She’s your husband-to-be’s mum, and soon, she’ll be yours – well, sort of. Before you let one of those “she’s-a-monster-in-law” stories get to you, know that it is possible for you to get along with the “first woman in his life” – aka his mum. If not fabulously, then at least, amicably, say the women we spoke to.
Singapore women share 11 tips on getting along with
mothers-in-law. Image: Getty Images
Just as the relationship between you and hubby needs work in the years to come, so too, the one with your mum-in-law (M-I-L). Key words: Compromise, understanding and acceptance. Here, we culled some of the best tips from daughters-in-law.
1. SHE’S HIS MUM, NOT DRAGON LADY
With education, most mothers have moved on, and few are really that strict anymore. “Don’t have pre-conceived ideas from whatever stories you may have heard,” says Selena Chia, a 36-year-old homemaker married for six years.
Her mother had stressed her out when she first got married; she said that Selena would need to “behave ‘properly’ in my husband’s home, etc”. Selena’s mother would go on about ”how strict my grandmother (her M-I-L) was with her in the early days of my parents’ marriage. For instance, if Mum was cooking a dish my grandma loves, she’d have to cook it in exactly the same way Grandma would have done.”
But Selena feels that mums-in-law aren’t like that anymore. “She has brought up the man I love, so there must be something good about her. Give her that respect. New daughters-in-law should keep remembering that,” Selena advises.
2. SHE’S YOUR MUM TOO
”If you see your mother-in-law as your own mum, you’ll treat her differently, for sure,” says Rachel Liew, an analyst who lives with her in-laws. “My mum-in-law is an important part of my life, and while involved with us and our kids, she still gives us enough space to grow and learn on our own too.”
Seeing her in the same light as your own mother, Rachel says, helps communication and understanding: “You’re less likely to quibble if you have to compromise on some things, because she’s family.”
What happens though, if you just can’t talk or confide in her as much as you can with your own mum? “Reality check – do all women confide everything to their own mothers?” counters Selena. So, the truth is, as daughters-in-law, you share as much as it’s comfortable; the main thing, as Selena says, “is to at least try first”. And that, is more than nothing.
3. THE WORD’S R-E-S-P-E-C-T
Mothers will be mothers – so even if your mum-in-law seems like an open-minded soul, remember that she may still be traditional about some things; such as the how you address her.
Whether you want to call her “Mum”, “Mother”, or “Ma”, the thing here is not to address her by her name (unless she’s really that modern). “And she’s not ‘Auntie’ either,” says Selena. “She stopped being that the moment you said ‘I do’.” You may feel awkward at first, addressing another woman as “mum”, but you will get used to it – it’s no different from getting used to saying “my husband” after years of “my boyfriend”.
4. STRAIGHT TALKING
Family counsellors always stress on communication. There are good reasons why – discussing issues in a forthright or straightforward manner helps grow the relationship between you and your mum-in-law.
“There’s no point in using underhanded emotional blackmail – either through your husband or kids – if there’s something that she does which you don’t like,” says Rachel. It’s best to discuss the problem with your husband first and agree on the best way to talk it over with your mum-in-law.
Or, better yet, discuss it directly with each other if both you and your mum-in-law are straight-talkers. In such discussions, do be diplomatic when you address the issue. The worst thing you can do is to sound accusatory. For instance, rather than telling your mum-in-law to stop running errands for your hubby whenever she goes to town, let her know that she would have more free time (how relaxing that is!) to enjoy herself if your hubby does his own errands.
While you’re at it, try suggesting that you two spend a girls’ time-out session together; have tea somewhere nice in town while you wait for hubby to finish his errands before picking you up. Let her know that you appreciate her actions, but her son is also old enough to do his errands on his own. If you have kids, you can also explain that their dad would be setting a good example for them.
5. BE GIRLFRIENDS
Sure, there’s an age gap between you and your mum-in-law; but that’s no reason you can’t “see” her as a girlfriend sometimes – someone you can trust and rely on. “My mum-in-law’s pretty cool about a lot of things, making the effort to be a friend, rather than just a mum-in-law,” says Selena.
“There are days when we’d hang out at a nail spa; or go grocery shopping and she’d show me how to cook a particular dish that my husband loves… I’m a terrible cook!” she adds. Which is why she appreciates the effort her mum-in-law makes “Mothers who cook well tend to worry about their sons marrying women who can’t cook. I think that worry is perfectly understandable because for these women, being able to cook well is a talent to be proud of,” Selena says.
Instead of nitpicking about Selena’s lack of culinary skills, her mum-in-law prefers to find ways to “fire up” her interest in cooking. “I find that touching. And somehow, that sort of makes me want to learn,” says Selena.
6. “MANAGE”, NOT CONTROL, HER SON
It’s a fact: no mother would like to see her son be “bossed around” by his wife; even if she knows her son’s faults well. So do “manage” your husband nicely with plenty of communication between you two. Agree on basic rules such as not arguing or fighting in front of either set of parents, have “code words” to signal to each other when a certain topic is best discussed when you and hubby are alone, etc. Don’t make a man choose between you and his mother, unless you want him to hate you.
7. DO SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF
It’s often the little things people do that matter the most. Rather than wait for a special occasion, do things for your mum-in-law as and when. Going over for dinner? Offer to do the cooking. If she’s neat, you keep that in mind when you visit. If she says that she feels like eating a particular food, buy it for her. Your actions will show you’re paying attention to her, and she will love you for it.
8. REMEMBER HER BIRTHDAY
Since we’re sweating the small stuff – this one’s the biggest of them. Old people may speak of their birthdays as if they’re not important. Truth is – it is important, and you better not forget it! Age tends to make people realise how much more they treasure time; so they would want to spend their birthdays with their loved ones. You don’t have to throw a big party; it’s your effort in celebrating the birthday with her that your mum-in-law appreciates.
9. HELP HER TO UNDERSTAND YOU
No one’s a mind reader, so help your mum-in-law understand your quirks with explanations where and when situations allow. Ng Yen Ning, a 28-year-old newlywed explains: “I work in the hospitality industry so I need to be in ‘proper’ or corporate gear all the time. “Come weekends, I do get a little ‘lazy’, wearing tees with shorts, or jeans. I’ve explained to my in-laws before, so they understand.” Yen Ning says that she still wouldn’t “take things for granted either”; she will dress up for a family dinner and the occasions when guests are in the house.
10. SHE’S NOT COMPETITION
Just as daughters-in-law hate being treated as “son-snatchers”, mums-in-law don’t like being seen as being “in-betweenies”. After all, she was in your husband’s life way before you, so she’s not the interloper. A little sensitivity in understanding her feelings of “separation anxiety” when you first get married goes a long way in building a good foundation with her – after all, she is now a part of your family too.
11. DON’T ISSUE ULTIMATUMS
“Never make a man choose between you and his mother, unless you want him to hate you,” says Selena. There’s a lot of truth in that statement. Since your mum-in-law is not competition, there isn’t any need to “sandwich” your hubby between you two. Friction between two different personalities is sometimes unavoidable, especially if you live together, and things can come to a head. Instead of dragging your husband in, try discussing things directly with your mum-in-law in a calm, amicable manner.
“Any issue can be resolved as long as both daughter- and mother-in-law are willing to discuss and compromise; more importantly, keep the peace in the family,” Selena shares. Good communication is an art; keep working at it till it’s a masterpiece.
This article was originally published in Her World Brides December 2010-February 2011.