5 Things Being a Mother-in-Law Made Me Wish I Knew as a Daughter-in-Law

It may not be easy to love your partner's mother at first, but here are some things to tell yourself in the process.
Mother-in-law and daughter-in-law on wedding day
Kitti Murray
by Kitti Murray
Updated Jan 15, 2019

I've been a mother-in-law for over 10 years now, but I've been a daughter-in-law four times that long. My knowledge base on the topic may not be very scientific, but it's deep—because it's wisdom learned from countless mistakes. A recent survey from the couples counseling app Lasting tells us that more than half of couples are unhappy with the relationship with their in-laws. They also found that people are five times more likely to have issues with their mother-in-law than their father-in-law. To be honest, that's no surprise.

I have to admit—I was a little scared of my mother-in-law at first. But as our lives intertwined over the years, she became dear to me. Here are my five tips on how to fall in love—or at least get along—with the woman whose child you married.

1. Give her the benefit of the doubt.

Early on, my MIL took me aside and told me something I already knew—that Bill was naturally helpful and considerate. Then she added, "…so it'd be easy to take advantage of him." This felt judgy, as if she could see into my soul and knew I was just the type to take advantage of people. She also shared his preferences (like chocolate chip cookies made her way). This felt proprietary, and I felt threatened. But I see now that she was offering me intel for my emerging role as his most important person. I wish I'd decided to trust her motives.

2. You're now officially the most important person to one person.

This is true whether or not your mother-in-law acknowledges it, or your partner shines at affirming it yet. My husband and I have watched both of our mothers lose our dads. During the first year of grief, both of them said something to this effect: "I'm learning to live with the fact that I'm no longer anyone's most important person." I'm pretty sure most couples don't put each other first right away. It's a learned skill. So maybe it's best that us moms enjoy a short season when we're our children's world. When he was 5, one of our boys called me his girlfriend, and another, when asked at about the same age who he would marry, said without hesitation: "Mom!" Funny and sweet then, but not right if allowed to continue. Being first in my son's heart is not what I want. I want their partners to be first. (If you're not hearing this from your mother-in-law, I'm sorry.)

3. Marriage is a two-person team.

Putting each other first isn't just a romance move—it's a tactical one. Teams—not individual players—win or lose. That's why being on the same page with your partner is so important, even when your in-laws seem to be reading from another playbook. In their "In-Laws and Friends" series, Lasting says it best: "Your marriage is a two-person team. No one is allowed on the team, and no one understands the team's rules." But it takes time, and maybe a few errors, to get this teamwork thing down. Which leads to the next tip...

4. Be patient with yourself.

There's a hand-off involved when you marry another woman's child. Even in healthy families, it's often painful for one or both of you. But that doesn't mean you can't build a healthy relationship over time. Remember that there's something about your partner's choice of you that reflects the fact that she raised that person.

5. This isn't all up to you.

Of course, this advice doesn't come with a guarantee. That's because you're only half of the equation. But your half is your responsibility, and you hold that most important person card. Hold it with confidence and grace.

To learn more about healthy ways to approach your relationship with your in-laws, download the Lasting app and work through the "In-Laws and Friends" series.

Kitti Murray and her husband Bill (or Kiki and Chief to their growing tribe of adorable grandkids) live on the edge of Atlanta in a refugee community that has been called the most diverse square mile in the country. This has been the most intense and inviting neighborhood in their experience, and it has taught them to dream big and love even bigger. One expression of that love has been Refuge Coffee Co., a non-profit Kitti founded as a way to join hands with neighbors near and far to create opportunity and true refuge through coffee and community service. Connect with Kitti and Refuge at www.refugecoffeeco.com or on social media @refugecoffeeco.

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