Mother In Law Friend or Foe?

Ah, to be newlywed. It’s fun and exciting, and even if the two of you have known each other for years, there seems to be a certain freshness in your relationship.

Because now it’s official. Now it’s just the two of you, from here to eternity.


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Enter: your new mother-in-law.

If you just cringed, you are definitely not alone. It’s the Pavlovian Response felt the world over: mother-in-law equals absolutely no fun.

Think about it: characters like Jane Fonda’s in Monster in Law and Endora from Bewitched exploit the image of MiLs as overbearing saboteurs who will do anything to make you run crying back to where you belong (the arms of your own mommy).

And it goes further. When you type “mother in law” into Amazon’s book search, how many of the first 12 books are self-help guides to avoid strangling your mother-in-law? 11.

And further still: the Old Testament quotes “For a son dishonors his father, a daughter rises up against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law…” (Micah 7:6).

The battle between newlyweds and mothers is a tale as old as time – how does anyone not dread Thanksgiving with the in-laws?

The Friendly Monster

But, for those of you sans-MiL who are nodding as you read this, thinking, “Yup. That’s exactly how I imagine having a mother-in-law must be,” I am here to tell you you’re wrong. Not to rub it in, but, in a lot of ways, you’re really missing out.

Full disclosure: I have a fantastic mother-in-law. She’s great. She’s nice, and she is considerate, and she helps with the dishes when we have big family dinners, but she has never once tried to vacuum my living room carpet or taken it upon herself to clean my guest bathroom (a common stereotype of “evil mothers-in-law,” or so I have discovered). These kinds of behaviors are usually the result of a lack of healthy boundaries between you and your in-laws.

A lot of my friends have great mothers-in-law too. Is it a generational thing?

I hear my boss at work grumble about his MiL flying in from Connecticut. I remember my own mother gritting her teeth when Grandma came to town and brought her own towel because “she just didn’t like” the ones we had.

But all my newly-married friends love having their mothers-in-law visit: they go out to lunch, go shopping, talk about books and movies. It’s like getting a new friend who just happens to be older, wiser, and a much better cook.

Is it just me, or are mothers-in-law actually…kind of cool?

8 Great Things Come Along with a Mother in Law

  1. Your spouse. I’m serious. She was 50% responsible for producing the love of your life.
  2. The inside scoop on all your spouse’s high school boyfriends and girlfriends – along with the affirmation that you are way better.
  3. The source of all your spouse’s favorite dishes and comfort foods. And she’ll teach you, too!
  4. Another point of view from someone who is older, wiser, and has already dealt with any hitches and roadblocks you are facing as a married couple.
  5. A perma-babysitter if and when you have kids.
  6. An excuse to get your partner to finally clean the kitchen floor: “But honey, your mother is coming!”
  7. Insight into why your spouse is the way he or she is. Face it: she’s known that person longer than you.
  8. Someone who is constantly concerned if you’ve had enough to eat, are warm enough, and if you had a good night’s sleep. It sounds overwhelming – but it’s actually really nice.

Let’s Hear it for the Moms

The awesome trend of mothers-in-law who are friends and not foes is the best thing that ever happened to the newlyweds of the world. Pro-MiL campaigns, like Mother in Law of the Month, are increasingly popular and I hope finally breaking that monstrous stereotype.

Can you imagine a Hollywood with no more mom-in-law drama to draw from? It sounds nearly too good to be true.

Do you have any good mother-in-law experiences to share in the comments?

(photo source)


About the author: Rachel Smith is young and freshly married. She writes for Storkie Express, the online stationery store with some of the coolest wedding invitations, graduation invitations, and baby shower invitations she’s ever seen.


About the author 


Dustin Riechmann created Engaged Marriage to help other married couples live a life they love (especially) when they feel too busy to make it happen. He has many passions, including sharing ways to enjoy an awesome marriage in 15 minutes a day, but his heart belongs with his wife Bethany and their three young kids.

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  1. I love #5 – My Mother-in-law babysits for our date night almost every week. Sometimes she calls us and tells us she is coming over so we can go on a date, its great!

  2. I don’t know if this is true of other couples, but anytime my husband and I are having a friendly disagreement/teasing each other about something in front of my mother, she tends to side with my husband. Similarly, my mother-in-law tends to stick up for me over her son. I’m only speaking of silly banter; obviously it’s a poor idea to have an actual argument in front of your parents/involve them.

    1. Thanks, Wendy. Personally, I think Jason’s Mom just likes to yank his chain. She’s just too sweet on the surface, so there has to be a bit of a diabolical side under there somewhere. πŸ™‚

      1. I think by the time I came along, Jason’s mom was just tired of not having any daughters and constantly being teased by her sons/husband. Now she has a woman ally. πŸ™‚

  3. I love my mother in law! She is cool in so many ways….patient, kind, cooks, babysits and is just a great person. Although I do feel for my wife, my Mom is almost the complete opposite…..I guess its good she lives completely across the country.

  4. My mother-in-law just recently passed away. She was a lovely woman. She minded her own business and was a delight. She cooked, babysat for my husband’s children and was very easy to be around. I miss her and am sad that my husband lost the first woman he ever loved. My Mom is still alive – thank God, and she and my husband have a wonderful relationship. They are members of the mutual admiration society! πŸ™‚

  5. i do think its a generational thing as todays young couples are much more in touch with each others parents. technology has allowed everyone to stay close, and cheap transportation means you can see your MIL much more often than your parents could see theirs. i do hope that this stereotype slowly will fade away, but i do have to admit some of the jokes you hear about MIL can definitely put a smile on my face =)

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    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Stephan. I have to agree that the views and change in those views sure seems generational. Almost everyone I know actually like their mother-in-law pretty well!

  6. While I have friends with wonderful mother-in-laws, mine is from the first bunch described. When my husband cheated, she told me that as long as he came back to me he could do what he wanted.

    When I mentioned getting a work-at-home offer just based off of my personality and intellect (ie- I hadn’t even applied) she told me that it’s about time I contributed to the family.

    Because the homeschooling, church volunteering, bill paying, yard working…and so on obviously *isn’t* contributing to the family, right?

    I pray more people will find blessings in their MILs and I will try to glean what positivity from this article that I can as it is nice to see someone trying to see on the bright side of MILs.

    1. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences, Jem. It certainly sounds like you have your hands full with your mother-in-law, and I admire the grace you seem to have around a difficult situation.

  7. I would love to have my mother-In-law as a friend. My colleagues have daughters in law they claim to not like but still have extended phone conversations and lunches with each other. Mine just ignores me pretty much. Sometimes I think it’s my imagination but when I tell people they tell me it’s not.
    People I know that know her tell me how lucky I am to have her but so far I’m not getting that vibe. She once said she didn’t know why her son just didn’t marry the girl he went out with on high school.
    I pray that the relationship changes into something more positive and that maybe we are still trying to work out our new roles with each other. But any attempt I make just leaves me feeling rejected

    1. Thanks for sharing, Mary. It’s really interesting to hear all of the different experiences and perspectives that you all have with your MIL’s. I’m sorry that yours hasn’t been too great so far!

  8. Very sweet article. I am glad to hear the author and so many readers have positive relationships with their in-laws. It it nice to know there is a movement to get rid of the negative stereotype.

    It might be interesting as a follow up article to provide some advice to those who many be dealing with difficult relatives. I read a pretty good book recently called “Thank You for Being Such a Pain: Spiritual Guidance for Dealing with Difficult People”. It had a unique take on the problem – exploring what God/The Universe/Higher Power (whatever works for you) might be trying to teach you from this experience and some practical advice for dealing with these individuals.

    1. Thanks so much for the great thoughts and book recommendation, Elizabeth. I’ll see what I can do to post a follow-up on dealing with difficult relatives.

  9. I have to say that I was really excited when I read the title of this post, but then when I read the content I was a little let down. I was hoping for a little more insight because this is an issue that is very real for me and very tough to navigate. The two MiL archetypes described here are polar opposites – the traditional sharp-tongued Mother in Law and then the nouveau BFF Mother in Law. Well, mine is neither. She is a nice enough lady, but we are on completely different wavelengths and from completely different planets and we rarely see eye to eye. In no way are we adversarial, but we just have absolutely zero connection and little in common except for my husband. These differences have become even more pronounced since Hudson was born. Most of our interactions are plain old awkward and my strategy as of late has consisted of a combination of avoidance and silently counting to ten in my head while fake smiling. It’s a difficult subject for Micah and I to talk about, but we do (we’re great communicators – wait while I pat myself on the back). He understands that we are very different people and he wants us to get along. And we do “get along”, but that’s it. We’re awkwardly civil. We’ll never be BFF and maybe that’s OK, but right now I’m just looking for a way to make that relationship a little more comfortable.

    1. Sorry for the letdown, Kate! I can actually relate closely to what you are saying. While my mother-in-law is pretty great (as you know), my own mother can be tough to get close to so Bethany finds herself in a similar situation as you. I’m not sure what we can do about it other than roll with it and be thankful that it’s not a real negative relationship. πŸ™‚

      1. I hadn’t realized that Bethany was in a similar situation – I’ll have to talk to her sometime and see if she can give me some pointers or at least a sympathetic ear. It’s not that the two of us get along poorly – it just that we really don’t connect on much. We are SO different.

        I do like Rachel’s advice to ask her opinion on things and try to include her more. Even though I may disagree with her opinion, surely it will make her feel valued if I ask.

    2. Hey Kate, Rachel here. It is interesting when you fall into a category that no one seems to pay much attention to — such as you and your lack of MIL extremes. What happens when things are just sort of so-so?

      Have you ever thought about going out of your way to really open yourself up to your mother-in-law? It can be a little tough sometimes, especially if you feel like you’re doing all the work and she is contributing little – or none. It took my own mother over two decades to finally get to a comfortable, friendly place with her mother-in-law, even if they will never be BFF. But she has made a huge effort during my life to include my Grandma, ask her opinion (even if she doesn’t agree), and try to get involved in one or two things my Grandma is interested in.

      Take a look at the 8 Things You Can Do to Make Your Mother-in-Law Feel Special at the end of Storkie’s own blog post linked to above. There are some great ideas there that could help you begin breaking down that awkward barrier between you and MIL. Let us know how it goes!

  10. I must say that I am another who happens to have a pretty good mother in law. She and I get along pretty well. She is very helpful and we often share laughs from time to time. I guess I didn’t go into it with the whole “nightmare MIL” stigma, so I didn’t expect any drama, so I didn’t receive any. I am able to be honest with her so she doesn’t overstep her bounds. And that’s stuff that gets settle at the very beginning of the marriage.

    1. Thanks for sharing, David. I agree that a positive attitude can really help foster a good relationship with your in-laws…although I’m sure those with true “monster-in-laws” would probably not see it that way. πŸ˜‰

  11. I have to say, in my dating years I was SO afraid of the future MIL! Those fears were confirmed when I experienced a broken engagement that was partly fueled by a dysfunctional MIL-to-be. I spent the first 2 years of dating my Fiance leery of his mom (much to his annoyance). But now that we’re engaged I can see he was right all along… his mom IS great! And she totally “gets” all the important stuff like boundaries and respect while managing to forge a warm relationship with me. Maybe MIL’s are wising up after having their own tough experiences? I feel so blessed to have TWO great moms now… my own and my MIL.

    1. Sarah, that’s a really heartwarming testimonial. I’m so glad to hear that your relationship with your mother-in-law is so great!

  12. Well, I’ve been married nearly two years, and met my mother-in-law once…she and my husband’s whole family live in Ukraine. I met her for the first time (minus skype dates) a year after we were married. She speaks only Russian, but we got along so well! She taught me how to cook all my husband’s favorite Ukrainian dishes which has come in SO handy, and we got along really well using mostly hand signs and facial expressions:)She is the ideal mom going out of her way for her family, and we really hope she’ll be able to stay with us for a while when we have our first child (we’ll have to work on our communication a bit better for that!)All-in-all, I wish she was here…but we have MY mom a short plane ride away, and she’s MORE than enough MIL for us πŸ˜‰

    1. That’s a really cool story, Esther. What a unique situation having a mother-in-law in a different country that doesn’t even speak the language as you. It’s great that you hit it off!

  13. Pingback: First Comes Love, Then Marriage, Then the Mother In Law! | Best Relationships
  14. I’ve been married for 35 years and absolutely adore my mother-in-law. I feel that I have been blessed with two moms. Now that two of my children are married, I’ve tried to ‘pay it forward’. One of which sent me the link to this article!! I outlawed the word ‘in-law’ and now have a larger immediate family. Well, actually, we have expanded even more…three grandbabies, too!! We are family and nothing is more important than family!!!

  15. I see my in-laws more than I see my parents – they live in the same city (half an hour away only, and only one bus route, so if we don’t want to walk it’s even faster). My parents live over an hour away (1.5 by bus, 2 by train). I get along with my mother-in-law fairly well, but I can empathize with Kate. My mother-in-law is a nice enough person, but sometimes she drives me crazy. She can be a very intense person, and she’s one of those people who gives you their full attention when you’re talking. If you don’t understand how that can be bad, you’ve never talked one-on-one with someone like that when you’re already tired. She’s very compassionate, and cares about how I’m doing. To the point where once, when I was freaking out from having spent so much time around people (social anxiety, I try to hide it when possible from politeness), she was very attentive and commented that “oh, you seem to be having a hard time, are you ok? You look tired.” I was too far gone to explain that no, I’m not ok, you asking about it is making it worse.

    My mother is very glad that my mother-in-law respects boundaries though. Both my grandmothers have boundary issues, and it’s not safe to leave them in the house, because they’ll start cleaning stuff (and when the magnets get moved to by the computer, or the marble rolling pin to the edge of the drawer, or the paper towels to next to the compost, it’s not cleaning, it’s breaking). They also have a habit of being overly lavish with gifts. My mother-in-law, however, is married to a pastor and the both of them took several courses in how to have healthy relationships, so if I tell her that I would rather she not do something she’ll respect it, and she never cleans without an invitation (she might offer if it was really bad and I was really busy, but that’s it).

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