The fiasco of the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationship is an all too common phenomenon; it is dynamic and quite the challenge to solve. The challenge it poses may range from an emotionally manipulative mother-in-law to an uncaring son or daughter-in-law. Notwithstanding the moral complexities, what remains clear is that resolution is a resounding cry.
Of course, ‘the source’ of every problem is the piece that is ultimately needed to relinquish it in the end. So, what therefore is the source of this longstanding, perilous relationship that has transcended geographical boundaries, cultures, and social stratification? The recurring source is always the child of that mother, who is thought to be her son or daughter-in-law’s adversary; it is because of this child that agitation springs into being.
Understanding the source of the problem
Parents; more specifically, mothers are caregivers; who derive self-respect and personal worth from the responsibility of molding their child or children. This responsibility is executed with the very best of intentions; as mothers are often fueled by a pre-set yearning to love, protect and watch their child become. The dependence of a child upon his mother; though impermanent; contrived only for childhood, is her source of satisfaction; one such satisfaction she finds difficult to part with; so much that she neglects to prepare her child and herself for imminent independence, and later spousal interdependence, fearing her loss of relevance and value.
In many cases, the mother may be a single parent or may have had failed relationships of her own. Knowingly or unknowingly, she emotionalizes her son or daughter and imposes a sense of obligation; a social force that binds the child to loyalty in a most elusive manner. As such, when that child develops into adulthood and pursues independence and love, the pain of disloyalty and loss is self-inflicted upon that parent whose expectations paid no adherence to the principles of human growth and development.
Misconceptions of mothers
The belief that a mother will always be number one in her son’s or daughter’s life is a misconception that needs to be corrected. Mothers must understand that much like their predisposition to love and care is a natural development; stimulated by conception, so is their child’s need for independence and a more intimate emotional bond; which also is a pre-set condition stimulated by development. The level of intimacy your child seeks; is one you cannot fulfill, and thus need not be compared or feared, but understood and respected. It is therefore selfish and counterproductive to challenge your child’s loyalty to you by making him/her choose between you, and his or her spouse or partner. Rest assured that such actions will only get you one of the following results:
1. Your son or daughter may harbor feelings of indignation regarding your actions; which will be viewed as a lack of respect and regard for his or her choices, as well as his or her spouse/partner. The result of this perception will be a deliberate effort to remove themselves from you; as you will be thought of as being an avertible source of conflict. You may even find yourself being placed in the ever-widening brackets of “poisonous mothers-in-law”. Ultimately, you will have singlehandedly given life and shape to your fears.
2. Your son or daughter will perhaps appease your expectations, but you will be far removed from the ability to show unselfish concern for the welfare of your child, and may even be blamed and resented for their foreseeable unhappiness. Most certainly, you will have succeeded in retarding your child’s development; and this will yield a ripple effect of difficulties; that will undermine your objective; still causing you to lose the respect and in some cases, the love of that adult.
Finding a healthy balance
Motherhood is an integral part of a relay race that has two legs or stages. In this race, the mother and her son or daughter-in-law are all part of the same team; each running their own leg. To complete this race, the mother must pass the baton to her son or daughter-in-law at the exchange zone; that being adulthood. Meaning and purpose do not end for any parent in this zone; in fact, the opposite is true. It is here that the greatest satisfaction may be had; as the parent gets a firsthand view of how well they have prepared the child once entrusted in their care, to face the rest of the world; making sound choices; opening new doors, and creating new adventures, many of which she will likely be a part of. This satisfaction can, and will only be realized if the mother resolves to no longer compete with her son or daughter-in-law for the attention of the adult most dear to them both. By sharing their joy, she can only win and be guaranteed a place in their hearts and lives; this of course means:
1. Understanding and respecting boundaries that now protect the sacredness of your child’s marriage or partnership. You no longer have free reign in your child’s life; the baton has been passed, and you can now let go of the mental and emotional anguish and watch the fruit of your labor bloom. It is critical that in the second leg of the race, your child is given enough room to grow, share and develop a new level of intimacy with his other half; there is an overflow of joy that only such a partnership is meant to arouse. It is a fact that his or her loyalty will shift focus, but understand this is nature’s design.
2. Speaking well of your son’s or daughter’s spouse or partner, and supporting him or her with unbiased love and integrity. This means making every effort to recognize and value the strengths of your son or daughter-in-law, and how well these strengths aid your child’s development. Do not draw comparisons or look for faults, otherwise, that will be all you see, and this will create a deliberately deceptive belief that your intervention is needed; when all that is truly needed is room for self-discovery and mastery of the skill of interdependence.
3. If for some reason, you think that your child is unhappy or mistreated in his or her relationship, it is wise to direct him or her to therapy and other sources that will best serve the situation; especially if you are still hopeful that he or she will one day return home to that warmth you wish to provide. You may still have struggles letting go and this may render you capable of sabotaging every effort to make your son or daughter independent of you.
4. Understand that your relationship with your son or daughter will never be healthy if you lack the disposition to be humble and respectful of his or her partner. In marriage, two unique individuals become one; they are like-minded; having bonded in heart and mind; a level of intimacy that is profound; surpassing understanding. Standing, therefore, against one, puts you against the other; you cannot isolate one from the other; as this bond is not meant to be put asunder by any force of power. The same respect must be given to relationships or partnerships leading to marriage. If your actions are viewed as a threat to this sacred bond, every measure will be taken to remove any threats; you are by no means excluded from this.
Changes are never always easy to embrace, but they are a necessary part of life. Moreover, relationships may not always be smooth, but they can be revived and nourished. One, therefore, has to be willing to put in the work required to salvage and nourish ailing relationships. Despite the nature of the challenges experienced in many relationships; communication, honesty, respect, and love are certainly the fundamental tools for building all relationships.