if not more, than him… It makes my husband have faith that he can rely on me completely and that makes our bond really strong.”

For many, it still remains one of the hardest relationships to navigate. But it seems the tried-and-tested ingredients of love, respect and kindness go a long way.

Simran Sodhi is an author and journalist based in New Delhi, India

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