On Being a Daughter-in-Law

In line with stereotypes, it seems that everyone has at least one negative thing to say about a spouse’s parents. Why? Because in-laws often behave or say things in ways that constitute meddling, prying, judging, and criticizing. Their actions and words, in turn, often cause friction in a couple’s marriage; sometimes to the point of irreparable damage.

Tell me…do any of the following scenarios ring true or sound familiar?

“A few months after we got married, my in-laws came to visit us in our very first apartment. At some point during the weekend, I politely excused myself and droved to the grocery store to pick up a few things for dinner. When I returned home, I found that my mother-in-law had rearranged things in my kitchen cabinets and pantry. I was pissed!”

“One evening, at a restaurant they frequented, my mother-in-law wanted to introduce our family to the owner. She proudly said, ‘this is my youngest son and his children’ and totally ignored me. I felt like screaming, ‘Hello??? I’m right here. He didn’t have those kids by himself…’”

“A great new job opportunity was presented to me. My husband and I seriously considered taking it, despite the fact that we’d have to move and he’d have to find a new job. When he told his father about the situation, my father-in-law asked him, ‘Aren’t you letting the tail wag the dog?’ What did THAT mean?”

The truth? The situations described above all happened to me. And, as I think back on them, I clearly remember being furious and feeling hurt when these – and many other things – happened.  Today, however, I feel nothing.

My relationship with my in-laws was a good one initially. It started when I was in high school and continued into college. As a girlfriend, I was treated as well as could be expected. In kind, I responded with respect and consideration. Marriage, unfortunately, somehow changed things. I suddenly was too Jewish, too independent, too opinionated, too open, too honest. I became his wife and the kids’ mother.

Eventually, I snapped. I scheduled a meeting with my in-laws where I announced that I would never again call them “Mom and Dad,” as they certainly didn’t treat me like their daughter. I pointed out that calling my husband at work to complain about me was ineffective; that I would only respond or react if spoken to nicely and directly. I emphasized that their manner of interfering would not change me, but could result in a divorce. And, I made it clear that is was my husband’s job to worry about buying Hallmark cards and gifts for his side of the family.

I am happy to report that, since that meeting so long ago, things have been fine with my in-laws. Maybe it’s because I spoke my mind. Maybe it’s because of how it sounded when I started referring to them by their first names. Maybe it’s because I went on with my life, doing things MY WAY for my family, and relating to them as his parents. Maybe it’s because my husband finally understood how I felt and supported my position. Maybe it’s because they left me alone. Maybe it’s because I just stopped caring. After all, the bible talks about honoring one’s parents, but nothing of one’s in-laws.

Why write about this now?

My in-laws are turning eighty this year and their health is in rapid decline. My father-in-law has Parkinson’s, is wheelchair-bound, and is non-verbal. My mother-in-law has atrial fibrillation, is on blood thinners, and has a myriad of other medical issues. They live in a facility in New Jersey that offers 24/7 skilled nursing care, as well as independent and assisted living arrangements. They cannot travel and their relationships with children and grandchildren have been severely limited. The visits paid to them by family and friends are infrequent; though we dutifully got together for an early birthday luncheon during the winter holidays.

I find their entire current situation to be depressingly sad. Even though I voluntarily distanced myself from them over the years (and I was right to), I feel bad. This is not what I want to experience in my twilight years. And so, my mind keeps drifting back to the start of all of this…and the lessons I’ve learned.

One day (maybe sooner rather than later), my only son will get married. If the current course is maintained, my future daughter-in-law will be someone he’s been dating since high school. I know her. I’ve spent personal one-on-one time with her. I love her. I accept her for who she is, what she does, and how she thinks. She has skills and abilities that I do not possess; and I admire her for them. I am grateful that she loves my son (who can be quite a challenge to deal with sometimes) and shares many of my own core values. I promise her – and myself – that none of my feelings will change after some arbitrary day of marriage. To me, she will never just be his wife or their mother.

When I am finally forced to deal with my own declining health and face my mortality, I hope and pray I’ll be regularly surrounded by those I love – including my daughter-in-law.


Happy birthday, Jennie. 

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