I have started to realize that I am one of the lucky ones. I LOVE my mother-in-law (MIL)! And not just because I have to. I genuinely look forward to her visits, I enjoy talking to her on the phone, and I trust her with the care of my children. And while I’d like to attribute this loving and respectful bond to our mutually awesome personalities, I have to admit that my MIL and I put a lot of effort into creating a strong connection.
After some discussion with her about this topic, I have listed some of the key ingredients to making our relationship strong. And to prove I am not having delusions of grandeur, I asked my MIL, Joyce, to contribute to today’s post with her own thoughts on each point!
We give each other “projects”: I know this sounds nebulous, but one key to our balanced relationship is giving each other projects for which we can take ownership. For instance, at my wedding, my MIL was in charge of the Banquet room at the guests’ hotel, where we hosted many important activities (late-night partying, lunch between events, and the post-wedding brunch). While it was initially hard to let go of this significant task, my MIL did an amazing job—much better than I would have done—and it made for one less job on my extensive to-do list. Furthermore, now we can look back on that weekend together and feel a shared ownership of its success.
Joyce: We both recognize our own strengths and weaknesses. During the past six years, my daughter-in-law (DIL) and I have learned so much from, and about, each other. And we realize that often we complement each other. At any time, I can pull things together in a flash, but when it comes to researching and planning–for vacations, holidays and special projects-my DIL is my go-to person. As busy as she is, my DIL finds time to make it happen. I depend on her opinions and value her input.
We arrange for alone time with Grandma: My MIL has extensive experience caring for children, both professionally and personally, and I trust her as I would my own mother with our kids. One thing I have learned over the past few years is that she is most comfortable when I step away and she gets to be alone with the kids. I now see this as a win-win for everyone: she gets relaxed time alone with her grandchildren, my kids LOVE being spoiled by grandma and have the opportunity to negotiate with other adults, and I get ME TIME! YAY!
Joyce: My grandchildren are, without question, my most favorite pastime. Living far apart, I cherish the opportunity to spend time with and really get to know them, and even encourage their parents to take overnight trips. As much as spoiling grandchildren is as good as it gets, I am mindful that my role does not include making or breaking the rules. I had my turn raising my three children, and I am careful to simply reinforce the routines and parenting that my DIL and my son are working hard to instill. As an added bonus, I am in awe of the tricks I have garnered from my DIL, particularly when dealing with toddlers.
We confide in each other: I think as women, we have a hard time admitting when we are struggling or in need of help. While I easily and often confide in my own mother, it took me a few years to open up to my MIL, because acknowledging and sharing my struggles with marriage (to her son!) and parenting (her grandchildren!) can be both intimidating and humbling.
Lucky for me, my MIL is a fantastic, objective listener and gives great advice in a gentle manner. She helps me feel comfortable confiding in her by being open, sharing her own experiences as a young mom, and reassuring me that this too shall pass.
Joyce: Having a rather terrific mom and three amazing sisters, I fretted, at first, that perhaps my DIL would be less than excited to form a relationship with a new MIL and, even more delicate, a solo sister-in-law (my only daughter). Those trepidations were allayed early on, as my DIL cleared the way for both of us, establishing a special bond with us that is strong, yet different, from that of her own family. As our relationship continues to evolve, I consistently rely on my DIL’s expertise and guidance especially in the care of my own aging mom; and the tables have turned.
We include her in the day-to-day: Due to our geographical distance, visits with grandma only occur three to four times a year. However, we make a concerted effort to call and FaceTime regularly, and I think this helps her feel more involved in the daily upbringing of the kids. I also regularly text pictures and videos of the kids (sometimes too often!), and we have even set up a photo share stream to make it easier to share and comment on photos of the kids.
Joyce: I struggle most with the day-to-day! With a hectic work schedule and an ailing mom, even my best efforts to send my grandkids a St. Patrick’s Day card often escapes me. And truth be told, I am not a huge fan of FaceTime; it often leaves me feeling sad and even farther away. Nevertheless, I am thankful to “see” the kids as often as I can, and I try to be appreciative of the benefits that the nuances of the tech world have provided.
We find opportunities for new traditions: This is an important one to my husband and me, as we both grew up very close to our grandparents, and we want that for our own children. While for now we live across the country, we try to find ways to create lasting memories with the extended family. For instance, we take pictures with the same New Jersey Santa every winter! He is amazing, and so are the Christmas photo ornaments. Grandma and Pop-Pop also enjoy recording stories for the kids so they can “read” together at bedtime—it has been a great way to include them in our nightly bedtime routine.
Joyce: Grounded traditions have been the heart of our family. They may have twisted and turned a bit to conform with life as we know it today, but that is okay. Building new traditions together is what deepens the bond between me and my DIL. It allows us to take beloved parts of both of our pasts and transcend them into the creation of new traditions that will be meaningful to each of us. So put the mother-in-law jokes to rest. With love, mutual respect, and a concerted joint effort, family vacations can be a blast!
SFMB thanks Joyce for being so open and honest in this post!