Ask Meg (and she’ll ask someone else): Mother-In-Laws, Part I

Often, I get requests for posts on excellent questions, to which I have no answers. One of those excellent questions, which keeps coming up over and over, is the question of the Mother-In-Law. The most common variant of the question I here is this, “Back when we were just dating, I had a good relationship with my mother-in-law. She was nice, we were friendly, things were good. Then we got engaged, and sweet-baby-jesus-what-happened?” Sometimes the problem is that your mother-in-law became overtly, um, crazy, and started with the screaming and the bossing and the crying and the throwing things. More often the problem is that the relationship just became tense. Super tense. Either way, the question is “WHY?” followed by a plaintive, “How do I fix it?

Since you know, I’ve only been a wedding graduate for 10 months now, and I’ve never been a mother…. I have no idea. So. Because it was a really good question, I thought really hard about who might have a really good answer. And I decided that LPC, who writes over at Privilege, was definitely the ticket. LPC is fantastic (like, real life fantastic, she gets drinks with me and gives me advice regularly) LPC’s kids are in, and just out, of college, and she’s not in danger of becoming a mother-in-law any time soon. But in my head, that made her perfect. She was a neutral party. She could look on both sides of the fence, say “Hum” very thoughtfully, and then write something honest and helpful. Well, she outdid herself. So the Mother-In-Law post comes to you in two parts. Today is Why, tomorrow is How.


If you are having trouble with your mother-in-law, as you plan your wedding, this is not why.

These are my children almost 20 years ago, and this picture can make me cry in 90 seconds. Your mother-in-law has one just like this, somewhere, of your spouse-to-be. Maybe without the hats. And it wails like a banshee in her heart. This wailing is hard to understand in the non-faerie world in which we live, but it’s real, to moms.

People will pretend mothers-in-laws-to-be are bad about your wedding because our banshees are wailing, because we love our children and you are taking them. That is hogwash. Hogwash.

Well, on second thought, sometimes we’re bad because of banshees. But only when we first meet you. When our children tell us they are marrying you, we may think you won’t take care of these people who have left their baby selves in our hearts. At those moments, we might act up. But once we decide that 1) you are the best person for our child, or 2) you aren’t but we can’t make their choices for them, our love for our kids will actually make us behave well. As you plan your wedding, and whenever good behavior is required.

So then what, pray tell, what makes us behave badly? Because I hear you. We do. Here’s the thing. We have invested in our identities as good child rearers, and we’re proud of everything we accomplished. Our children represent us in one way or another. And you are about to make a public cultural and aesthetic statement which reflects on us, the families we came from, and the families we created. So, it’s a whole laundry list of factors, which I am honored to be asked to share. I mean, how often does confessing one’s weaknesses offer value to others?

Here goes.

Social class markers and expectations. If there are parasols anywhere in a wedding either of my children are involved in I might break down. A money dance I could probably survive. Parasols trip my ding ding ding bourgeois alarms, money dances are so clearly from another culture that my tolerance wiring sustains me. I confess that to you in full understanding that it’s awful. And that your parasols might be just lovely and I have no right to my disdain. Does love make anyone perfect? Has your love made you perfect? I thought not.

Peer community opinion.
I have mother friends. They were necessary. Never could have survived without other mothers to support and occasionally scold me over the years. What if they don’t like your centerpieces? Or lack thereof? What if they scold me? Question my skills as a mother in approving of you as the future wife?

Family dynamics and history. You are making a baby family, or as I’ve always called it, a family of creation. Then you’ve got your family of origin. That family of origin has traditions just like the ones you’re trying to make, only their traditions have been around a lot longer and have a lot more people subscribing. Traditions are like social networks; the more followers, the better everyone feels. So we want you on our tradition page.

The choices we’ve made. I remember, to this day, sitting under a pepper tree when I was 12. It was 1968. Our teacher was telling us about this new thing called, “women’s liberation.” I don’t ask that you spend a lot of time learning about the history, or admiring us for what we went through. I don’t expect that everyone in my generation have made the choices I made. But we lived through a time when the life path for women was upended, analyzed, and ridiculed in media everywhere. We’re sensitive. We know we didn’t do everything right. And some of us can’t help but feel defensive when you choose differently. I still can’t figure out when body hair became persona non grata. But that’s for another day. With a glass of gin in hand.

Aesthetic preferences. Sometimes we just won’t like the same colors you do. It happens. We should be able to restrain ourselves from saying so, but please don’t press us to say that we love jewel tones when we just don’t.

Finally, the banshees, while not fully responsible, intensify all of the above. Make it harder for us to recognize our bad behavior. Please understand the nature of our love for our children. It’s so below usual consciousness. It’s so layered into our selves. Biology does that to us or we’d have killed that person you’re about to marry a long time ago. You do know they didn’t let us sleep? So much of our identity and our emotional structure is now walking around in the body of that person you take to bed every night. You wonder why we act up? Give us a pass for this part. The rest you have every right to ask us to try and rise above.

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  • Wench

    Thank you thank you thank you
    For todays post and for tomorrows which I know will be equally insightful. My future mother-in-law and I have always got on, she’s sort of crazy but nothing I couldn’t handle, more of a ‘I only have one son and I’ve always wanted a daughter so I’m going to be overbearing’ crazy, but she’s always been kind and it’s always been calm. However, when my beloved and I announced our engagement everything became tense and awkward and uncomforable and I love him so much that his family being OK with me means EVERYTHING.
    So nice to hear some sanity and explanation from a mothers point of view. Thank you Meg and thank you LPC

  • Laura

    Thank you for this. Such great insight. I am lucky that my future mother-in-law has none of these issues…but my future father-in-law? Whoa. He is hard to take sometimes. And we got along like two best buddies before the wedding planning started. Because he is contributing financially, we want him to feel involved and not pushed to the side like, “thanks for the cash, bub, now keep your mouth shut!”. In the beginning we tried to include him, and he would say over and over “it’s your wedding! Don’t ask me my opinion!”. Fast forward to a few months before the wedding, and unfortunately a lot of our choices have thrown him for a loop. He now spends most of his time with us making mean jokes and generally teasing me about everything. I have a hard time understanding why this person who refused to give us his opinion now finds it necessary to tear down everything we’re doing. It’s been hurtful and disappointing…and confusing!
    I will be keeping your post in mind when I see him next…because I am sure 90% of it applies to him, too.

    • FM

      My father-in-law isn’t the same, but I definitely relate to the father-in-law being more difficult than the mother-in-law. Mine is lovely (as is my mother-in-law), but he is more…meddlesome. When we were planning our wedding, he fulfilled the stereotypes usually associated with a mother-in-law of wanting to be in control of all the planning, and that’s just kind of how he is generally in life. Dealing with fathers-in-law doesn’t get talked about enough either.

      • meg

        Yes, but I suspect you can apply most of the thoughts and ideas Lisa is talking about for Father In Laws as well.

        • LPC

          Yes – and to fathers-in-law you have to add all the expectations for men, the male roles, etc. Especially in America, where the square-jaw man thing is big.

          • *sigh* I was hoping we could have gotten over “the square-jaw man thing” by now. Not just for fathers-in-law, of course; for all men (especially my sensitive, Western European fiancé who just doesn’t know how to respond to these strange people (many Americans) when they project those personality traits onto him!).

  • Caroline

    Ditto. The post on mamadrama is what converted me to Team Practical and make me check the site daily for theraputic reasons. And this is even more helpful. Whenever I vent about my future m-i-l, people always say “oh, you’re just taking away her baby.” And yet you know, deep down, that is not the issue.

    My issue, more likely, is that her British history and preferences, and my American history and preferences, do not mesh particularly well. And while that clash can be exciting (as in our relationship), it can also be annoying. Or confusing. Or just plain old, rip your hair out, scream into a dark room, hide in the bathroom maddening.

    I can’t wait for How – but for now, when she brings up table arrangements and the ever annoying subject of a top table, or how she feels, ahem, strongly, about me taking the “family” name, I will breathe, and smile, and try to understand. (and still possibly hide in the bathroom a bit.)

    • Dude, you have my sympathies. I actually understand this issue well… mine’s Spanish!
      And oh-my-goodness-yes, the “ever annoying subject of a top table”… my future father-in-law actually stomped his foot and _shouted_ at me that when we’re in his country* we’re going to do things their way! (before, of course, explaining how it was typically done in their country).
      Who’d have thought that the head table would even be something we had to think about for more than a minute, much less the cause of “issues”?
      *Luckily, we get to have 2 parties, and the one in my country will be in my parents’ back yard and full of chill, happy people (and no head table at all)! So I can cede a bit more easily on “little” things like this that are apparently important to them.

  • AML

    I get what you’re talking about with tradition and family history. I so want to be part of their tradition page. I try to be part of celebrations and holidays and culture. My FMIL welcomes me, sets a place for me at the table, and even helps explain the symbolism of their faith traditions… but for some reason, I feel like in the back of her mind she’s wishing I was of her faith. And I’m scared she’ll feel differently about my children (since they will be interfaith) versus her daughter’s children who will have both parents from the same religion. My FMIL hasn’t shared these thoughts with me, but she asks my fiance all the time how we will raise our children- Catholic or Jewish? She hasn’t put any pressure on us, but I know those thoughts are there. I want to be good enough for her, but I don’t want to change religion. I’m just not sure how to address this.

    • kat

      Hey AML – I hear ya! I’m in the same boat, but slightly reversed. I’m Catholic, he’s Jewish, we’re doing an interfaith ceremony and having interfaith kids (if I ever get brave enough to take the plunge). When I sit at his family’s table, there’s so much I’m not a part of; but when I sit at my family’s table, it’s the same. I know my mother thinks it’s weird that I’m not changing my name, bad that we’re not raising catholic kids; she did try to discourage me quite strongly from marry outside the faith and then tried to convince me that he should convert. Everyone’s being very nice about everything at this point but I know that there are tensions underneath. It’s tough and hard and weird to take their love and generosity while knowing that they’re not completely at ease with everything. But I’m taking things slowly and trying to keep in mind everyone’s sensitivities and insecurities so I can help make things as smooth as possible.

      I’m banking on the facts that a) most people soften with time, give it time, and b) moms love babies. She might be overbearing with you about religion and tradition, but she’s gonna love that baby.

      • AML

        Thanks, Kat! I’m actually the Catholic one, too. I guess I didn’t make that very clear. Sorry. You’re right though, issues like this soften with time (and mom’s love babies). Plus, I have to keep reminding myself that my feelings are just assumptions and they are not based on anything except impressions. It’s also hard because my fiance doesn’t really reciprocate my questions about how we’ll raise our children. I’d like to say we’ll observe both, but how does one really do that?

        I know their faith is important to them and for some weird reason I feel like me being Catholic and joining their family is taking that away from them.

        • meg

          Well, it’s complicated with Judaism. Really complicated. So read up all you can about it, and if you can find a Rabbi who will meet with you and work with you when the babies make there entrance. Seriously. A reform or reconstructionist rabbi is going to be very comfortable with interfaith families and the many many issues surrounded them, and is going to (hopefully) be skilled at counseling you through those issues. If you don’t want to do that, I’d find a family therapist with that specialty.

          Why? Well, I suspect it will actually get much much harder when the baby first arrives. This isn’t the place to go into the deep seated cultural and historical issues at play, but in sum, there is a Jewish saying that you are only Jewish if your grandchildren grow up to be Jews. It’s this idea that your cultural heritage plays out over time. So, because of that? It’s gonna be hard, probably, for everyone. That doesn’t mean you should change your choices, but that probably does mean that everyone would do well with a professional guiding you. Or if nothing else, read read read read read.

          And that is why I don’t want to talk interfaith shop in posts on APW ;) It’s a whole other, very loaded, ball of wax.

  • LPC

    You guys are making think about stuff I didn’t even consider. Of course. Money. Yeah, money makes everything harder, since we’ve been paying for their stuff for forever and always got a say in it before. And AML, I feel for you. My only advice would be to take it slowly. In theory your MIL probably DOES wish you were of her faith. But over time, likely some of that will fade, and the affection of time and shared experience will grow.

  • liz

    oooh. insight from-the-other-side is good.

    josh has 3 mother figures in his life. um, YEAH. so i get to experience three different versions of crazy. holy moses.

    • ElfPuddle

      My Mr. Monkey has two mother-figures…his mom, and his exMIL, who has unofficial custody of the baby monkeys. The first is good-hearted and EXTREMELY overbearing. The second? Overbearing and just plain crazy.

      Thanks for the insight. I really needed this!

  • My fiance’s mom called right after we got engaged, and told me that she “couldn’t have been happier with his choice.” It struck me as a sort of strange thing to say, being that we’d dating for more than 3 years at that point, but I just brushed it off as a miscommunication of sorts. Things have been generally roses and daffodils on the FMIL/FDIL front since then, but there is definitely tension in the wedding planning process. She wants input that we’re not really willing to implement, and so we’re walking a tightrope between encouraging participation and welcoming opinions and maintaining our own vision for our wedding and life together thereafter. Overall, though, I’ve got it pretty good.

    • Allison

      You said it perfectly with your “Walking a tightrope” analogy. How so we allow others to feel involved without letting them take over? I’m still figuring that one out.

      • Mollie

        Give them specific tasks, preferably of things you know you’ll “need” but don’t feel all that personally invested in. That way, they get to be involved, and you get something taken off your plate, and since you don’t have a specific vision of that “thing”– however it turns out will be lovely.

        We weren’t going to have programs until we realized it was one thing that his brother could help with… and he really wanted to help but didn’t know how. Since we gave him that project, he no longer suggests that we need a live web-cam stream of our ceremony… because he is too busy with something real, and useful. Two birds, one stone!

        Good luck… it is definitely a balancing act.

      • Chelsea

        The way I’m walking the tightrope is by letting her be involved in minor things I know she’ll appreciate, but in a controlled way. For example, my fiancé and I went to the wine store and picked a few wines that we could afford to serve, then took them to her house and had a “tasting” where we all picked the wine. She appreciated being in on the final decision, but we’d already made the big decisions of the budget, type of wine, etc. Everyone was happy! I also try to keep her updated on decisions I make so she’ll feel in the loop even when I didn’t ask her opinion, like by showing her the invitations before they went out but not giving her a say in what invitations we picked.

    • Krystel

      Weddingness, just my input on why she made that call to you. If your child is dating someone, you may or may not like that person. Or you may like that person but don’t think they are a good “permanent” match. (I used to say I liked my brother in law, I just didn’t like him married to my sister.) I would interpret her phone call just to say she’s really happy with you as his choice. Also, perhaps her MIL did not make her feel welcome or wanted and she was reaching out to try to not have that kind of relationship with you!

      • Yes! I know, it just really struck me as odd at the time. In the end, though, I’m about 100% sure it was just an awkward way to welcome me to the family, which I appreciate.

        • Emily

          “his choice” seems like a comment one would make about garnish on a burger. He went with sauteed mushrooms? That was a great choice. Probably just poorly chosen wording, but I understand why you bristled at that comment.

    • Meg P

      Mothers-In-Law are an interesting group. When I met mine she told me that friends of hers had hang-ups about “Oh, she’s not good enough for my boy,” etc. And she was saying she would never be like that and would just accept whoever my fiance chose. When I though about this later I thought, no you wouldn’t and in some cases you shouldn’t, I know that (without even being a mother) I would have certain (perhaps unreasonable) expectations of a daughter-in-law. What I took it to mean in the end was that I filled these expectations for her, which I was glad about!

      • Yes, I know what you mean! And, frankly, moms do seem to usually have it right — I know my mom was less than pleased with at least one of my ex-boyfriends, and though she wasn’t too vocal about it while we were dating, I know she would have said something if we had ever gotten engaged. As she should have, because he was a jerk haha.

  • Jen

    Woah. That makes total sense and I never would have thought of it that way! Thank you so much for writing that! I kinda knocked myself on the head like, DUH! All the issues of class and peer pressures and trying to defend the choices I make….well, obviously (or not obviously…since I didn’t see it) these issues also play a role for mother in laws. And my mom. and our dads. and…ok, most everyone else, too, but we don’t have to listen to those other people as much.
    thanks again!

  • Jenn

    Wow, it is so good to hear this – so important to get some insight from the opposite point of view! Gaining some perspective always makes me feel like life is full of extra potential.

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom! No FMIL problems here thankfully, but this also makes me think about my parents and their relationship with my fiance, and I think these thoughts will be so helpful moving forward.

  • Where was this post 8 months ago? I eventually figured most of this out, but so slowly, and with so much agony. I try very very hard to respect the traditions of my future family, but there are also things that are so important to us that we simply have to ignore the tradition. (e.g. serving chicken at our vegetarian wedding was /not/ a compromise I was going to make.) The problem is when the MIL won’t tell me whether she doesn’t like something on not…that just gets complicated!

  • K

    Thank you so much for addressing this issue! By far the hardest part about the first 10 days of our engagement (when I cried every day) was dealing with my future mother-in-law. It caught me utterly off-guard because until then we’d had an absolutely lovely relationship (I mean, when my fiance and I stopped dating for a year, she flew out to England to visit me and defended my decision to my fiance…). All of a sudden, once we got engaged, she became a crazy person: attacking my parents, refusing to participate in any of our traditions, crying over the electric slide, accusing me of being tyrannical toward my fiance. Needless to say, it caused a lot of tears.

    It helped when I realized that part of it was the single mother and only child syndrome and part of it was just the circumstances of our wedding. We’re getting married in my fiance’s home city, but my parents are contributing financially. This means a lot of her friends are going (though she wanted about 100 more on the guest list initially), but the wedding will probably be unfamiliar to them in many ways, since it will also largely be reflective of my English family and our traditions. There are class issues, religion issues, cultural issues, and overlaying all of that is what I’m sure is a bittersweet experience watching your only child get married.

    It doesn’t excuse her initial behavior, but the best thing I’ve done so far in the wedding planning process was to call her out on it and explain how hurtful she’d been both to me and my family. Being one who does not love confrontation, that conversation was intensely difficult for me (I think I was shaking the whole time), but our relationship has grown as a result. I think this post really helped articulate some of the things I think were going on, and it’s a good reminder of what her perspective probably looks like as we move forward.

  • I am so looking forward to tomorrow’s installment from LPC. My MIL and I had a great time during the 2.5 years the Mr. and I were dating. She and the Mr.’s dad live quite a few states away from us, so we saw them irregularly, but we had great times when we/they visited.

    As the wedding approached, things just got…weird. No drama. No anger. Almost a vacuum of nothing. She didn’t come to my shower. She didn’t want to be involved in the planning, though I invited her. She didn’t want to talk about the wedding at all. And then, the weekend of the wedding, she got…weirder. To the point of being over-involved, bossy, and downright inappropriate . She blew a coach’s whistle to shush people at our rehearsal dinner and argued with our caterer about replacing our cake topper with one she bought. She “joked” about burning our wedding certificate. And, at the end of the wonderful wedding we had, there were icky feelings. I felt icky toward her. She appeared to be generally disinterested in me. And the Mr….he didn’t know what to think or do about the ickiness.

    Fast-forward 8.5 months and the ickiness is still present, but not talked about. I hate not talking about things. So, I look forward to LPC’s insights into HOW. I’m all ears!

    • Katelyn

      This sounds so uncomfortable and frustrating, because it’s not like you have a ton of opportunities to try and make things right. It sounds like a classic miscommunication- maybe you/your husband did (or didn’t do) something along the way that offended your MIL, but she was too shy/afraid/politically correct to say anything about it, and then it blew up into something huge in her mind, resulting in a little breakdown at the wedding.

      My mom was like this when my brother got married last year – she was all smiles but griped behind the scenes about little slights along the way – it got pretty ugly in the end, involving yelling and tears. She still laments the lack of relationship with her daughter-in-law, and if DIL would just try to do something nice (like coming to visit, sans husband, from the whopping 2 miles away), I think all would be forgiven and a lot of good would come from it.

      I don’t know all the details of your situation, but maybe it’s something you should consider. It doesn’t matter what happened, or who did what wrong, but just show that you’re willing to move past it and be friends.

  • J

    Thank you for this Meg & LPC – until anyone of is a mother, with a child about to get married, how can any of us truly understand. Cut them a break, take a deep breath & stay true to yourself and your baby family – kindly.

  • Sarah M

    I am quite certain that my family is the one with the class issues, peer pressure, and overbearing tendancies and now I feel I need to discuss with the fiance that he is not ripping his hair out with how much my parents are involved. hmm…..

    • Julianna

      yes. this. thank you for the reminder that there are often two MIL’s involved (his mom to me & my mom to him) and all discussions of not falling back into unhealthy family coping mechanisms apply equally, if not more so, to me as they do to him!

  • Nina

    I knew others had future-MIL issues, but I honestly swore mine were the worst…and they still might be, but it is so, so helpful to read posts like this one and comments like these. Can’t wait to read the next installment! Thank you!

  • FK

    Love this. This doesn’t at all apply to my futre MIL, who is totally adorably and low-key happy about the whole thing, but it DOES apply to my own mom! On the upside, she is pretty self-aware and actively working to accept the differences (I think). But, yeah, pretty much everything you mentioned. Definitely different family cultures, “classes” to a certain extent, plus I might want to walk down the aisle with my Dad (they’re still married, btw). I vividly remember her pleading with me in 8th grade not to shave my legs. As I said, she’s actively working to accept the differences, but, being as she’s my own mother, it takes very little on her part to trigger me. The first time she met his whole family, she got depressed. What do you do with that? You can’t get mad. It’s just the way it is.

  • rainy_day

    Oh, thank you for this lovely post!

    Can I shamelessly share a personal story, somewhat related? My BF & I have been together for over 6 years, and in that time, his mother has wanted to be called Mrs. Last Name. His father is very clearly a First Name. I am very close to BF’s extended family, all of whom are First Name. I am very close to BF’s mother, too, and wanted to respect her wishes (as we know, names are important!), but it also felt so awkward and distant to me. I have settled on mostly not calling her anything, which is fine, but made me worry and feel a little sad. Will I have to refer to the grandmother of my children as Mrs. Last Name?

    Yesterday she gave me a birthday present, and in the card she wrote “Patty & Steve” and it made me so happy I could have cried.

    • LPC

      I am also now realizing that for some brides, the mother-in-law is also a mother figure with power to reject or accept. Not to be taken lightly.

      • meg

        Oh, LPC, I’d say for all brides and newlyweds. And not just on the big stuff, but on all the little stuff too. I mean, we already know if our moms accept our choices. To suddenly have another maternal figure with the power to accept and reject our life choices? Tricky.

        • LPC

          You see, we’re so used by this time to being in the background. If our kids show up with someone who overtly cares what we say, it’s a little different from the long dance with our children:).

          • jolynn

            I had never thought about it this way! Putting it into these words somehow just helped me wrap my mind around it.

        • HeatherN

          I guess I never before realized quite how much I want my FMIL’s approval. And I think FMIL’s often don’t realize how much we want their approval either. In the 5 yrs that my fiance & I dated, my FMIL & I got along so well. I’ll never forget when I was trying on my dress to see if she would feel comfortable doing the alterations, and she said “I think if I had worn a wedding dress when I got married, it would have looked exactly like this, very simple with clean elegant lines.” It meant so much to me that she really liked it. I think as a bride, I have so many people that I really love criticizing so many of our choices, that compliments REALLY go a long way in such a stressful time.

          Fortunately, she is not one to worry about class issues, so I haven’t had many issues with her there. The area where issues have come up have been when I’m trying to get my fiance to make a more independent & adult/ responsible choice, like buying a gently used car that will last, instead of accepting their old junker with 150K miles that they want to pass down to us. I would get so frustrated that she was not backing me up, that she was not teaching him to learn to figure out problems on his own. But then I realized that in her eyes, him growing up & making adult choices means him including her in his life less, and that breaks both of their hearts a little bit. I think that in her eyes, even though she has protected him in so many ways over the years, he will always be growing up too fast.

          But the one thing that has really helped us get past things is working on my dress together. We go shopping for fabric and buttons together (just the two of us), and get together for a quick chat & fitting once or twice a week. It helps me to see my relationship with her as somewhat independent of that with my fiance.

          • LPC

            Aw. This sounds lovely.

    • Elizabeth

      Also: can we talk about the in-law name thing? I, after 4 years dating and 1.5 years engaged, still have no freakin’ clue how to address them in person. “Mrs. Last Name” seems so stilted, but “First Name” seems weird to me too. “Mom” is out of the question – I only have one of those, and she’d probably be upset about conferring that title to somebody else. I usually use the standby 2nd/3rd person pronoun, or in a pinch, “FH’s Mom” when discussing her with somebody else.

      When I talked about this with my own mother, she advised me to start having kids and can then use “Grandma”, which from her own experience is the best possible option there is.

      • meg

        Um. No. Let’s not work out our issues through our kids, yeah? Calling your mother in law ‘Grandma’ is… um…. no. I mean, unless you’re speaking to your children about their Grandma. I mean, it’s like calling her Mom, you’re already set in that department as well.

        But seriously, ask her. Ask, ask, ask.

        • My ex H never addressed my mom as anything at all. That was a major sore-spot for my mom, who felt like no matter how hard she tried, she just could not get my ex H to like her. Moms have feelings, too.

  • Sarah Beth

    This was really insightful, although the only “trouble” I’ve had with my FMIL is that she’s in denial (just like the rest of my family was forever) and dragging her feet on anything that has to do with the wedding. The main point of contention is a list names and addresses for the guest list, which we asked for a YEAR ago and never got. (We have since moved the date back.) But she has excepted that I am here to stay, regardless of what she likes and doesn’t like about me, and that our decisions about the wedding are *our* decisions.

    Actually, the most protective/possessive/defensive behavior has come from his grandmother. She acts and talks like my fiance is “hers”, even overstepping her own daughter. Somehow, grandmother trumps mother. And it irks me, because he’s a grown man, not anyone’s puppet. He’s old enough to choose a spouse, start a family, and make his own life decisions.

    It’s weird how our parents push and push and push for us to be independent, but then down play our choices. I can see the point about our decisions reflecting on them, but that’s sad that they feel judged. You can do your best raising your kids, but there comes a point when they have to own their decisions, just like you wanted them to, and that ought to be a burden lifted from your shoulders.

    • Your last paragraph rings so true. They want us to be independent and to make good decisions. But then if we do something slightly different than they would have, suddenly that goal of getting the children to be independent goes out the window and they try to be controlling again. This is the issue with my mother. She wants be to live my life independently, but exactly how she would live it. It’s kind of hypocritical.

  • Allison

    I enjoy my relationship with my in-laws, they are good natured and I know that they have the best intentions for their kids. It takes a lot for a mother to let her son’s ex-girlfriend back into her life after a year, let alone accept that her only son is now getting married!
    I am trying to be sensitive to the emotions and desires of my MIL and FIL but I’m sure that they can tell when I am gently shooting something down because I always tend to look at my partner and say “Oh, well that’s something to think about”…he on the other hand is not always so nice. So while I am the one that takes every suggestion, he is the one who says “Mom, we’ve already figured it out”. Maybe because I grew up in a somewhat matriarchal household I feel the need to say yes or maybe to a lot of things when it comes to the wedding only because I know that they care about it more than I do?
    Now when the time comes to have/adopt a child? I’ll be setting my foot down on things like video games and oreos and not making “mom and dad’s rules” stand in Grandma and Papa’s house…with BOTH sides of the family. (Now don’t get me wrong, there will be oreos but only after there are carrots.)

    • meg

      We’re the reverse, with our family dynamics. If my mom suggests something I don’t like, I say, “Oh hell no.” And then lively discussion ensues. With David, he kindly says, “Hummm.”

      • Allison

        It must be something about family dynamics? I am pretty good at shooting crazy ideas down from my own mother while Fred just keeps his mouth shut and then we talk about it later on the car ride home. I’d love it if a recently engaged man or newly minted husband could talk about their relationships with their mother-in-law’s or heck, even father-in-laws? Ladies, recruit your husbands to APW!

  • Thank you for this. It’s something I can’t talk about over my way, so thank you for hosting these important posts and conversations here. This helps immeasurably with perspective and understanding.

  • Chelsea

    My mother in law, who is wonderful, is very concerned with doing things the “right” way. This isn’t just a wedding thing, this is part of her personality – for example, she’s very aware of brands and designers. She seems to especially resort to this when she’s feeling the most insecure – if she doesn’t know what someone wants as a gift she’ll buy them a designer something (because the person HAS to like that, right?), and when planning a wedding she wants to stick to the way “things are done.”

    I, meanwhile, am pretty confident in my ability to do things my way and have them come together. So we’ve had some conflicts about doing things the “right” way vs. doing things the way that my fiancé and I want to do them. Take the rehearsal dinner. She wasn’t very happy with our decision to have it in a crab house, she would have rather had it in the tiny town’s one fancy restaurant. Because no one can say it wasn’t nice if it was fancy, right? To her credit, she hasn’t been very vocal about her disapproval of any of our choices, but we know it’s there and creating that slight tension.

    Oh, and did I mention that she is unemployed, so can’t contribute to anything that would make the wedding “fancier” (like the welcome bags she wanted to have waiting at the hotel), but has PLENTY of time to think about these things. I’m hoping the tension goes away once everything is over and she sees that it was lovely!

    • So far, I consider myself very lucky. My FMIL is very nice, and though she and I don’t see eye-to-eye on many things, our relationship is very cordial. I don’t think we’ll ever be really close, but I hope we’ll always be pleasant. I worry about problems when it gets down to the details, though. She, too, is very aware of brands and designers; she’d like me to have my dress designed by a designer her friend knows. I have no intention of spending that much money or effort on the dress; it’s just not a top priority for me. Based on her disdain when someone else mentioned a third party having shopped at David’s Bridal, I don’t think she’ll be thrilled when I, you know, go shopping at David’s Bridal. (I didn’t, at the time, volunteer the information that I had every intention of doing so. I probably should have.) I foresee similar differences of opinion on other areas, where my fiance and I not prioritizing something (e.g. dress, flowers, invitations, “tux” (he’d rather wear a suit)) means it’s not going to be done “the right way.” I’m looking forward to part II tomorrow, because I think we can have a very nice, conflict-free, relationship, and hopefully the next post will have ideas to help me to head off any problems before they occur.

      • Chelsea

        Hi Katie! We’re 25 days out from the wedding so I do feel like I’ve gained a little wisdom in this area, so I thought I’d pass along some advice! My best tools have been just keeping her updated on decisions we’ve made (thereby keeping her in the loop without giving her a say), and asking her opinion to help me decide between a couple things that I’ve already picked out. If I say, “which dress do you like better” it doesn’t leave much room for judgment (and I’m lucky that she’s polite enough to not necessarily come right out and say anything if she’s not asked). I also indulge her sometimes if all it’s going to cost me is time – I tried on a designer gown that she “just wanted to see me in,” looked through books of crazy floral arrangements, etc, and then went and did my own thing. Sometimes, people just want to know that you heard their ideas, even if you don’t use them.

        Also, in my original post, I didn’t mean to sound bratty and like I wanted her to pay more… I just meant that it’s frustrating to get expensive suggestions from someone who also can’t afford them right now. Sometimes I want to say “Listen, I’m on a budget, you’re unemployed, neither of us can afford the things you’re talking about, so let’s just drop the charade and plan something that works!”

        • LPC

          It’s precisely true that often people in families simply want to be hear. They are used to being overruled, but the hearing is still valuable.

        • Thanks Chelsea! We’re new to this wedding planning thing – 11 months until the wedding – so I appreciate the advice! While I anticipate that we could have problems, I’m hoping that thinking about it ahead of time and being accommodating to a reasonable degree (your ideas are great!) will help to keep our relationship pleasant, at least.

  • Merin

    This is an awesome post, and I love how thoughtful it is. It sort of makes me wish for an overbearing FMIL instead of the completely distant one I have, b/c then I’d have strategies to deal. With mine, it’s like she’s stunned we want to have a wedding at all (possibly b/c we’re both women) and could care less about anything we do. (The weirdest thing is she’ll talk your ear off about anything and everything, EXCEPT anything showing interest in the wedding.)
    I think a lot of this conversation is about what to do if/when your MIL doesn’t like/approve of you, but what do you do when you don’t particularly care for her either? I’d *love* to see a post like that. Seriously. Love. I mean, she’s always going to be part of my life after we’re married, and I want to love her b/c I love my fiancee, but it’s like all the little things that drive me adorably nuts about my fiancee are magnified to hilariously awful proportions in my FMIL. I try really hard every time we’re together, but it’s never anything but hideously uncomfortable. (And boring. OMG so boring.)
    Sorry, /whine.
    What I think I’ll take from this post, and try to keep in mind with all dealings with her, is that there’s a lot going on for her that I’m not privy to, so it makes sense just to be polite and try not to have my feelings hurt by her distance.

    • C

      Merin my fiance’s mother and I had were in an ALL OUT WAR when we first started dating. The fact of the matter is you don’t have to like your future MIL, you have to show her respect and you have to be polite.

      I don’t love my future mother in law but I don’t *hate* her either. Things are much better now (I realized for my fiance’s sake I had to be nicer to his mom and let things slide when she was rude or overbearing or territorial).

    • Or when your husband loves his mother, but doesn’t exactly know how to deal with her either. And so has always been the peacekeeper by making her happy and maintaining calm. And he feels comfortable with and tied to this role. And does not know how to react when this strategy puts him at odds with his wife. *Sigh*

      • This one!
        But my fiancé is not comfortable in that role of placating and avoiding conflict (even if he’s not always in agreement), it’s just what he’s always done. He doesn’t know how to not do that without pissing both his parents off extremely.
        Neither of us can understand why his mother is distant to both of us (she’s always been like that, nothing we did/didn’t do “caused” it) and never takes an interest even in him much less in me/us. We both dread visits (which require airplanes and sleeping over for a weekend or more) because they’re so boring: dinnertime is filled with us chattering away about things (our work, our lives in our new city, our friends, my family, etc.) and the parents deadpanning, “Ah.” or “Is that so.” I’m so baffled by it. Oh, and then she’s also very negative (visibly rolling her eyes, sighing exasperatedly, etc. in front of me) whenever it becomes apparent that I’m different from them, which happens a lot since we’re from 2 different countries!

    • C

      Tricia…I have that here too. I mean, she’s his mom but she drives him crazy most of the time. But she has no other family, he’s an only child and at the end of the day she is still his mom.

      Basically you have to grin and bear it and be on your best behaviour. My fiance holds me to higher standards than his mom and complaining about it only makes it worse. Because he doesn’t like how she acts either but he’s trying to have some semblance of family. When you put in perspective of…I love him, this is something I do for him and it’s important….then being nice to overbearing or rude family members becomes easier :)

    • Oh my in laws. We are in a cold war. They started it. I take a lot of drugs when we visit them, spend a lot of time in the bathroom (although why I don’t want to be around for their drunken rants I don’t know), and remind myself that no matter what, they did give me my husband. So they have done one thing right in their lives.

  • Tiffany P


    When I wrote to you a couple months ago about my future mother in law, and the fact that she turned from a sweet loving older woman, to a person whose blood boils when she sees me… I really thought that I was making a big deal out of nothing. Maybe I was just reading too much into it. So I decided to google bad mother in laws and found some scary stories. Things that were beyond the scope of what my FMIL would acutally do. So I am glad that you have someone wirting about this very touchy subject and we can get some real person advice/ insight on this very precarious relationship!

    I am hoping that knowing more about the situation from a parent who is the perfect unbaised person to be giving advice, that I will be able to maybe work through her feelings of dislike/ disdain towards me.

    Also, I am anxiously awaitings tomorrows post about the HOW….. we still have 4 months till our wedding and I want to try and make the relationship between myself and my FMIL better before then!

  • Wow. I had no idea how fortunate I was. My own mother-in-law was incredibly laissez-faire about the wedding planning–she and my husband’s stepfather graciously gave a nice, small rehearsal dinner at a good local restaurant, but the only discussion I really had with her about it all was to call her up a month before the (extremely small) wedding and ask if she knew what she would be wearing yet so I could order a corsage that would look good with it. Since then, she’s been nothing but kind and interested in both of us and what we’re doing, but never difficult. She’s only had two boys–X and his younger brother–and I can’t imagine now that it was easy for her, especially once she found out that no grandchildren whatsoever would be forthcoming.

  • Kristen

    APW and all of the commenters always put things in perspective. Everyone’s total honesty about their experiences really comforts me.

    My MIL and I have hit a bit of a rough patch since the engagement. The thing is our styles are way different and when she makes suggestions I feel really conflicted on which things I should do so she feels involved and which things I can skip because I flat don’t like the idea and don’t want her style reflecting on me… and how to tell her we aren’t going to do that in a way where she doesn’t feel like it’s personal. So I was guilty of just plain avoiding all wedding talk. And it was all she would want to talk about when we were together. So I would just clam up. Then she thought I didn’t like her.

    I’ve made an improvement with just sending her an ‘update’ email on venues we are considering and this and that. Not asking for input, but informing. It was a huge help.

  • MinnaBrynn

    Although our drama issues stem from my FFIL (who has very strict opinions on what is and is not appropriate for a wedding), I think this is exactly right. Especially this: “We have invested in our identities as good child rearers, and we’re proud of everything we accomplished. Our children represent us in one way or another. And you are about to make a public cultural and aesthetic statement which reflects on us, the families we came from, and the families we created.” I wish I had understood this when the drama started, but it has come along in time to help me stay more centered in our last 2+ weeks. I’ve been so nervous knowing FFIL arrives in a week, but I think maybe I can understand his comments a little bit more now, and that helps with the nerves. I will be rereading this a lot in the next few days, and likely tomorrow’s post too.

  • I have not faced any MIL issues as of yet, because the planning has been on hold while I finished graduate school. But now it’s done and I’m refocusing on the wedding, I’m expecting a little crazy to arise. Thank you for the insight. My future self will appreciate it a lot.

  • sarah

    so i’m not sure if my issues with my FMIL are necessarily wedding related, or just her disposition in general! my fiance and i have been together for 5 years, but we live about 700 miles from his family, so we usually only see them once or twice a year. the first time i met them, we had been dating for almost a year, and i think that my fiance was kind of worried about us meeting, because we’re so different – my upbringing is very different than his was, and our families are just very different! when i first met them, i thought they were so nice and sweet, and his mom was kind of gregarious, but i didn’t see any huge warning signs in my mind yet at that point.

    that feeling lasted for about a year and a half, and then things somehow changed. we had been dating for a little less than 3 years, and while things were pretty serious (we knew we wanted to be together), we weren’t at the point of getting married yet. also i was only 23. but then his mom suddenly let the flood gates open… suddenly, her personality was very abrasive. she was still “nice” to me, but she says a lot of crass things without thinking, complains constantly, always has on opinion about something and is very vocal about it; our differences keep coming into play more and more – she is a career housewife and never went to college, i want a doctoral degree; she started harassing me about when i would have kids, when i’m not even sure if i want them, and if i do, probably not for another 10 years!; she started making comments that further polarize the fact that i come from an upper middle class upbringing, and they are poor working class… when i really try to downplay these things when i’m around them because i feel awkward and i don’t want to make them feel bad. also the wedding has increased the polarization of such, because of the fact that my parents are paying for it, it’s located in my home area, and it’s at a very nice place. she hasn’t tried to intervene in the planning, per say, but there have been comments that have made me uncomfortable. i just try to be the bigger person, and realize how the wedding will probably be more uncomfortable for them, because they’ll be completely out of their element and way over their heads, but it’s still hard. i feel like, more and more, i’m increasingly being forced to “be the bigger person,” and quite frankly, it really sucks!!!!

    • C

      I don’t know the situation in it’s entirety…but is it possible to meet her halfway? Think about it if you were the “poor/low class” one and if they were the wealthy/upper class people. What if you felt “completely out of your element and over your head” at your own child’s wedding?

      Maybe she feels judged, maybe she feels like you look down on her, maybe she feels not a part of her son’s wedding because she has no money, perhaps she feels like she and her family are not “good enough” for you or your family, maybe she fears being judged at the wedding.

      Now I’m not saying you or your family are judgmental but if there are major class discrepancies and she’s made it aware to you she/her family feels uncomfortable; I think that’s a whole different issue. If you know his entire family is going to feel uncomfortable…maybe you should reconsider your venue? Yes your parents are paying, but if the entire wedding is your family centered and his entire family feels poor/low class/uncomfortable then you can expect more problems in leading up to the wedding.

      My family is solidly middle class but my grandparents are definitely “low class” and poor” and I can tell you in the same situation they would feel like they were being shown up and that’s just going to lead to resentment in the future.

      • sarah

        i understand what you’re saying, however i really feel that you’re off-target here. i just said in my comment that i always try to downplay our differences, because i don’t want them to feel lesser in any way. i’m trying to downplay the situation, she’s the one who has begun to highlight the differences. i knew that things might be hard for them going into the wedding, so i tried to be as welcoming, inclusive, gracious and accommodating as humanly possible, which is all anyone can really do. but at the same time, i didn’t feel that i should have to compromise where i wanted to hold my wedding because of the socioeconomic differences between our families. if we’ve learned anything about weddings from Team Practical, it’s that you can’t please all of the people all of the time, and sometimes you have to do things that YOU want to do. and, finally, in regards to your comment about changing my wedding venue – my wedding is in less than 3 WEEKS, so obviously this is NOT an option.

        • C

          Sure it’s your wedding and you may not be able to change the wedding venue but you can talk to your mother in law. As someone else said; mom’s have feelings too. This woman may be crass/uneducated but she’s still your fiance’s mom.

          Because despite trying to down play any socioeconomic factors they are obviously coming up. You also did say she and her entire family will be over their heads and won’t feel comfortable…so those differences are going to be in their faces for one day. That’s a perfect mix for serious resentment in the future and I am sure nobody wants that.

          I just know personally, I wouldn’t be very happy attending an event where I felt uncomfortable or out classed or over my head. So talk to your mother in law and maybe find something the two of you can do together before the wedding. Some way she can feel that she can contribute despite being poor. Because I think beyond anything else, this is about feeling judged and not good enough; despite any of your good intentions.

          • sarah

            well the thing is that i’ve tried to include them, but they don’t seem to have any real interest in having more of a surface level involvement in the wedding. which on the one hand, is hurtful because it hurts my fiance’s feelings, but on the other hand, it does make things so much easier in many ways. also we live about a 1000 miles from them and where the wedding’s being held, so there isn’t really any opportunity to do something together before the wedding. i only see them a few times a year, and we don’t yet have the kind of relationship where we can really have a heart to heart about “issues” that come up, and to bring the relationship to that stage right now, i think would just be too much too soon for everyone involved. i feel that i’ve done the best that i can to include them. i realize that this may be a hairy situation, but sometimes you can only try your best to be welcoming and accepting of people for who they are. that’s all you can do.

            you seem to be making a point that my whole goal of my wedding was to purposefully create an event where they would feel “out-classed” or uncomfortable. honestly it wasn’t. i thought about the kind of wedding that i wanted, and i began creating that event. my intention was never to create a day that was uncomfortable for anyone, but to create a beautiful event that we could all remember for years to come, and to show my guests a good time. i don’t think that everything involving socioeconomic differences always has to come down to that level of selfishness. sometimes it just is what it is, and people can either take it personally, or they can show up with a good attitude, and enjoy the day. i’m not super wealthy by any means, and i’ve certainly attended events that i wouldn’t dream of having enough money to throw, but i never felt unhappy or uncomfortable because of it, i thought, “wow, what a great event! this is really nice.” i just think it’s all in your perspective and how you approach new things. so i can be nice and accommodating to them, but if they still want to show up feeling resentful, that’s their choice.

  • I think the best situation for any mother-in-law is to stay OUT of the wedding planning completely. This is the bride’s day, end of story. The GROOM can have a say, but in no way shape or form should the mother-in-law have any say. My wedding was great except for my MIL. She kept telling me how she did it 30 years ago, over and over again. We decided we wanted to give all of the women in our family a special corsage (mother corsages were bigger of course) but they are so close to us that I wouldn’t have had it any other way. She kept telling me (literally over and over again) that when she got married she only gave mothers corsages. Then when I (heaven forbid) actually wanted my now husband to help, she told me (over and over again) that when she got married her husband just showed up. I don’t think it’s ridiculous to ask my husband to be with me during the stressful two weeks before the wedding to help stamp wind chimes, help arrange the tables, things like that. But she did. She took him camping…. Really… I was left to work full time and figure out ALL the last minute details without him. Granted he could have said no, but I feel like that is against the woman code for her to even offer. When I am a mother-in-law I will give advice when asked at my future son’s wedding, but other than that I’ll just write the checks and be out of it. I know that my friends will not judge me for whatever my son and his future wife will do. If they decide something crazy, we’ll just laugh and go on with our lives. Like Dr. Seuss said, “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

    PS: I’d like to post another rule of thumb in my perfect world that everyone would abide by. If you have a friend telling you how much she doesn’t get along with her in-laws, NEVER respond with how much you do get along with yours. That is the worst feeling ever. Everyone WANTS to get along with their in-laws, and not getting along is a huge source of problems for the couple and the in-laws. It only makes said person feel worse about it. Please do say something like “I don’t have that problem.” NOT “I get along so well with my in-laws, I love them and they love me. We’ve never had a problem.”

    • Marina

      The way I think about this is… well, I guess there’s a larger question for me: should a mother (and mother-in-law) stay out of her son’s (and daughter-in-law’s) life? Just write the checks and let them do whatever they want?

      I think that’s a valid option. But it’s not my ideal world. And because a wedding is not only part of a life, but is very frequently an intense microcosm of everything that is most important about life, in my ideal world a mother (and mother-in-law) is part of that.

      This is probably also wrapped up in my personal belief that a wedding is NOT the bride’s day, but the family’s day–both the new baby family, and the families of origin.

      I accept that this isn’t true for everyone, and that you would have been happier if your mother-in-law had been much less involved, but it made me really twitchy to read that ALL mother-in-laws should stay uninvolved. There are many women who would love more input and support from their mother-in-laws–it feels disrespectful to me to deny that they should have that.

      • Meg P

        I agree Marina, though it’s taken me a long time to accept that this isn’t just our day and it belongs to our families as well. I still take ownership for all my choices, especially those which exclude other family members from constantly putting in their two cents, but I have made many small compromises along the way so that the day will be inclusive and friendly for all.

        • Heh…I never thought of it as “my day.” If it had been “my day,” we would have eloped. A wedding is a party you throw for your friends and family. You don’t even get to stay until the end! (They kicked us out! And threw birdseed at us!)

          Now I wonder if I should have asked my mother-in-law if she wanted to help, although she was across the state. It didn’t occur to me, because my own mother wasn’t particularly interested (she liked the elopement idea too, but knew she’d never hear the end of it from The Family). But as I said before, my mother-in-law had no daughters, and she might have enjoyed being more involved. (It also didn’t occur to me to involve my husband-to-be, who was engulfed in his first quarter of a rigorous graduate program hundreds of miles away.)

          Rachael, I was kind of expressing gratitude, I guess, that my mother-in-law isn’t controlling or domineering…I don’t know if my post was one that irritated you, but I certainly didn’t mean to sound smug. If it’s any small comfort, there are probably plenty of things that you are able to take for granted about your relationships that are genuine causes of grief for other people. For instance, I wish I were closer to my own mother and on speaking terms with my father (long, sad story), or that I had a more comfortable rapport with my sister–our relationship seems stilted and awkward a lot of the time, and not the way I imagine sisters should be. So it’s a great relief to me that my in-laws are not demons from hell, despite their typically human flaws.

    • meg

      Good-ness. If our wedding had just been my day, it wouldn’t have been one of the great joys of my life. No way. And as I’ve mentioned before, my mom was ill, and not really able to participate in the planning. I wanted nothing more than for her to be well and to be able to be more involved. Step back for a moment and remember to be grateful for what you’ve got: a family who loves you, a partner who wants to spend their life with you, and a day to celebrate all of that, with everyone. And if they want to help you plan? What a blessing.

    • Morgan

      My mother largely opted out of helping with my wedding. Without my mother in law, I wouldn’t have made it to the wedding day with sanity intact. All families are different. I’m sorry that you have trouble with your inlaws, but don’t try and use your experience as a universal experience.

  • Great post, thank you! I’ve felt alone in this situation. Most of my friends & family have the same relationship with their MILs before & after engagement, whether that relationship was good or bad. So I was caught off-guard when my FMIL went from telling introducing me as “her future-daugher-in-law” before our engagement to vocally opposing every wedding decision we made after our engagement. She wanted the wedding in NY (not in Cali where most of my family lives & we compromised with Jersey where we live), she wanted us to change our wedding date to accommodate her high school reunion (didn’t happen), she didn’t think our guest list was big enough (125-150 people is enough!) & she didn’t like our location because there is no place for anyone to stay (um, we’re getting married in a hotel!). It was extremely upsetting! It got to the point that I didn’t want to share one single plan with her because I was tired of her negative opinions. I have to thank my fiance for standing up to her because I know on top of the strained relations between me & FMIL, it could’ve become strained relations between me & my fiance. I’m not sure what was said but our past two visits have been fun & pleasant- just like the good old days! I hope & pray it stays this way!

  • Nina

    This was wonderful to read, thank you. While I am lucky not to have problems with the in-laws-to-be, I still truly appreciated this eye-opening post. It was beautifully written and helped me to understand the parent’s perspective a little more, and that can only help.

  • Unfortunately, my fiance’s mom passed away before we got engaged last year, so the MIL will not really apply. I did get to know her before she died and we loved each other.

    That said, I can identify with some of the struggles of a DIL because the *only* relative who has offered her “input” about the wedding and made “suggestions” has been my future husband’s Aunt! They live out of state but she is sort of taking on the MIL role in a way. We’re involving my parents in the planning a lot because they are paying for half (and we’re handling the other half) but aside from that, not one of my relatives has tried to make suggestions or comment on how we’re choosing to do it. It’s interesting to me that his aunt is the one who is sorta doing that.

  • Brilliant!

  • Marina

    “Traditions are like social networks; the more followers, the better everyone feels. So we want you on our tradition page.”

    This is BRILLIANT. I adore this analogy. I came to a vague understanding of this maybe a week before my wedding, and thinking of it this way earlier would have saved a WHOLE lot of heartache.

    • sarah

      but the problem is… what if you don’t like those traditions? you may like your person and the traditions that you’ve created with that person; but the family of origin traditions could be a completely different world… that’s how it is for me – my fiance’s life with his family is very different than his life with me. so it can be arduous trying to merge both those worlds into one reality at times.

      • meg

        Think of this as a first step, instead of the only step, maybe? I mean, you’re going to have a long life together merging those worlds, or at least getting them to dance together. This is your first go-round to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

      • Marina

        I am 100% on board with consciously choosing not to follow traditions. :) But for me at least, it made it easier to realize in advance just how hard it was for my family to let go of their ideas of what my wedding/family/life would be like. I could go in prepared for an intense discussion where I repeated “I love and respect you, but…” over and over, rather than being blindsided by a fight over something I thought was dumb. I mean, I’m not gonna lie, it’s ridiculously difficult to merge traditions no matter which way you go at it. But it helped me to gain that perspective of why it was such a big deal–and such a worthwhile conversation to have.

  • My MIL stayed completely out of my wedding and rightly so. I got married at my parent’s house, in their back yard, in Newport, RI, two and a half hours away from where I live. My father officiated. She did come with me to look at bridesmaid’s dresses. I invited her to join me.

    I just wish I didn’t have to spend every gosh-darned holiday with the ILs. I’d like to start my own traditions with my immediate family. It’s getting old and exhausting. And just when I had enough, there’s more. I was on the phone with her yesterday telling her that I was pulling my 11 year old from school on my Birthday (next Tuesday) so that we could have a lovely Mother-Daughter day. And do you know what she does? She INVITES herself to our lunch!!!! Our Mother-Daughter day is no longer. Rebecca is upset. I am more than slightly annoyed but I what can I do? Nothing.

    Gee Lisa, I wish you were my MIL! Or that our children were the same ages and you could be my children’s MIL… Gosh we’d have lots of fun!

    Thanks for letting me vent that! I’ve wanted to but had no place to do so!

    • LPC

      Aw. EntertainingMom, let’s be virtual in-laws, OK?

  • S

    This is such a fascinating and helpful post; I can’t wait for the HOW!

    Um, and can I now say the geekiest thing about the title? It’s “MotherS-in-Law” instead of “Mother-in-LawS”; it’s a compound noun, one of my favorite things ever! Courts martial! Attorneys general! Runners-up! Passersby! (Yes, I have a problem.)

  • SingColleen

    Thank you so much! I can’t wait for the “How!” My MIL is wonderful to me, but MY mom has been sort of cold to my husband since he proposed (culminating in a small tifff a couple of nights before the wedding), and even though we have always been very close, it has been really hard for us to figure out how to handle the situation. Looking forward to some solid advice!

  • Lauren

    For me it’s my mom I’m having a problem with, not his – but LPC’s tips definitely apply to that relationship too. We’ve always been fairly close and even more so since I grew out of being a rebellious teenager, but she is just not interested in the wedding – nothing overtly nasty, but it’s like she’s trying to pretend it’s not happening. For the longest time I was so confused and hurt by her attitude, but I think it comes down to the fact that she and my dad don’t have much money to give us and she feels inadequate about it. Obviously we don’t expect them to contribute anything – really, all I want is their love and wholehearted support. I’ve tried, but I hope I can find the words to get that across before it’s too late, because I really do want to have some happy mother-daughter experiences in all of this. Sigh. But ANYWAYS, LPC is right, I think it’s totally a class and peer expectations thing.

  • Maddy

    My mother and father in law are different from my own parents (ie, traditional). But we have always got on fine. My MIL did not like the fact that I did not change my name when I got married at the beginning of this year. My husband talked this through with her before the wedding to get her used to the idea and although she said she did not like it, she did not want to listen to the reasons and just laughed him off when he tried to discuss it more. At the wedding she commented to both my sister and my Dad about it, and they both gently said it is between Mr and myself to which she said ” I know, I know…”

    Now I have recieved my first birthday card from her since we were married, addressed to Mrs M His. I was so angry! I feel like she must have no respect for me as a person if she feels it is ok to just call me what she likes. I am genuinely upset because I thought we could have a relationship that was more then that, and I am not sure how to deal with it. I know if I tell her it upsets me she will take it that I am upset because I somehow don’t want to be associated with his family. I have decided to wait till the next post I get from her before discussing it with her just in case it was a one off.

    It was really good to read LPC’s post it made me remember to try put myself in her shoes. I have read other peoples posts about finding it funny and amusing etc when this happens, but it makes me feel full of rage! It is not my name and she knows that. Sorry that turned into a bit of a rant. If anyone else has delt with this issue with their In Laws I would love any advice.

  • It’s interesting to truly consider–for the first time–the idea that kids are a reflection of their parents. The last time this idea was brought up was over 10 years ago and I was an obnoxiously rebellious teenager. My mom was freaking out (about what my father’s super-conservative family would think, actually!) over some stupid thing I’d done, and I was like, “Whatever, this is so not a reflection of you, this is all about me expressing myself!”

    Obviously I didn’t get it then, so I dismissed it immediately, but now that I’m so much more mature, it’s something I’d be willing to revisit.

  • Great post Meg (and LPC)! No one has brought this up, but I think it can also apply in the reverse – that is, your mother’s attitudes toward your intended. My FMIL is really wonderful; it’s MY mother that is being the FMIL From Hell to my FH.

  • PS to Meg –
    It would be awesome if there was a widget on your site that allowed for sharing posts, rather than me cutting and pasting this in my browser to send to my FH. :)

  • Interesting perspective… I’ve been lucky to have a great MIL. But then could it be that she lives oceans away and we only see each other a few weeks a year, even though we talk almost weekly? I could only hope to be as generous-spirited as she has been when it’s my turn.

  • Sevillalost

    Extremely insightful and well written. This post made me think about these things from the perspective of a mom, not just a bride. Thank you!

  • Suzanna

    Thank you–this made me laugh out loud, and made perfect sense. So nice to hear it from the mom’s point of view for once!

  • Lisa’s writing breaks my heart in the best way.

    • LPC

      You have no idea how much I appreciate that comment.

  • I love this.

    My own future mother-in-law is ten kinds of super awesome, but I loved how it also gives me some perspective on my own mother (yeah, I know, *MY* mom is the difficult one sometimes, not his, She’s usually great, it’s just that every once in awhile she…well…you know. Moms.)

    It’s true: she *is* worried about what other people will think (I have limited sympathy for this – every engaged person goes through the “I don’t care what others think! If I have a daughter I’ll never put her through this” and she did too, so why is she going “What will others think??” to me?) She just plain doesn’t like my taste in some things – to her, weddings are still roses and pastels and florals and gold and silver and candles and crystal and scrolling script. She looks at our funky fonts, jewel tones, copper and vintage Asian postcards and just sighs.

    It’s also the first time we’ve planned something where I am the one who gets final say, and she doesn’t get to pull a “mom” on me (“no, we’re doing it this way because I said so”). I am sure it’s hard for her to let go like that. And she IS ten kinds of super awesome too…it’s just that she’s more opinionated than my future mother-in-law and more willing to pressure me to bend to her opinion because we’re related and family does that sometimes.

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