Beloved Not Belittled

As mothers, we do midnight feedings and toilet training. We take our children, often with tears, to the schoolroom door. We hassle over bike helmets and homework, telephones and televisions. We anguish over colleges, which one or why not. Finally, the day comes when our children are grown and gone. Our worries, we think, are over. Then our beloved children come home with a perfect stranger and say, oh, by the way, we are getting married.


We want to love the person our child marries because this is our child’s choice. And we hope this person will love us because they love our offspring. Sometimes it works this way. More often, it doesn’t. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t find love-at-first-sight. Just as we learned to work through the challenges of child-rearing, there are ways of looking at the world that can help us come to value, respect, and maybe even love new additions to our family. Here are a few ideas:

1. Imagine how you want the relationship to be in five years. Think about your image as specifically as you can, picture it, describe it. Then make a commitment to move in that direction. It takes time to build relationships. Perhaps, you have good girlfriends that you didn’t like when you first met them. When your child chose this person to marry, you probably had neither a vote nor a veto, but now tell yourself you are choosing this person to love. Then, figure out how you act when you love someone.

“The first time I met my prospective son-in-law, I was sure our daughter was headed for disaster. It was only when we took a four-hour car trip together that I discovered we like the same music, have the same sense of humor and completely enjoy one another,” confesses one mother-in-law. “I have come to adore him, but it wasn’t even like-at-first-sight.”


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2. Acknowledge that there can be a natural competition between mothers and daughters-in-law. My young neighbor, hearing I was writing about mothers-in-law observed, “Really, I don’t much care what my mother-in-law thinks. He loves me and he’s mine now.” A daughter-in-law naturally displaces her husband’s mother as the first woman in his life. The wise mother helps that happen. Part of being good parents includes helping our sons become successful partners. Loving parents want their adult children and their spouses to lead happy lives.

When women are not yet wise, mistakes may spring from fear, loneliness or emotional upheaval. These are issues we must deal with ourselves and not blame on our children. Pushing sons to choose between their wives and their mothers, inflicts both stress and sadness. We are not likely to be the winner when we set up such a competition. A man can love his wife and his mother as well. He may not have as much time to spend with his mother as he did earlier, but love is not measured by hours.

3. Marriage is like immigration. Each person is migrating from his or her homeland to a new country and has to decide what old customs to bring and what new customs to adopt. Although we parents are not migrating, we must not insist our children continue to use only our customs nor nourish hurt when our own cherished ways are left behind. Marriage is a negotiation, but we are not parties in this negotiation. Our children decide what they will keep and what they will change for the good of their new family. Our role is to be flexible and understanding, not resistant and resentful.

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