The dos and don’ts of being a good mother-in-law

August 29, 2016 By
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Honey Good gives tips on how to be a good mother-in-law

Let me start you off with a quick saying, dear readers, to get you in the mood for my story how to be a good mother-in-law:  “Close one eye to keep friends. Close both eyes to keep relatives. Close both eyes and your mouth to keep your daughters-in-law.”

There is a houseplant called Mother-in-Law’s Tongue. Why? Its leaves are toxic.

I was widowed and I remarried, therefore, I had the experience of dealing with two mothers-in-law. They both had toxic tongues. My first mother-in-law should have been written up in the Guinness World Record under the “worst of the worst.” I am not saying this tongue in cheek.

One day, years ago, I gave a woman a ride to an event. We shared a bit of our history on the way to the luncheon. It turned out she knew my first mother-in-law. Out of the blue she said, “You had the worst mother-in-law in America. I don’t know how you survived.” It was true. The saving grace was my late husband. He always sided with me.

My second mother-in-law also had a toxic tongue but she was a hoot. She was widowed at forty-nine and became a uniformed Cook County Sheriff for the divorce court. She held the position until her mid-eighties. She told you how she felt… there was no mystery. One year, on Mother’s Day, I gave her what I thought, was a special gift, a Waterford heart paperweight. The following morning, at 7a.m., it was returned with a note, “I am returning your gift. I don’t like hearts.” I smiled and took it in stride because she loved me and I realized she was unfiltered. I did love her for her openness, her love for me and her committed love to her son, my husband and ultimate concierge, Shelly. She trained him well.

I am mother-in-law to two daughters-in-law. My relationships with them differ. My daughter-in-law, Jami, and I love one another.  We are kindred spirits. I have an unusual relationship with my other daughter-in-law, therefore, I take a back seat.

How to be a good mother-in-law

  • In 99% of situations, do not make negative comments. Hold your tongue. In fact, bite your tongue, unless the situation is dire and you absolutely know you must speak up. My rule of thumb: Speak up out of good conscience and then shut up.
  • Get it in your head that you will never be her mother.  Of course, your daughters-in-law will spend more time with their mothers. The way to equalize that situation: become best friends with their moms, darlings. And be a delicious and delightful grandmother.
  • Have an open invitation rule. Birthdays, holidays and all family occasions are a time of togetherness. If you are invited to an in-law’s home make every effort to attend. Bring a gift to the mother. And, extend yourself by opening your home for family events. Your daughters-in-law should welcome this because the “family that plays together, stays together” and your relationship will hopefully grow closer. I really don’t think I am being a Pollyanna. My family does this. It works.
  • Don’t be competitive. Be collaborative. Women of all ages tend to compete. Never go there. You will lose.
  • Take a back seat. It is important to know your position in your family dynamics. My advice is: don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Be a visible and relevant woman and have a personal life.
  • When needed, make sure you are on the scene. Prove your commitment to your daughter-in-law. Fly to her side. Open your heart. Give her your emotional support. This is how you layer positive relationships. If unable to travel to her side, you can Skype, email or text your daughter-in-law. No excuses.

Whether it is mothers and daughters or daughters-in-laws and mothers-in-laws there is never 100% compatibility. Accept that. I know no matter how conflicted you may be with a daughter, in 99% of cases, daughters will always love their mothers.  There is the umbilical bond. You are her value teacher. With your daughter-in-law it can be a love or hate relationship. I personally pin the responsibility on us. We are older, wiser and truly have more to lose… like a son and our grandchildren. Enough said?

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19 Comments

  • Beth says:

    When I was married for 3 years my Mom passed away in April. Mother’s Day is in May and since my husband was working all the time I went to buy a Mother’s Day card for my Mother in law. I stood in front of the cards holding my 1 year old son sobbing. I sent the card and that Monday she called me and said that she didn’t want a card from me, she wanted it from her son and that she was not my mother! She never got a card from me again!!

    • Honey Good says:

      You were a good listener, Beth. Very respectful of your mother-in-laws wishes -:) I am say this tongue in cheek but with truth. I am sorry you lost your mother. You carry her values with you so she is with you. Warmly, Honey

    • Dawn says:

      That’s awful, my dil helps my Son with all of those things.

      • Susan "Honey" Good says:

        Even though my first mother-in-law was impossible, I kept my mouth closed. She did not affect my family life with my late husband. My second mother-in-law was not the kindest but if you understood her ways all went very well. We never had words. You are fortunate and I am happy for you. Warmly, Honey

    • K says:

      I’m so sorry. How thoughtless of your mother-in-law, especially when you had lost your own mother and took it upon yourself in your grief to think of her! She should have been so gracious and appreciative and should’ve gone out of her way to build that bond with you, especially knowing you had lost your mother. Wow. I hope she has grown and changed. Don’t let that hurt your relationship with your husband.

  • Marsha says:

    We have always loved our daughter-in-law and everything she stands for as a parent. Since they have had a third child, our relationship has changed. She has become very critical of me(mother-in-law) and stops at nothing to belittle me and say hurtful things. She refuses to make their three children mind at our home. They were recently here over the holidays and their children broke many things in my house. We have a game room upstairs and that is where I asked the children to play but their mom made it known that she thought they should play all over the house. You can’t imagine the toys and items that are strewn everywhere through my house. She says things to me that are very disrespectful and she says them in front of the children making them know they do not have to follow my rules. I am at a loss as how to handle all of this. My heart hurts over this sudden change in our daughter in law and I have no clue what we have done to change the dynamics.

    • Susan "Honey" Good says:

      I am so sorry. Maybe she has postpartum emotional problems and is overwhelmed with a third child or there is a problem in her marriage and she is taking it out on you. I am saying this because of her personality change. Hopefully, in your loving manner and not attacking her actions she will talk to you or maybe you can speak to her mom. I hope this will help. Warmly, Honey

      • Milly says:

        If you noticed a personality switch after an event: the third child is the time frame you noticed… it could be exhaustion, hormones, or, surprisingly, possibly marital stress: old or new. Exhaustion causes all sorts of things to leak out and not get dealt with, what once could be cute or taken in stride, is not so cute once enough stress is added. Lashing out at your home rules is what made me think of that possibility, as I have a very controlling spouse who didn’t want to share in home rule decisions.

        • Susan "Honey" Good says:

          Exhaustion and a controlling husband can be difficult to deal with. What is needed is more physical and emotional rest. Thinking and reasoning in a positive manner with others will be easier and more productive. Rest gives us this ability. Warmly, Honey

  • Anna Burnell says:

    I’m a mother in law host, what can do during a bb shower even who be acceptable to conduct mi self.

    • Susan "Honey" Good says:

      Put a big smile on your face. Walk tall. Be interested in all your guests. You will shine!!! Let me know if it worked. Warmly, Honey

  • Chary says:

    My son and daughter-in-law exclude at holidays and when the have a new baby. They don’t want us to be with the kids unless they can supervise us. They had their 3rd child recently and we, unlike my daughter-in-laws family, were not allowed to see the baby on the birth day. This is so bad that my daughter-in -laws mom actually told me that she thought it was terrible that her daughter and my son excluded us. They only see us when we initiate it.. I feel terrible and have no idea what to do. I have tried everything I can think of. I wish I lived 300 miles away from them it would be so much easier. My other son is getting married in September I have actually asked him not to exclude us! Unfortunately, I won’t see them much they live in 6 thousand miles away. I am so hurt.

    • Susan "Honey" Good says:

      I understand how you feel. My suggestion is to become as close as you can to your daughter-in-laws mother and never talk about her daughter to her. Do you know the reason why they are behaving this way? Is the other mother-in-law sincere when she tells you her daughter is acting out of line? Regardless, make nice with her. She seems at the moment to be the only one who may be able to help. Warmly, Honey

  • Virginia says:

    I am in a difficult situation. I have 2 daughter in laws. Both different issues. I want to be a good mother in law and always have. One son and his family live with us and just can’t seem to get on their own. If not us they live with her parents. My son and daughter in law are both just a like. Lazy and drinkers. They have four children who are teens are about to be. I have tried tough love and tried kicking them out but they won’t leave. Then I feel for my grandchildren. I try to set good examples for them and talk to them about their futures and education and working habits. My son and his wife feel they are good parents. Right now all I want is for the house to be clean on a daily basis. I have tried asking nicely and demanding neither work. She thinks it is fine to leave dishes over night and even til time for dinner again. I hate this!! I wake up and have to wash dishes before I can even cook breakfast for my husband and I. I have tried just doing ours but even so I still have to see this every day. They haven’t taught the kids to clean after themselves and have made the kids feel we have no right to ask them to do things. At this point I feel abused and trapped. They know the law here and I rent so I can not evict them and if they have mail in their name I can not make them leave. They know this. I try to get them to respect me but they don’t. My other daughter and my youngest son are mad at me for letting them stay here. I am not helping them by allowing this. They don’t believe they cannot be made to leave. At the same time what’s best for the kids. I know what that is, but I feel like I am in chains. I love them but have grown to feel numb to my son and his wife. I just want it to be normal. Then I have my other daughter in law. She is very controlling and keeps the kids and our son from us. I try to show her respect and just love her when I can. She just doesn’t want us in her life so we have to suffer.

    • Susan "Honey" Good says:

      Dear Virginia,
      I have read and reread your email to me. I am on your side 100%.Your adult children are in control of your life. So disrespectful. This is my advise since. Seek help from a professional person or organization.If you cannot afford this there are groups and organizations out there to help you that do not charge an arm and a leg.Read my Monday blog. It will encourage you to move on this.You do not mention how your husband is dealing with this. I hope he is a partner to you. I will say this: tough love works.Warmly, Honey

  • Gene says:

    I know this is late but I’m having trouble with my mother in law. I’ve been with my husband for 14 years and we had our first child together 9 months ago. My MIL has been badgering us for years to have children and as soon as we got pregnant she started to meddle 100%. She would always make an unwanted suggestion or criticize me but never to the point where it bothered me. The day we told her we were having a baby she started planning for the baby’s education and what college they’ll go to. She would refer to our baby as her’s and when I’d ask her to stop she’d laugh it off and keep doing it. She began making racial comments and started putting me down all the time. She even said i wasn’t good enough for her son because I came from a divorced family. Things got worse and worse and I don’t even talk to her now.

    • Susan "Honey" Good says:

      Send her my blog…’The Dos and Don’ts of being a good mother-in-law!Tell her I am a mother-in-law and have 27 grandchildren in a blended family. Tell her I told you to send it. If she is not careful, she won’t have grandchildren to see. She is a buddinsky ( I made up the word.) Question: where is your husband in this scene???? Is he supportive of you? Waiting to hear. Warmly, Honey

  • Hillary says:

    My mother in law is not actually really my “mother in law” because I’m not married to her son. We have been together 14 years, 9 of those years off and on and the past 5 years we’ve been patents to 2 children so he’s managed to stay in relationship with me raising our kids. His mother is interesting, she’s a mother to all boys (none who are married) she seems indifferent to wether or not they are with someone, definitely not the type of mother to get excited about her son’s meeting someone special, which I think is odd. On the surface, seems like everything was fine with us but I am or was a very sweet, kind, fun loving to be around. I wanted her to like me so I said “yes” to her more often then I said no, I probably never said no to her. We would attend every Holliday and event Exclusively with my partners family while for years missing out on my own family. She once asked my partner to bring baby boy over just a few weeks after he was born while my partner convinced me that I should have a break and they kept him away for over 8 hours and took him for his first bath without my knowing! She hovered over me the first time I went to change my baby boy’s diaper asking if I had diaper rash cream (I did by the way) she told me not to cry after my son had a sledding accident and broke his femur at just one and a half years old, um… Of course I cried! She’s gotten a little defensive when I’ve bought my son a couple outfits because she knows I’m a Stay at home mom and worries about us financially, or just feels sorry for her son that he has to provide solely on his income. She had never actually said this out loud but it’s very obvious due to multiple comments she as well as her husband have made. The first time she saw me after my son was born and we came home from the hospital, we went to visit her and she tells me a story about a mother who left and forgot her baby in a hot car and the baby died, she told me this story as if to warn me or as if she was already anticipating me doing something like that. You can imagine as a new mom and how vulnerable I already felt how this made me feel. She never seems to care about my comfort, she doesn’t think about what’s in mine or my children’s best interest, she doesn’t have my best interest at heart. One evening her son (my partner) was being emotionally and verbally abusive towards me in front of our two young children and his mother had been texting me asking if we were going to attend their Christmas party, out of desperation and fear I let her know that her son was really scaring the kids and I and that we’d probably have to leave for the night to get away from it. She text me back asking what was going on? I told her that he’s probably just stressed from the holidays, her repley to me was ” yeah so let’s not make it worse” ?? I felt her response was cold and rude. I know she loves her son unconditional but why can’t she show her love as well as respect for me? I’ve given her first birthdays with the kids, several outings, overnights with them, nice cards and gifts. I’ve pretty much let her and her husband be front and center in our lives for the past 5 years and I’m not even married to their son! There is a whole lot more she has said to me or done that was passive aggressive. She enables her son but then takes it out on me subtly even though I’m not the problem here. One day my partner was being a little rude to her over the phone and she text me after saying “he really hurt my feelings, I hope he doesn’t do that to you” at first I thought “oh how nice of her to care about how he treats me but then I realized that she was just being passive aggressive. My partner puts me down in front her by saying things like “see, I told you” or rolling his eyes at me when I tell him it’s time to go after several hours of being at their home and our kids are screaming and crying because they’re so tired and ready to leave, he says things to them to get a reaction and then makes me look bad in front of them at times. She and her husband have been rude about my kids having a bed time saying that I’m not allowing my partner “more time ” with them because of their early bedtime schedule which was 7:00 at the time and my son was just one years old! We did the same bedtime for my daughter at that age. My partner would get home around 4:00 pm he spent all afternoon/ evening with our son during that time so I don’t feel at all as well as he that he wasn’t getting enough time with his kids. It was a cut to me and very disrespectful of them to say that. My mother in law has come during or after my kids bedtime trying to get me to keep them up past their bedtime or Wake them up, even asking me to go out with the kids as late as 10:00 pm, this goes back to me saying that she doesn’t care about my comfort or has mine and my children’s best interest at heart. Anyway, before I write a novel and I’ve already left so many details out, since December I had chose to stop seeing her, Visiting her. We stopped visiting over birthdays and hollidays and I don’t keep in contact with her. I’ve let my partner know that he can plan visits with her and the kids but hollidays belong to us for a while now and he will need to plan a time before or after the hollidays to celebrate them. This may seem like I’m being unfair but adults are allowed to make the rules and spend their time as well as hollidays how they want, we are allowed to start new traditions and end old ones. This is my time as a mother and I’m not giving up all
    My memories to her. I get this one time and I dont want to feel like I was put simply on this earth just to please her, I didn’t give her grandchildren I gave myself children, I became a mother and I deserve to have a good support system around me, people who cheer me on and bring out the best in me and don’t mistake my kindness for weakness like she did.

    • Susan "Honey" Good says:

      It appears she has been in a power play with you for years.Your comments to me about not seeing her since last December but allowing the kids to see her may have been what she wanted.I know you are much more comfortable with this situation but I don’t think you are at peace with this because your children see what is going on. You have come half circle and for your self and your children I think you should go full circle.You are a much stronger woman now and this is great and in your favor. I would invite her out for lunch and tell her point blank but respectfully that you don’t want your children to see this family divide and if she wants to see them and spend holidays with your family ( might you consider) then she will have to change her tune and act like a grandmother should. Which means showing her grandchildren that family is important, respecting you is important and showing respect for herself is important so her grandchildren grow up with good family values because what they are seeing is not proper. What do you think? Warmly, Honey

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