Modern Parent
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Modern Parent


Do we deserve the bad rep?

Photo by Dmitry Vechorko on Unsplash

I had no frame of reference for how to be a mother-in-law when I became one four years ago. I never knew my mother-in-law, and my ex-husband never knew my mother. Everything I knew about in-law relationships came from movies and TV, or friends and co-workers.

Movies and TV have us all pegged as monsters, and the consensus in real life wasn’t much better. All the young married women I worked with told me horror stories about their in-laws. Mothers-in-law were terrible, judgmental and intrusive. My older co-workers assured me, however, that it was the daughter or son-in-law that was terrible. I couldn’t understand it. In my mind, both people loved the same person…why all the drama?

Then my kids started dating.

And…. I began to question their judgment and understand where there might be drama.

The drama

They dated and I watched their relationships begin, peak, and end. Sometimes they dated wonderful people. Other times they dated people I thought were selfish, thoughtless, and even mean. I watched them fall in and out of love, figuring out what they wanted and needed in a partner.

We’d sometimes talk through problems in their relationships and possible solutions. And when things came to an end, my heart ached for them. I would have done anything to ease their pain.

I have eaten litrally gallons of chocolate ice cream with my kids while commiserating about an asshole.

Their relationships were as much a training ground for me as it was for them. As they learned to navigate intimate relationships, I learned to keep my mouth shut. While they worked on communication skills and love languages, I worked on keeping my mouth shut. While they worked out disagreements and hurt feelings, I worked on keeping my damn mouth shut.

Even as they worked through each heartbreak, I was learning how to Keep. My. Mouth. Shut.

I failed at this many (so many!) times, especially in the beginning. As time went on, I slowly learned to stay quiet unless they asked my opinion, or if I felt there was a safety concern. I learned that when I wasn’t so quick to jump in with my opinions, my kids were more comfortable talking with me.

What I Found

I always got a better sense of their situation when I really listened. I focused on listening, and only after they finished would I ask questions. Opinions often come across as judgments whether they are intended that way or not.

Asking questions, instead of diagnosing the problem and prescribing a solution, made us understand each other better.

It slowed the anger, made us both consider opposing points of view and, oftentimes, a simple solution presented itself.

All that emotional prep taught them to navigate disagreements. And it showed me that they were capable of piloting their own relationships.

Which meant when I became a mother-in-law…I could keep my mouth shut. They were just fine. I had no business and no reason to be in the middle of their relationships.

The drama happens when moms forget they taught their kids everything they need to manage their own relationships.

But moms should never be the cause of drama in their kids’ lives. Never.

But what about…

No. Just stay out of it.

The only exceptions to that are, again, a safety concern or if you are asked for your opinion. Otherwise, eyes on your own paper.

So, what is my role as a mother-in-law?

Once my kids were engaged or married, my role became simple; I love who my kids love. I support them, cheer them on, encourage them, celebrate with them, and mourn with them.

My child-in-law is the person who makes my son or daughter happy. They are the person with whom my child chose to share their life. If my kids have a problem in their marriage, it will NEVER be because of me.

I will never ask, expect, or want my child to choose me over their spouse. First of all, that’s a terrible position to place anyone in, least of all your own child. Secondly, I have no right to expect that. My child chose to build their life with their spouse, and it is right that their spouse is first in their priorities. I want my child-in-law to prioritize my son or daughter just as much, so I have to expect that my child does the same.

But what if there are grandkids involved?

I refer you to the But what about….section above. Is there a safety concern? Were you asked? If the answers are no and no, then you know what to do. Stay out of it.

Basically, it’s not our business. If we’re asked, then sure, offer all the opinions. But if we’re not asked, and as long as the grandkids are safe…we gotta stay out of it. I didn’t want anyone telling me how to raise my kids, so why would I think it’s okay to tell my kid how to raise theirs?

If I keep butting in when I’m not invited, I can guarantee when my kids have a problem or a question about raising kids, they won’t turn to me. Think of the last co-worker or boss you had who was constantly micromanaging, constantly making suggestions and demands when you weren’t asking. When you did have a question, did you go to them?

I know I didn’t.

So be the resource who is quietly chilling in the background, ready to help when invited. But only when invited. Kids need that resource, not a controlling, intrusive parent who comes in, takes over, and hip-checks them out of their own lives.

A fool-proof way to navigate being a mama-in-law:

The beauty is that this philosophy will work whether you like your child-in-law or not. If you like them, wonderful! Easy to stay in your lane. If you aren’t so crazy about them, then this approach will help ease any tensions that are brewing. No one ever got mad at someone for minding their own business.

And no, your child’s marriage is NOT your business!

Do we deserve the bad rep?

Probably. In-law problems are one of the top 5 reasons that couples fight. That’s terrible…and if accurate, then yes, the bad reputation is deserved. Once our kids are adults, the labor-intensive part of parenting is done. It takes some work to remember we aren’t responsible for how they live anymore. We have to let go of the sense that if we don’t do it or decide it, it won’t be done or decided correctly.

We are not the experts on how our kids should live.

Think about it, when is the last time you thought your mom knew how to live your life better than you? I’m guessing it’s been a while.

The Takeaway

I both like and love my children’s partners. They chose amazing people. But my point is that it doesn’t matter if they chose people I like or not. I decided to love my children-in-law before I met them. I decided this would be my take on being a mother-in-law long before any of my kids were married.

I didn’t have children so that I’d have little minions keeping me company for the rest of my life. I had children because I wanted to contribute beautiful people to the world. I raised them and then launched them. Our lives are not lived in parallel anymore. My kids branched off, created their own lives, and found their own loves. I love my kids with my whole heart, and that love extends to anyone they love.

As my kids find life partners it only expands who I love. It doesn’t take anything away.

That is exactly how it is supposed to be.



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Amy Torbenson

Amy Torbenson

Mom of two amazing sons and one amazing daughter, lifelong reader of anything and everything, (really) slow runner, and a terrible cook.