Ask Meg (and she’ll ask someone else): Mothers-In-Law, Part II

Today, Lisa of Privilege returns, talking about HOW to deal with, what shall we call it? A delicate situation with your Mother In Law. Yesterday she wrote about possible reasons, from the mother end of the spectrum, why said delicate situation might exist. If you haven’t read that yet, you might want to catch up first. Lisa talks about a lot of important things here – like the protecting of the baby family (this takes practice, and will probably be sloppy at first, but will pay dividends for years. Imagine if it were a baby and not a wedding that you were discussing. Exactly). Lisa talks about all this from the perspective of wedding planning, but I think what she says is equally useful for those of us who are (blessedly) done with the wedding circus. Now, onwards to the ever fabulous Lisa (When is her book of essays and advice coming out, anyway? Achem.)



So. What to do, as a planning bride faced with a mother-in-law? A bride wrestling with her own family of origin, her own identity as represented by her vintage wedding dress, to say nothing of, um, a new marriage? In times of stress and high emotion, I resort to extreme rationality.

Here are some assumptions.

1.    The most important thing is your relationship with your partner. He or she should also believe this.
2.    You do want to facilitate as much happiness for your mother-in-law as possible.
3.    You are willing to approach this project with your best, most rational self in place.

Of course, you might wonder, why facilitate happiness for your MIL? Other than the general rule of Be Nice Whenever Possible? Because. You want: a) to  thank her for spilling her blood giving birth to your spouse b) to smooth the way for a good future relationship. Some day she might be the grandmother to your kids. Good grandmothers are invaluable, and worth any reasonable investment that practical wedding planning can provide. She will always be the mother of your spouse. And mothers run deep.

Here are a few recommendations.

1.    Before you begin to involve any extended family in planning, cloister yourself with your intended.
2.    Agree on 2-3 non-negotiable values for your wedding. (These might change, but the discussion will set necessary context.)
3.    Agree on 2-3 details that you both think you really care about. (Again, things change, a place to start is good.)
4.    Agree on with what strings you are willing to accept any money from your partner’s parents, and on the best way to communicate this. (Only if it’s completely yours to do with as you will? Willing to have discussions as long as you get the final call? Amenable to concessions? Remember, we’ve spent a lot of money on your spouse over the years and we always used to get a say in how it was spent.)
5.    Now, and only now, open up the phone lines.

Because if you are going to have mother-in-law issues, or mother issues for that matter, a united front is useful. In fact, a united front will be not only useful, but devastatingly important for your entire marriage. And united rarely means floating blissfully in agreement. It usually means bashing it out, at one point, or another, or many.

Here are the details. The juicy part, if you will.

Imagine the easy mothers-in-law. Because clearly some people are more evolved and more adult than others. If you’ve got an adult for a mother-in-law, defined as one who puts her love for her child over the rest of her personal agenda, proceed as you would in any job with a matrixed management structure. Treat your mother-in-law like the important vice-president of your sister division, a talented lawyer on your side of a massive case, or the scientist across the country doing similar research. Keep her in the loop. Ask her questions when you are really prepared to take her advice. Work with her even more closely if that’s productive. Always with an eye to your own mother, of course.

If or when you hit a bump, step back. And let your partner handle the interface. The most important thing is that,

1.    your partner is on your side.
2.    your partner navigates.

At least at first signs of trouble. If your partner can’t resolve the issue to your mutual satisfaction, call a “wedding time-out,” for the two of you only, and emerge with a joint decision on how to proceed. An adult mother-in-law will respect this and will be glad that you two are showing signs of good marriage skills. (Understanding when things are getting out of hand, taking a time out to focus and resolve – even if conflict is required – will stand you in extremely good stead during your marriage. This advice and this process remains relevant even after the wedding.)

But what if you don’t have an adult for a mother-in-law? What if the woman in question is close-mouthed, tight-lipped, and disapproving? Or loud, narcissistic, and lacking personal boundaries? Even delusional? It’s my hypothesis that if you are dealing with a truly difficult mother-in-law, (as opposed to someone showing a little crankiness that they will get over) your partner has been dealing with a difficult mother for some time now, and he or she has to own the issue. Your family of creation comes first, and your partner has to stand by you.Which may be tough. Because he or she has likely not fully even understood that maternal relationship, especially if it’s been difficult. He or she may have set up a bubble of denial in which to survive. It was necessary, for survival, but now may be time to dismantle all kinds of coping mechanisms. For the sake of your new family. May be tough. A word of caution. If your partner deserts you, in favor of previous coping mechanisms, reverberations may be felt for years.

Your comments yesterday reminded me of one other case. The distant mother-in-law. Shows up, does what is asked of her, but demonstrates no affection, no joy in your joining the family. Three possibilities. First, she is DYING to get involved but hesitates because she doesn’t want to seem needy. Ask your partner. Have him or her check in with MIL. Move forward. Second, she hates everything you are doing and feels it’s best to stay away. Leave it alone for now. You will have years to work on rapprochment. This may be the best way for her to cope. Third, she’s always like this, either cold or manipulative and playing victim. Or both. Oh well. Move on, with my condolences. Sometimes life just is what it is.

Finally, if you find your mother-in-law distant, there may be something for you to investigate in your own makeup and your own maternal relationship. Are you looking for a  replacement mother? Hang in there. You and your mother had years together, including those when you were so cute she cried. You and your MIL may or may not get close, but it will most likely take time and intent.

In sum: families are not easy. But they are worth more effort than napkins. They are worth effort, even when the napkin circus is over. You’re not marrying your mother-in-law, but, on the other hand, she probably has no intention of going anywhere. And even if she did, your spouse might be sadder than you expect. As I said, mothers run deep. So only you and your future spouse understand how much effort expended on a happy mother-in-law is like to be worth to your new family. All I can offer is a perspective from the other side, in full humility. Not one of us can know whether we ever have this motherhood thing figured out.

Featured Sponsored Content

  • 1. your partner is on your side.
    2. your partner navigates.

    This is something we’re learning to do right now. Communicating with each other is not an issue for us, but we definitely have some room to grow. I try to be frank, but also mindful, when telling my fiance how I feel about FIL issues. My biggest talking point is that we need to start handling this stuff now as a team because I don’t want to be 10-15 years into our marriage and either have some huge in-law disaster or a ruined marriage. He understands, but like you said, he has created a bubble to deal with his mother’s “bulldozing” (as the weddingness blog puts it). It can be a little overwhelming. I’ve noticed that when we prepare ourselves for potential questions like, “can we invite 14 of our friends to the wedding?” He has an easier time navigating us through it. But questions like, “so are you guys religion A or religion B?” is a much tougher question to answer because it’s not something we’ve talked about in depth.

    I guess the one thing I need to remember is that families are not easy. And that just as my experience can be a challenge, my fiance’s may be too.

  • Caroline

    “He or she may have set up a bubble of denial in which to survive. It was necessary, for survival, but now may be time to dismantle all kinds of coping mechanisms. For the sake of your new family. May be tough.”

    I will go with very tough. But you are right, v. necessary. I think this is the heart of it, for me. That we have both settled into a set of patterns with our family, that seem normal to us. But when I can’t interact with my MIL the way I interact with my mother, and when my fiance wont interact with his mother the way I would want, I just find it all v. v. frustrating. And its a lot to unpack – but it has to happen for the good of “our new family”.

    Sigh. Why can’t all problems be solved with heel-clicks and ice cream, instead of complicated, emotional homework?

    • LPC

      Caroline, your comment made me think. (APW readers will do that.) Another issue is that we all have our roles in our families of origins and have to learn another one in our new families. For example, maybe you’re the oldest child, maybe your spouse is the baby. You can’t figure out why he doesn’t take more command of his family, he may wonder why you can’t charm your way out of trouble in yours.

      • This was the most insightful thing I’ve read in a long, long time. I can’t believe I never thought of the oldest-youngest child differences. Thank you!

      • ellen

        Oh my god, you just summed up my relationship right there! I’m teaching him to be more charming (diplomatic, really, he’s already charming), and he’s teaching me where to draw the line.

      • This applies for realizing why your MIL may be acting/feeling a certain way also. I’m a middle child and my partner is the oldest child (of all his cousins too – first wedding of that generation of people… eek!). My mom has already married off one of her children and seems to be more understanding of letting me officially grow up. My FMIL, on the other hand, is having a much more difficult time seeing her son as an adult in addition to her first born child.

        The differences in parental opinion has led to conflicts, as one would guess. We’ve caved on some things that are important to her, but not when they impacted things that are right for our relationship – i.e. moving in together prior to marriage. For her, “respecting her opinions” means doing what she wants and I think my partner is becoming much more willing to push back against that as he establishes himself and our baby family.

  • Nataliah

    LPC, you are amazing as usual. I have been lucky enough to have a sane MIL in relation to our wedding, although she is quite bonkers otherwise…

  • Carbon Girl

    Distant future MIL, who shows up, and does what is asked of her, then leaves, was mine to a T during planning. His parents told us to plan the rehearsal dinner and then they would hand over the necessary cash. I was hurt that they did not want to be more involved. When our first rehearsal dinner venue fell through, it seemed they cared even less. We therefore took it on ourselves to plan everything about it. Three weeks before the wedding, we had it all set, had even made up the placecards for it. Then she calls us out of the blue with all these ideas like centerpieces (we had planned none) but wants us to follow through on it. I am busy with other planning and don’t. She seems really hurt. Finally have my future husband call her and see what is wrong. Turns out she wanted to help out all along but wanted us to ask her specifically. Luckily, with two weeks left, we salvaged things. We gave her a number of a local florist and carte blanche on the tablescapes. She did an amazing job and was thrilled to help out. I worry how our relationship would be now if we hadn’t caught that in time.

  • Jessica

    Thank you, LPC, for two insightful posts.

    As a yet-to-be-engaged woman who has a polite and pleasant – if not particularly close – relationship with my BF’s parents, what I really took away from the posts is this: don’t take it personally. Mothers (heck, people) have their expectations and emotional baggage piled so heavily onto the wedding that every little issue becomes so emotionally charged. “Distance” to one may be “space” to another. “Interference” to one may be “help” to another. Compound this with old coping mechanisms (i.e. “we don’t talk about issues in my family” or “we communicate our feelings through sarcasm”) and no wonder weddings are chock full of misunderstandings and hurt feelings.

  • Oh yes! You have to stand together. I wouldn’t have married (I hope) my husband if he did not put me first in conflict against his parents. If his first loyalty is not to you, then that is a big problem that will only get worse. It’s bad enough for us that my husband is 1. the child of alcoholics and 2. the brother of a sister who was mentally ill and died of a heroin overdose. He already has a totally dysfunctional relationship with his totally dysfunctional parents. But he is smart enough to create the necessary boundaries, no matter how hard his parents try to breach them.

    • Morgan

      I actually ended a relationship with my ex-fiance in large part over his family, and his total inability to put me first, ever. They hated me for silly reasons (my weight, my father’s birthplace) and he used to do things like insult me to my face in front of them to try and gain his parents approval. This was, in the end, a deal breaker. (Thank goodness, because the thought of fighting that fight for the rest of my life exhausts me even now, years later.)

      • Good for you!

      • One of the reasons my husband’s parents don’t like me is because of how I eat bacon.

        I am not making this up.

        • Emi

          Do you mean, the fact that you eat it in the first place, or the manner in which you eat it?

          Sorry, I guess I’m oddly interested in anything having to do with bacon.

          • I had to “exactly” this. At least I am not alone in my bacon problem.

          • My husband’s dad complained to my husband a year after we had visited that because I tear the fat off my bacon (which my husband, who has the metabolism of a blast furnace, then eats) rather than eating the whole thing myself, I was insulting the cook. My husband wasn’t even sure he should tell me the story, but it liberated me. The fact that someone had been stewing for a year over how I eat bacon? He really was a nutcase and his dislike of me had nothing to do with me.

            His dad also complained (again, after a year) that I did not offer him oatmeal. They stayed with us for nine days at our wedding, slept in our room, etc. When they woke me in the morning and I got up to find his dad already eating cornflakes, I made oatmeal for myself. I guess I was supposed to offer oatmeal to someone who was almost finished with breakfast.

            The whole bacon story is here:

        • Morgan

          The father admitted, after years of being a jackass, that he would have been nicer to me had he found me sexually attractive. Yes. The father.

          That said? The bacon still wins the WTF award.

          • oh that is just gross.

          • !!!
            (That’s really all I can say about that. Dude. Wow.)

        • As you said about yours (“He really was a nutcase and his dislike of me had nothing to do with me.”), my fiancé has been trying to convince me for almost 5 years that that’s the case. And while I understand that to be true (and feel confident in who I am and in our relationship), it still sucks that they’re not nice to me–like ever. You know? And the worst part is trying to reconcile their behaviour with my ideas of “family”, which are so very, very different.

          • Yes! When I first met his parents, they barely spoke to me. Didn’t ask (and never have asked) me anything about me or my family. (And we have done some cool things. We are not dull people.) Trash talked their daughter in law in front of me, a stranger to them, which is tacky.

            When my husband met my mom at a family reunion, she opened her arms, said, “You must be Primo! Come tell me all about yourself!” I lost him for an hour as my mom hung on his every word. She loves being around him, loves introducing him to her friends, loves visiting us and having us visit her. She is thrilled to have him in our family, as our my aunts and uncles and cousins, who have bent over backwards to include him and make him feel welcome.

            I have to (well, I don’t HAVE to, but it makes life easier) take drugs when I visit his parents. I also spend a lot of time in the bathroom.

            It would be so nice to have in-laws who were nice and welcoming and fun.

  • elemjay

    Should your partner *always* put your wishes against that of his family? Should you *always* put your partner’s wishes against that of your own family? I happen to think that this is one area where black/white rules are a bad idea. I guess this is where the “couple time-out” needs to come into play when you thrash out how to proceed…

    • LPC

      This is a good point. If you are being completely unreasonable, as we all can be, no, your partner shouldn’t be on your side against the family. But he/she should honor your feelings and deal with them, with you, as you say.

    • Jessica

      Not always, no. But the priority shifts when you get married, I think. Even if someone doesn’t follow his/her partner’s wishes, the partner still needs to have a significant voice in the issue.

      I also think the rationale for siding with the family is important. If someone doesn’t side with his/her partner because “I don’t want to make Mommy upset” or “That’s just the way we do things in my family,” then that’s a tricky one. But, if there’s a thought-out, compelling reason for someone to side with the family, then that’s a conscious choice and something that may take negotiation in the relationship/marriage, but certainly not a “bad” thing.

    • Marina

      I think you and your partner should ALWAYS take each other into account when approaching a problem, and should ALWAYS come to an agreement between the two of you before you ask for other people’s input.

      When we were wedding planning, I spent a lot of time REPRESENTING my family’s opinions to my husband. But I never sided with them. I had to be able to go back to my family with whatever our decision was, and not be like, “Oh, yeah, my stupid fiance says we can’t do that.” Whatever the decision was, it had to be OUR decision. Not mine or his or either of our family’s decisions. Ours.

      • Meg P

        I love that: “Representing” your family’s opinion. I must remember next time I am playing Devil’s Advocate about something to say that I am “representing” another point of view, rather than just expressing it and letting my fiance mistake it for what I really feel or believe!

  • AM

    i love this line:

    “In sum: families are not easy. But they are worth more effort than napkins.”

    sometimes in the midst of family craziness, its easy to forget that. but its great to have a reminder that often times, we’re all in need of a little perspective. :)

    • Corinne

      I agree. I don’t have a MIL, my fiancee lost his mother before I met him. It is very sad not to know the woman that made the man. I would give anything to be able to have an argument with my MIL! I think we need to remember that our partners have had a relationship with their family for a long time and to suddenly forget all that and “side with us” on all matters is unreasonable and unfair.

  • Nina

    You write as if you know her!!! Thank you again.

  • Chelsea

    Now I really want to read Part III: Tips for Mothers In Law!

    Not that I think there are lots of Mothers In Law who read this site, but I imagine it would be a fantastic list! My top of the head ideas: 1) If you want to help with something, offer to help, don’t want to be asked; 2) Think about their budget and personailities before making suggestions; 3) Don’t put your son/daughter in a situation where they have to choose between you and their future spouse

  • So, a word about these sentences: “A word of caution. If your partner deserts you, in favor of previous coping mechanisms, reverberations may be felt for years.”

    I 100% agree with this but I feel like it’s kind of incomplete. It like telling me to prepare for impact without actually showing me where the seatbelt is or to watch for the oxygen masks to fall for the ceiling.

    As someone who dealt with this through two marriages but feels like we figured it out in the second, let me add: If your partner deserts you, get your ass into couples therapy or, if you are lucky enough to have been in therapy yourself for years, start talking with your own therapist about how to talk with your spouse about the appropriate shifting of loyalties that come with marriage.

    This is often very normal because, as Lisa said, your partner may not have been aware of their relationship with his/her mother previously. It does not, in itself, indicate a gigantic flaw int he foundation of the marriage you are building. However, if it does not get sorted out, and somewhat quickly, your resentment and sense of abandonment/isolation DOES have the potential to become the reason your Tower of Pisa leans. Not to mention, of course, the fact that if you don’t resolve it, and soon, it will keep happening, and a grandmother who feels empowered to tell your spouse how to raise your child differently than the two of you have planned is not the life you want for yourself.

  • Fantastic advice. I have a pretty great relationship with my mother in law, due in large part to stepping back when things get sticky and letting my husband work out his family dynamics.

  • Sevillalost

    “Not one of us can know whether we ever have this motherhood thing figured out.”

    So very, very true. Again, thank you for reminding me that when I’m thinking of my FMIL, I need to look through my “mommy lens” at the situation as well as my “bride lens”.

    • Sevillalost

      …erm…that last line should read “…I need to look at the situation through my “mommy lens” as well as my “bride lens”.

      Sorry about that, I’m compulsive about my grammar, and sometimes I type faster than I can think.

  • LPC

    And to all of you, BTW, thank you so much for your kind words. Meg, in particular, thank you for the chance to come and talk with your wonderful readers.

  • Amanda

    We recently got engaged and these posts were truly helpful. My mother is the difficult one, she’s the one that acts as though she’s displeased that we’re getting married or gets mad when I already have a plan for something. His mom, I’ve met twice about 2 and a half years ago. We’ve recently started talking online and it’s going very slowly and awkwardly. Neither of us have very close relationships with our moms so making planning a wedding work with both of their inputs is already becoming very stressful.

    Thanks for the insight. It puts dealing with his mom in a slightly different perspective.

  • Katelyn

    What a fantastic series of posts. I’d love to see more from LPC – she is full of wisdom and perspective.

    I just have to stress the flipside of this issue- the bride’s coping mechanism with the in-laws may be to pretend they don’t exist. I still don’t understand my sister-in-law’s actions leading up to the wedding last year, but we got left out. She and my brother lived 2 miles from my parents but didn’t share details or ask for help (when help was constantly offered). My sister and I were only asked to participate in the wedding 3 weeks in advance, after my (normally calm, cool, and composed) mom threw a fit about the whole situation.

    Maybe that’s just how she decided to deal with the MIL issue- by pretending our side of the family just didn’t exist. But it hurt. And things still aren’t ok.

    • jolynn

      My sister did the opposite–she went with only what his family wanted and took hardly any help from my family. Two weeks before the wedding, his family dropped absolutely everything and provided totally unnecessary drama and we all jumped in and scraped it back together. She still wishes to this day that she’d balanced it better and not succumbed to his overbearing family. But the best way we could’ve handled it was how it was: not taking it personally, realizing that she had a ton of pressure on her, and was dealing with the chaos of *getting married* as well as planning a wedding in very short order, and then happily being there to help out when asked, without a word of “I told you so” or recriminations.

      Wedding planning often puts blinders on us in many directions, and with so many strangers offering their opinion, as well as random family members and friends of the family suddenly feeling that they own us, it can close us down to any who might have other opinions. I’m sorry that your experience with your sister-in-law was so poor. It’s tough doing anything that is an expression of ourselves, as we often feel our weddings are, and having that criticized. It’s even more difficult to do so in a family way. My family was very low key and supportive, and his was in your face and opinionated. It was easier for her to deal with them by acquiescing to everything, to the extent of shutting us out. It wasn’t optimal, but sanity is best, and hopefully someday you can talk with her about this gently. I tend not to ask for help, but I forget that there are some people who won’t offer it and will be hurt that you don’t ask. I also hate that by choosing to put some in positions of helping, it leaves others out, and you can end up with hurt feelings all over the place.

      It’s difficult to remember that the beginning of your baby family isn’t just yours, and to balance the sense of community with providing a ceremony that is yours.

      • Katelyn

        You have some really great points. Even though I doubt she and I will ever overcome absolute personality differences that cannot be resolved, I can encourage my mom to come to terms with the situation. Because she’s the one who got hurt the most- it was her first child’s wedding and she got trampled in the rush.

        • My mom, one year later, is still recovering from my brother’s wedding planning tensions. And now they have a baby and the tensions are coming up again around that.

    • Nina

      I’m somewhat the other side of the situation you describe – my fiance has two sisters who are not really very involved in the wedding at all. But I’m not really sure how to remedy that, because I feel that it’s mostly my fiance’s role to involve them, not mine. I did suggest that they could be attendants on his side or do readings, but he felt they wouldn’t mind at all just being guests and having fun. Granted, his parents are involved so it’s not like his entire side of the family is being left out. It sounds like in your situation the neglect of your family was much more severe so perhaps this doesn’t apply, but I just wanted to chime in that maybe she (like me) just found it hard to approach you herself because you weren’t close and left it up to her fiance to take the lead.

    • LPC

      Katelyn, a particular thank you to you:).

  • Erin

    All of this is so smart! I wish I had read this before my own wedding. It really would have helped a lot, especially the Part 1. I did ok with dealing with my MIL, but I had a hard time understanding why she was behaving the way she was. This is invaluable advice for any baby family!

  • peanut

    In our situation, my mother is the one being the gnarly MIL towards my parter – and it started after she met my parter’s mother. It was like night and day; she decided she hated my MIL and all sorts of horribleness ensued. We finally went to a family therapist, and she told us that there are generally two types of tensions with parents during a marriage: the woman and her MIL or the two MILs sort of battling for power; ours is the latter. It is so hard for me; I do stand united with my partner no matter what – but it’s tough because up until two years ago, I always had my mom’s back no matter how crazy she was being, and now all of a sudden I’m doing a 180. Thank you for this post…if anyone has some advice on how to deal if YOUR mom is the difficult MIL that would be fantastic.

    • jolynn

      Oh my god. That’s awful. HUG!

    • Katelyn

      The only advice I have is to take LPC’s advice for the future husbands and apply it to yourself – whether you two need a time-out together to recollect your sanity or if you need to put your foot down to your mother, remember that how you act and react now, in your baby new family, will set the tone for the future.

  • DeltaAnn

    Thank you for your honesty. My FMIL is distant as can be when it comes to wedding planning. She perfectly nice to me but has seemingly no interest in our wedding. It is nice to be reminded that I am not alone and that some people you just cannot change. I am now going to stop my FMIL pity party and move on with enjoying my wedding planning.

  • This is wonderful, Lisa, THANK YOU!!

    The engagement has really shown us just how quickly we’ve needed to band together as a unit, separate from our families of origin. We are blessed with loving, involved, and encouraging mothers (and fathers, though they are slightly less involved with the wedding), but that comes with very strong ties. I, personally, am extremely close with my mother (she’s going to be my maid of honor!), so learning how to make our relationship top priority is really interesting.

    And let me say, hearing my fiance tell his mother over the phone that he’ll “need to talk to Sarah first” is one of the sexiest things ever. It feels like it’s me and him against the world….. Of course, with a little love and support from our families/friends. :)

  • sarah

    this post just helped me to sort of verbalize in my mind the ideas that i need to keep in mind with my fiance’s family as they are coming down for the rehearsal dinner & wedding. it’s hard because you want to think that it’s “your day” (you & your fiance’s that is), but in the meantime, you realize that it’s so much more than that, and that it’s really a lot about accommodating other people’s needs more than it probably even is dealing with your own needs – which can be really really frustrating. but of course, mindfulness is always important… so it can be helpful to be reminded of ways that we can be – instead of just getting swept up in the whirlwind of crazed emotions, anger, and self-pity!

  • MJ

    I still think that DH and I did this the right way (certainly for us) – as we’re anti-large wedding and anti-tradition, we planned everything ourselves and paid for everything ourselves and informed the families of when they could attend.

    No involvement from any mother, or anyone else, was tolerated.

    Worked beautifully, and if anyone was disappointed by not being involved in the minimal planning, tough – get worthwhile goals.

  • I think the idea of family roles is real important. It’s like having a part in a play. I know my part in my family, I’ve been playing it for years. Being cast in a whole new role with his family is an interesting experience. It’s like being live on stage with the writer off in the wings handing you lines as you go.

    I’m really glad we live in different states from our families because it has isolated us in a way and forced us to create our own unique family with us. But at the same time it makes stepping on to the stage with each others’ families a bit more difficult because we do it so infrequently.

    • sarah

      i needed to EXACTLY this twice!!!!! :)

    • Excellent comparison.
      About living in different places: I think it’s actually quite helpful, too. We’ve only lived in a different city (country) from his family for 6 months, so we’re still working on that separation with them, but I’ve/we’ve lived on another continent from my family for the entire duration of my relationship with my fiancé (4.5 years) and I really think that has helped me, especially, to separate a little bit from the role I played in that family and the one I now play in our new baby family. And it’s good that we go home to visit mine together, because it’s an appropriate reminder that I’m not to fall back into old roles (even with my siblings, not just with the parents, of course) and must remain fully part of our new family unit.
      But yes, a little bit of geographic distance can be a good thing. :)

  • Eliza

    Mine is another case where my family (I am the bride) is more troublesome than my fiance’s. I think my parents (most parents?) are simply used to bossing their kids around — not in a nasty way, just in a parental way. Creating a united front with my fiance has really changed my interactions with my family (of origin). During the initial stages of the wedding planning, I heard a lot of “Just so you know, you *have* to do X” from my parents. I think it was very surprising to them — and liberating for me — to learn that I wasn’t taking orders. I probably should have gone through this rebellious phase, well, about 10 years ago when I was still a teenager, but the engagement has really forced my fiance and I to confront issues where we disagree with our parents.

    • meg

      Ah yes, but for all of you talking about Mamadrama, we already *did* that post. That’s how the Mother In Law post got requested in the first place.

      • peanut

        yes … but this is a special case of mamadrama; she isn’t necessarily being overprotective/dramatic/silly towards me directly – she’s acting rudely to my fiance and his family in a way that is so clearly and stereotypically “evil MIL”.

    • Yes yes yes yes yes. Me, too. My FMIL has been nothing but wonderful. My mother? Not so much. And the rest of my family (as in, my mother’s siblings – my dad isn’t in the picture, and I have no siblings) have been equally obnoxious. My mother has, at least, stood up for me/us/our wedding with them (for the most part), and that helps, but it’s gotten to the point where FH really doesn’t want to be around any of them at all anymore, and I can’t blame him for it.

      Meg, you’re right about that this was in the first Mamadrama post, however I think LPC’s post is good insight for those of us in this position as well. Reading the paragraph about coping mechanisms, for example, gives me insight on how I need to step up and show a united front with my FH, and not abandon him when she makes crazy accusations on his character. I’ve been trying to do that, and it hasn’t been easy, but thinking about it from the flipside – i.e., what would I want HIM to do for ME if the tables were turned – is incredibly eye-opening.

  • This is a great post. As someone who’s not yet engaged and currently enjoys a fantastic relationship with my partner’s family, I can only hope that his parents don’t change at such times as we become engaged (not that I think they would… they’re such down-to-earth people), but if they do, I’ll at least have some insight as to why and what to do.

  • Lauren

    I find this post/discussion really interesting. My 21 year old brother just got engaged and his fiancee was really surprised by how opinionated her family are about what kind of wedding they should have, whereas my mum is pretty hands off (she’s wondering how they’re going to pay for it) and my Dad has declared he doesn’t believe in weddings and would they be offended if he didin’t come. So they have the whole spectrum to deal with.

    I come from a family where everyone pretty much minds their own business, so I’m hesitant to barge in, but I’m surprised that I have this strong feeling that I’d really like to help in any way I can. I’ve said this to them, but they probably just think I’m saying it to be nice. They haven’t really organised anything yet (they’re getting married in a year) and I don’t think they realise how many people are willing to help with what is going to have to be a very cheap wedding (she’s a student, he works in a call centre). In my experience, cheap wedding usually involve a lot of help from family and friends. So I’s really like to be included, but then again if they don’t want to include me I don’t wanna push…

    Also. it occurs to me that it must be really hard to include your partner’s family if you don’t communicate with them already. I myself only see my boyfriend’s parents when I’m with him and by and large communicate with them through him. We don’t email each other at all, we don’t talk on the phone. If we were to get married I would feel odd ringing them up or emailing them and asking for favours. It’d be like I was only talking to them to get something out of them. Or, it could be a starting point for us to actually communicate…

    • The whole opinionated family thing seems to have happened in two weddings lately –
      1. my FBIL and his wife got married. She couldnt even tell me what her dress looked like 6 weeks out from the wedding, when she had already bought it. I think they went with a lot of what her family told her they should do.
      2. Friends of mine are getting married in January. The MOB has taken over the wedding planning it seems – their venue is way out in the back blocks, and the wedding is mid week because thats the only day the venue is available. Its completely different from what the bride first told me she wanted, and the groom doesnt seem to happy either!

      On the other hand, we have the MOG who, because we are the last of her three children to get married in one year (FH is the oldest though), and we arent doing it in her hometown, has so far treated our wedding a lot like an imposition… “I guess I’ll *have* to do this etc” and / or hasnt wanted to even talk about it “I have TWO other weddings to think about before yours!” (sweet. by the time you get around to thinking about ours, dont expect us to want your opinion on anything as all the decisions will have been made by then!) Gah! She frustrates me! But at least shes in another city, so I dont have to see her too often!

      • Lauren

        Yeah that whole passive-aggressive, self-important martyr act gets quite tiring. I’ve found it works just to go along with it (aka be the bigger person)…

        MOG: Well, I guess I’ll *have* to tell the Groom’s grandparents they’ll be trekking all the way to *yougodforesakenhome* for the wedding.
        Bride: Oh, it’s ok. Groom’s already told them. They’ve booked their flights and their hotel.

        MOG: I have two more weddings to sort out before I can even *think* about yours.
        Bride: Well, I guess it’s lucky we’ve got it all sorted then. If you don’t have time, we understand.

        Or (and probably the groom should do this, not you) call them on it, Because what she is really saying with every one of these statements is ‘Have the wedding in my hometown!!’

        MOG: Well, if we were having it in *hometownofawesomeness* we could get fresh lillies from *awesomeflowershop* practically for free, and I could help arrange them. You probably don’t get such great lillies in *hideousplaceyoulive* Anyway I don’t have time.
        Groom: Mom, I told you. We’re having the wedding in *hometown*, it’s where we want to get married. It’s going to be great. I would really like you to be involved if you can, but if you don’t have time, then I guess that’s how it has to be. Stop trying to convince me to change the location. We’ve made our decision.’
        MOG: ‘Well, I was just saying that flowers here are cheaper and better quality…’
        Groom: ‘Yes, I realise that but that’s couterproductive, as we’re getting married here…’

        I dunno. My boyfriend’s parents are a bit like thise too. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do. That’s ok too. It’ll all pass.

  • Bethany

    I am kind of confused…

    Not about the fact that there are MIL/mother issues (I am from the south and my FMIL is from the north, I am the oldest child and my FH is the baby, both my mother and FMIL are very opinionated, etc.) but the fact that the issues arise because of planning the wedding.

    My FH and I have a great deal already planned and the rest we have good ideas about. A budget is set up, caterers/venues have been contacted and even visited, yet we haven’t asked our parents about anything other than if they thought Aunt Cheryl will attend. I don’t think anyone should be excluded from the wedding, but I have no idea why someone (parental or otherwise) would think they had a say in what was to be done in OUR wedding. I would listen to any opinions or concerns, but if anyone came to me with preconceived ideas about centerpieces, I think I might be a little thrown off. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to tell me how to have my own wedding celebrating my own marriage. It’s not about what mom and dad want, it’s about us coming together to consecrate our love!

    I suppose it comes down to the fact that everyone in this world and every family functions sooo differently. That is the beauty and contrarily the struggle of a marriage, two families coming together to create a new family.

    PS: I don’t want it to sound like “eff everyone else! It’s all about me babay!!”
    We are a having a BBQ rehearsal dinner, small wedding, and amazing reception all to have our families together to celebrate. We are both very close to our families and we want to thank them for everything they’ve done for us.
    That doesn’t mean his mom gets to decide my florist based on where she always gets her flowers. It just means she gets to sit and enjoy a “party” thrown in honor of what her and her husband achieved by rearing a good enough son for me to marry :)

    • “It just means she gets to sit and enjoy a “party” thrown in honor of what her and her husband achieved by rearing a good enough son for me to marry :)” OMG Yes!

    • LPC

      I guess you guys are paying for everything yourselves? And, even so, weddings make statements about more than the consecration of love. For better or worse.

      • Bethany

        We are paying for some, my dad is paying for some, my mom is paying for some, and his parents are paying for the rehearsal BBQ. So it’s pretty much a split bill, but still OUR wedding how WE want it. Geez I sound so vain saying that! Haha I don’t mean to, but it’s just the truth *shrug* if anyone doesn’t like my vintage wedding dress or us getting married in the forest of Pennsylvania instead of a church in Texas, then they can have a wedding vow renewal or some other party in their favor. I’d be happy to attend ;)

      • dev

        LPC, I totally appreciate your perspective as a mother and the “view from the other side.” But I just want to point out that it isn’t rude or bad that Bethany and her FH are planning their own wedding. My husband and I just got married 4 months ago, and we didn’t consult our families about many decisions. We planned our wedding in 3 months and really did think about it as a party for our closest friends and families. We told our parents immediately that we were planning a very small, simple wedding before expectations could get out of hand. I don’t think anyone was mad because we didn’t ask them their thoughts on the centerpieces, or because we served tacos rather than steak. If these choices weren’t reflective of their tastes, so what? No one was going to blame them for these decisions anyway. We did try to keep them in the loop as we made decisions, and try to honor them, but I wouldn’t say anyone got a vote in wedding decisions besides me and my husband.

        That being said, I think the potential drama of wedding planning was minimal in our situation because: 1) Husband and I dated for 8 years, lived together for 6, and were engaged for 2 before the wedding. So I think they were just thrilled that there was a wedding. 2) I was 30 and husband was 32, our parents were pretty used to thinking of us as adults 3) We did pay for the wedding ourselves. If your situation is different, yes, you might have to worry more about your families.

  • LPC

    While I can imagine a mother-child-family relationship in which your process works, it wouldn’t work for me. First, I come from a culture in which aesthetics replaces religion for where we place our faith. Second, I hope I’d be eminently reasonable, and would like the chance to be involved and demonstrate that my good humor:). I’d never expect to make the decisions, wouldn’t even contribute my reactions they were truly, truly desired, but I’d like to be involved. That wouldn’t surprise anyone I’m related to…I assume that the mothers in your cases felt differently, and that this worked for all of you. Goes without saying that there’s no one right way.

  • As I said above, the worst part is trying to reconcile my in laws’ behaviour with my ideas of “family”, which are so very, very different.

    And, yes, I was looking a mother replacement. Not because mine isn’t perfect in every way (she almost is!), but because mine lives on another continent, and I was looking for family who was geographically closer to us. But his parents are so distant, and I’ve tried to cultivate some sort of positive relationship, but it still seems like they just don’t care. He tells me over and over that they’re just like that, that it’s not that they don’t like me. And that’s fine, I understand that… but that’s not even the issue. I’m not worried that they don’t like me personally (though the eye rolling and exasperated sighing must be stopped immediately, and my partner has agreed to back me up on that one!), I could live with that, but the fact that they don’t care about what he’s doing in his daily life (or even the bigger picture) and the complete lack of interest shown in either of us is killer. Mainly I worry about our future kids. I mean, sure it’s hard for me, but I imagine it’ll be worse for the kids when they see that one grandmother displays affection and loves them so much, while the other barely calls on their birthdays. Plus, my partner is quite hurt by their lack of interest/attention, and that bothers me even more than how they treat me!

    • LPC

      Kahlia. :(. Smooches.

  • Amanda

    Good rules of thumb to follow, clearly stated, and entertaining to read to boot! Thanks for a nice post.

  • Steve

    yes … but this is a special case of mamadrama; she isn’t necessarily being overprotective/dramatic/silly towards me directly – she’s acting rudely to my fiance and his family in a way that is so clearly and stereotypically “evil MIL”.

  • Sara A.

    Where was this article 6 months ago when my partner’s family went completely berserk? The day after Christmas, my first one ever and my first one with them, his parents called us down to discuss the wedding. I thought we’d be discussing the guest list and the rehearsal dinner. No. No, we weren’t. They decided to tell us how we should postpone the wedding,
    -because we are young,
    We’ll be older by the time we’re married. Also, I don’t want to be a woman who gets married for the first time at 50. And if we were old, or older as in a few years from now they’d still say we were too young because no matter what they changed Alden’s diapers! And in their heads he’s still a baby even though he’s been supporting himself for two years now and living out of the nest for six years. We are both 24 currently.

    -because we don’t really have careers yet,
    Neither of us have blundered on what we want to do with our lives. This isn’t really a problem to me. I’d rather build a life together than two separate lives apart and grow together, as in two closely growing vines rather than have two incorporate two full lives to one.

    -because of my relationship with my mother (this is about where I started to cry)
    Which is actually really good, just really different from their relationships with their children. My mother and I tend to communicate by yelling at the top of our lungs, this can be disconcerting for people who don’t yell and fight constantly. We’ve put a lot of work in to our relationship including joint therapy through my teenage years. And to have my relationship with my mother cast up to me by my future in-laws sent me over the edge in to tears because it was so very hurtful. Especially in light of the fact that she loves Alden and has supported our union from the start.

    -because of our relationship with god,
    Alden is atheist/agnostic and I’m Jewish. I’m fine with Alden’s religious view points and he thinks that Judaism is one of the better religions out there, mostly because of the more beautiful mysticism and symbolism that he’s been learning about appeals to the literature major in him. But no, he still doesn’t have a personal relationship with god.

    -because we don’t want to have kids immediately, why can’t we just keep living together?
    We both want a few years of being a couple before we start having a family. Also we are as good as married now. We live together. We are each other’s emergency contacts. On the life insurance policies we get through work we are each other’s beneficiaries. We file taxes together. We are practically married now, we just want to stand up before all our friends and family and make our dedication to each other public and then have a big party afterwards.

    -because we don’t know ourselves yet.
    I know myself. They don’t know me as well as I know me yet because I’m not an open book. They don’t know me well yet because I am on my best behavior around them and I don’t feel very comfortable around them so I’m probably not the person I am around my fiance when I’m around them. Also Alden knows himself fairly well, but the moment he gets in the same state as them he starts acting completely different. His shoulders hunch and he gets really quiet. He doesn’t joke as much and talks from the throat.

    Then I left the room to go cry in another room away from their curious, owlish eyes and Alden followed to comfort me. Now his mother wonders why I don’t talk to her much or often.

  • Ash

    What would I do without APW? This site continues to change my perspective and really make me a better person in this crazy time of my life. It is so hard to get lost on this dark path. Thank you for providing a source of light.

    Oh and I just finished a thank you letter to my finance’s parents for raising such an amazing man and for their acceptance and encouragement. Got to give credit where credits due.

    • Ash

      *Easy. I mean that it is easy to get lost*

  • Good god! Seriously, may I one day have such wisdom? I honestly doubt it, but I can always hope.

    As for this: ‘And united rarely means floating blissfully in agreement. It usually means bashing it out, at one point, or another, or many.’ YES. Yes, EXACTLY.

    Lisa, I’m placing my order on your book of life advice. Thank you so much for these posts.

  • bria leeann

    Brilliant. “bubble of denial in which to survive” is the perfect way to explain the MIL-future spouse zone of irrationailty that can pop up now and again over a lifetime.

  • Love this (though I don’t need it – my future MIL is just super).

    But, you know, over on Offbeat Bride I see SO MANY posts along the lines of “My FMIL is horrible! How do I talk to her?” or “I really dread telling my FMIL this!” or “FMIL is going to hate this!” or “How do I approach my FMIL – she’ll never approve…”

    Um. Ladies. She’s your future mother in LAW. That means *you* don’t have to approach her. You as a couple approach her – or your fiance alone if you have good reasons for why that’s best. If it’s as a couple, *your fiance*, not you, takes the lead because they’re his (or her) parents.

    But *you* are not on the hook for talking to your future mother in law about these things without any support, and you shouldn’t even be the chief navigator/speaker in joint discussions.

    I see so many women that just assume these things fall to them to do – same with chores, y’know. It’s refreshing to see a blog post AND a real mother-in-law who agrees: some things are NOT the bride’s/wife’s job.

  • Such great points. There’s no rush with something like this when you have years to settle in to what it will turn out to be.

  • The only issue I have with my mother in law is that she will sometimes just bust out bluntly with something that hurts my feelings, and I feel obliged to be polite and laugh it off and not show any anger.

    Like in the airport on our way to our honeymoon, my husband told me that he’d mentioned our wedding budget to his mom, and she was surprised. “Surprised in what way?” I asked. “Because we kept it so cheap?”

    “No,” he said, “she said ‘It was that much? You should have just gone to the courthouse.'”

    I must have looked stunned and hurt, because he quickly added “She didn’t mean to denigrate what we did, she enjoyed it, she was just surprised by how much things cost.”

    Because I was hungry and pissy, I made some bitchy remark about being sorry his mom disapproved of our wedding (he sighed and said “She didn’t disapprove of it”), but never mentioned it again after that. But I’m still upset and hurt by it. The thing is, I actually know she didn’t mean to denigrate our wedding, disapprove of it, or say we shouldn’t have had it. Our ceremony moved her to tears, and she’s not a crier. All she really meant was “Wow, weddings are expensive.”

    But that remark hurt because I can’t help hearing it as disapproval of my choices, of the way I handle money, of my prudence and intelligence and suitability as a wife for her son. I put so much work and time and energy and heart into planning this wedding, we carefully saved our money and cut so many expenses and came in well under budget, and all you can say is “That was too expensive, you should have just gone to the courthouse?” Well what if I didn’t WANT to just go to the courthouse like you did??

    Her styles of communication can be so different from mine — just bluntly state her criticism or what she thinks you should do or should have done — while her son’s are so similar to mine. He mostly deals with disagreements with his mom by not arguing — either just ignoring it and doing what he wants, or saying something conciliatory. I do the same but it bugs me. I think we need to start verbally standing up for ourselves.

    The thing is, she’s a truly fantastic person. She shows her support by doing things, and she’s done so much. She and I really love each other. It really is just a matter of the few issues on which we have different opinions. She asserts her opinion as fact, and I don’t know how to assert mine in response to that.