My mother-in-law hated me. I was politically liberal, big-mouthed, and other things too in-depth to list. But most importantly, I took her son. My ex-husband and I fought constantly about my relationship with my MIL. It caused us to break up once before we got married, and it was one of the huge bones of contention in our slowly deteriorating marriage. Every time she was in my presence or right before I saw her, I would have panic attacks. I felt small in her presence, and it felt awful. But then one day . . . I gave him back.
When we announced our divorce, slowly but surely, the contention between us seemed to lift. I never could have believed this would happen! And although we're not BFFs, things got even better when my ex-husband and I started to coparent. My ex in-laws help out a ton with our daughter and make all three of our lives much easier. My ex-MIL is nicer to me now, and I am as well in turn. I frequently tell her, "Thank you for all that you do." I try to show my appreciation for both my ex-MIL and ex-FIL so that they know I know how much they do as grandparents for our kid.
The fact that we get along now is monumental. There were many holidays I did not see my in-laws. There were months that I did not talk to my MIL. Let's not forget the big blowouts and cold wars we had. It wasn't a fun time. While there were many hurtful things said and done to me, there were times I should have let it go. There were times I should have closed my mouth. But since it's over, I'd love to share suggestions on how to make friends with your MIL, because the fact is you don't just marry the man, you marry the family.
What Are Her Hobbies?
Find out what your MIL loves to do. If she loves to cook or garden, ask her to show you some tips. She'll be flattered or, at the very least, interested in your sudden show of attention. Invite her over or ask her if you can come by for an afternoon or evening to show you her favorite things, no matter how obscure. If you're on good terms with your MIL, this should be easy to do and can deepen your relationship with her. If you're on bad terms, this could be a peace offering of sorts. Will it be awkward, though? Most likely yes, but since you're both "in it together," it's worth trying, even if you hate knitting and that's her favorite pastime. If things are absolutely horrific between you two, why not email her some questions about her hobbies? Perhaps ask her to share her favorite recipes or even share yours. At least it won't be face to face, but it's still a sign of effort on your half.
Tell Me a Story
There's no better way to get to know someone than to get that person talking about herself. Ask her to tell you about her own parents or perhaps how she felt when she was a young mother. If she's a working lady or was, ask her questions about her job: how she made it in her career or what got her started in her industry. Your MIL may give you unwanted advice from time to time (or perhaps all the time), but you'll learn a lot from letting her talk about herself, rather than your children or your marriage. It takes the heat off those topics. Not only that, but it will also make her feel good that you want to hear about her. If she's too much of a Chatty Cathy, build in an excuse ahead of time like, "I have two hours free this evening. Can I come by? Afterward I need to make lunches, etc."
Sometimes your MIL will say little things that annoy you. She may recommend you do X with your kid . . . every single time you see her. What you need is strategy — and silence. Pick the battles you must absolutely fight with her, and stay quiet on the other little "comments" she might make. She's going to be who she is, and you're going to be who you are. End of story. Let some stuff roll off your back, or you're in for a lifetime of hell, and trust me — this will affect your marriage.
Ladies' Day Out
Make her feel special and invite your MIL out! Even if you two have never done anything alone together or if you always do stuff together, leave the kids and husband home and head out for an LDO! Even if it's just for coffee or perhaps to do some gift shopping together, making the effort to say, "Hey, I would like to spend time with you," is a real classy thing to do. I know that for some people this sounds about as fun as getting a Brazilian bikini wax, but a little effort can go a long way.
Tell Me About Him
Your MIL was most likely the first person to hold your partner as a baby. Give her a call, text, or email saying, "You know my husband never tells me about his time in Little League, or Boy Scouts, etc. Can you share some stories with me?" Think about this: how excited do you get when you recount stories about your children? You're extending the same joy and opportunity to her. This is an easy one to do.
Don't Battle With Her
If you have a great relationship with your MIL, you can probably comfortably disagree with her. If, however, you have a bad relationship with her, don't fight with her, period. If she does something awful that must be addressed, speak to your partner about it and have him talk to her. I recognize that your hubby may not like doing this, but if the relationship is that strained like mine was, it's better for him to deliver the message, not you. At the end of the day, your husband should back you up . . . and if it's a small issue, make it a nonissue. Some fights aren't worth fighting.
Ask For Help
People like to feel needed. When a problem arises, even if it's a small blunder, ask for her help and advice, especially if she's one who likes to offer her opinions. This will make her feel needed and valued by you, and this can open the door for a solid friendship.
Tale of Two Women
No matter what, even if your MIL is a she-devil or a saint, take the high road, try your best, and let the little stuff roll off your back. If she's really toxic, nothing may work, but at least you will be able to feel good about who you are as a wife. And remember: this is your partner's mom. She's irreplaceable. Try to make life with her a bit more livable.