The relationship you have with your mother-in-law is an important one. After all, she is the mother of your spouse, the grandmother of your children. She is likely a keeper of memories, a reciter of family lore, a guiding presence in your life, and, well, maybe, a finger wager and eye roller who may be infuriating at times but wants you to do better. No, your mother-in-law is likely not perfect, but then again neither are you. But it’s in your best interest to look beyond that and try make the relationship as sound as possible. There’s the fact that, per some surveys, husbands who get along with their in-laws have a 20-percent greater chance of avoiding divorce than those who don’t. Then there’s also the fact that, well, she’s your partner’s mother and trying to be kind and understanding and generous with her is a showing of respect and love to your partner.
And, hey, there’s probably something you can do a bit better to make the relationship stronger. To offer some suggestions, we spoke to a group of mothers-in-law — none of whom were shy about expressing what they wish their sons-in-law would do less. Their wishes didn’t stem from some nefarious desire for control. Instead, they simply want what’s best for their grandkids, their daughters and, yes, their sons-in-law. We hope their words of wisdom provoke you to think about what you could do better for your own mother in-law. Here’s what they had to say.
I Really Wish He Wouldn’t Smoke
“My husband — my son-in-law’s wife’s father — died of lung cancer before the two of them met. He was a smoker. Losing him was the greatest pain I think I’ve ever felt, and it kills me to think of my daughter going through that because her husband won’t quit smoking. He says he’s tried, and used the patch, and all that stuff, but he still smokes at least half a pack a day. My husband smoked way more than that, but it’s like come on – how can you not know what that’s doing to your body, and to the people who love you? My daughter seems to have made peace with it, which worries me too because she’s inhaling all of his second-hand bullshit whenever they’re together. It’s so upsetting.” – Khristine, 65, Ohio
I Wish He Wouldn’t Complain So Much
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone complain as much as my son-in-law. It’s not directed at me, or any one person, really. But it’s like every other sentence out of his mouth is something negative. ‘Ugh, I hate this weather.’ ‘Ugh, I hate my job.’ ‘Ugh, I have the worst headache.’ I have to consciously zone out a lot of the time because he’s such a Debbie Downer. I think I’m more sensitive to it than anyone, only because we don’t see each other that often. But when we do, there’s always something wrong, or something to complain about. I keep my mouth shut, but man is it exhausting.” – Kelly, 61, Florida
I Wish He Wouldn’t Try to Fix Things
“He’s not good at it, but he thinks he is. And they’re newlyweds, so my daughter doesn’t quite have the heart to tell him yet. A while ago, he tried to fix their bathroom sink and flooded the basement. They had to call a plumber, get the carpet dried out, and redo some drywall, I think. It ended up costing ridiculously more than it would’ve cost just to hire someone in the first place. I’m not sure if it’s pride, or stupidity, or both, but he needs to know his limits. He’s a wonderful man, and a fantastic husband. But he’s not Bob Vila.” – Rachel, 59, North Carolina
I Wish He Wouldn’t Fear Me
“My son-in-law is once-divorced, and his ex-mother-in-law really did a number on him. I think he has legitimate PTSD from her constant criticism and meddling in the marriage, and he thinks I’m going to be the same way. I don’t blame him, I suppose. Everything I hear about her from my daughter makes her sound like an absolutely psychotic bitch. I just wish he knew that all of us (mothers-in-law) aren’t like that! I love him. I want to help him and my daughter raise a happy, healthy family. I want to be his friend. I guess it’ll just take some time to let him come around, which I really hope he does.” – Leigh, 60, California
I Wish He Wouldn’t Work So Much
“My son-in-law is a lawyer, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him put in less than an 11-hour day. He and my daughter both work, so I take care of their son during the day. She comes home around five, and it’s always, ‘Yeah, he had to work late tonight.’ I don’t think he’s being deceptive or anything like that, I just think he’s too wrapped up in his career. I’ve seen my grandson take his first steps. I’ve heard him start to talk. There are many weeks where I spend more time with him than his father does. My son-in-law has provided my daughter and grandson with a beautiful home, financial safety, and all those bells and whistles. But he’s going to regret how much he’s missing, and that makes me sad for him.” – Hallie, 57, Texas
I Wish He Wouldn’t Be Such a Martyr All The Time
“Almost every time something needs to be done — feeding or walking the dogs, making dinner, or cleaning up after the dinner he just made — my son-in-law makes a production out of it. It’s really obnoxious. We’ll just be sitting around talking, and he’ll say something like, ‘Well, I guess this laundry isn’t gonna do itself!’ Then he’ll move onto the next thing. And the next. And the next. And it’s like — there’s no reason any of this stuff has to be done right now. He and my daughter live far away, so I’ve only actually met and interacted with him a dozen times, or so. I don’t know if he’s like that all the time, or if he just does it for show. Whatever the case, it’s really annoying when we’re just trying to enjoy each other’s company.” – Chelsea, 59, Michigan
I Wish He Wouldn’t Doubt Himself
“My son-in-law struggles with severe depression and anxiety, and it breaks my heart. He’s such a good man. He’s caring, kind, intelligent, well-spoken and creative. You’d never assume he was dealing with depression and anxiety. But my daughter tells me that it eats away at him, especially his self-confidence. He passes it off as humility, and tries to be humble all the time. But I know he thinks very little of himself. His mental illness isn’t something I’m qualified to comment on beyond that, and I was happy to hear that he and my daughter brought up the possibility of therapy. I pray every night for him to find some peace.” – Val, 64, Georgia
I Wish He Wouldn’t Text and Drive
“He denies it. Even when he’s doing it right in front of us. ‘Oh, I thought I heard it ring. I was just checking it.’ Yeah, right. I’m not innocent, here. I’ve made a conscious effort to cut back on being a distracted driver. You know why? Because I became a grandma last year. So every time I think of him doing it or, worse, catch him doing it, I just want to scream, ‘You moron! You might not care about yourself, or other drivers, but you have my fucking grandkids in the car. Stop it!” – Caroline, 63, Nevada
I Wish He Wouldn’t Spit
“I don’t know why my son-in-law spits so much. Every time we’re outside, he’ll cock his head to the side and just spit on the ground. What is that? It’s not like he’s congested. No loogie. He just spits. It’s disgusting. It’s not exactly offensive, but it’s gross and unnecessary. It’s just a bad habit – in my opinion – I guess. My daughter doesn’t seem to mind. Neither does my husband. So I’ve just gotta bite my tongue and get over it. I suppose I’m pretty lucky, all things considered. There could be plenty worse things to dislike about your son-in-law.” – Carolyn, 60, New York
I Wish He Wouldn’t Mansplain
“I’m so glad there’s a term for this now, because I’ve been dealing with it all my life. And my son-in-law does it. Not a lot, but every now and then there’s just a cringeworthy instance where he’ll talk to me like I’m an idiot. Especially about sports, mainly football. I grew up a diehard Cleveland Browns fan. The Browns, okay? You have to know about sports to be able to sit through a Browns game. He tried to explain what an audible was one time. Another time I think he tried to explain offsides vs. false starts — he was wrong, by the way — and it’s just like, ‘Kid, enough. I’ve been watching this game longer than you’ve been alive.’” – Marie, 68, Ohio
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