Television, movies, magazines and tabloids all take their fair share of shots at mothers in law. We are depicted as overbearing, nosey, interfering, unbearable and sometimes just plain old mean. I am blessed to be mother-in-law to a wonderful young woman who stole my son’s heart, married him and is now taking wonderful care of my first grandchild. She also is an Army wife and has been through deployments and PCSing to Germany.
We have a very close relationship that stems from mutual respect, love and healthy family boundaries. I was an Army wife myself once, so I have a little bit of an advantage on how to encourage her. Blue Star mothers-in-law have a very special job supporting the family. Below are a few suggestions on how you can support your soldier’s spouse.
Healthy boundaries are vital to the health and well being of a family. When boundaries are messed up and people overstep them, then stress, dysfunction and disunity can arise.
The boundaries for your family and for the family your daughter or son-in-law is coming from will vary. No two families are alike. Some are interactive while others are more reserved. It’s important to get to know your child-in-law and if possible get to know his or her family. Watch them interact. That is what your new family member is used to and what he or she will feel most comfortable with.
Another thing to consider with boundaries is remembering the separation of households and that you no longer hold authority over your adult child. I know it’s tempting to want to tell them what to do, how to do it and why they should listen to what you are saying. Bite your tongue until it bleeds if necessary. Be available, let them know you are there for them, but don’t push and never dish up a bunch of unsolicited advise.
There are times when your daughter-in-law may need to process things with a good listener. My daughter-in-law calls me to talk about fun things, frustrating things, joyful things and more. She calls because she knows I will listen. I do not preach at her. I do not try and fix her life. Remember to listen actively. Let her know you hear her, and only offer advise if you are asked. The goal isn’t to defend your son or daughter, inasmuch as it’s to listen and encourage her to talk to her husband.
A little respect goes a long way in extended family. One way to show respect is to hold your tongue and pick your battles wisely. There are times when an in-law may need to get involved in situations where neglect or abuse is happening, but outside of more dire circumstances it is best for parents of grown children to maintain their boundaries. Let them know you are there to support them, but that you will not get in the middle of things. Be accepting and be patient. I have never heard of a good relationship developing where there is constant criticism.
The best in-law relationships happen with a lot of love and understanding. They often take work, but they are worth every minute of time and every ounce of energy you put into them. Mothers-in-law are very important members of the extended family, and you can really be a vital support person in the life of your child and his or her spouse.