Marriage and Family — 26 May 2013
Turn your daughter-in-law into a daughter-in-love

Mothers-in-law have been the butt of many jokes and unkind depictions. Mark Twain summarized the common disdain for mothers-in-law quite succinctly, “Adam was the luckiest man; he had no mother-in-law.” Yet, the relationship between mothers-in-law and their daughters-in-law can become uniquely beneficial and blissful and can enhance everyone in the family, if the relationship is handled well.

The onus of creating this positive connection lies in the hands of mothers-in-law. Being the senior women who loved, cared for and modeled female nurturing for their sons, they should feel privileged to transfer these tasks to their sons’ wives. A poor transition creates ill feelings between the wives and mothers and leads to negative feelings between them.

In “Mothers-in-law and Daughters-in-law: Friendship at an Impasse” Terri Apter of the University of Cambridge reports, “My results were not very different from Evelyn Duval’s 1954 study in which only one in four women said that they liked their mother-in-law as a person. Complaints by the daughter-in-law centered around the mother-in-law’s failure of recognition or validation of aspects of their identity they themselves valued highly.”

Dr. Apter summarized, “The mother-in-law/daughter-in-law impasse is a tragedy, dividing women who have much in common, and who could benefit from one another’s friendship. It causes great unhappiness to mothers-in-law, who feel that their overtures of friendship are rebuffed, and who fear their connection with their son and grandchildren may be threatened by the daughter’s-in-law hostility. It causes distress to the daughter-in-law, who feels judged and pressured, particularly on matters involving her role as a woman in the family.”

Dr. Estelle Phillips, a psychologist who conducted a study of the species, noted that current, modern, more aware and younger mothers-in-law do not get along any better with their daughters-in-law than did previous generations. She states, “You would think the similarities between them would bring them closer together, but in fact the opposite is true. Role boundaries were much clearer two generations ago – now they are more blurred. There may be a subconscious rivalry.”

The complex relationship between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law is understandable as both women attempt to carve their place in the son’s/husband’s heart. Some well-intentioned efforts or misguided ones can cause grave emotional damage to both women.As Terri Apter’s research documented, when daughters-in-law became distanced from their mothers-in-law, it was often because they felt disliked, judged, invalidated and unappreciated.

My personal experience with three daughters-in-law taught me that acceptance, appreciation and welcoming thoughts and feelings from the start helped our sons feel comfortable with their choices and led us to develop a close and loving connection with our daughters-in-love


¨     Accept that the woman your son selected is not your replacement but an enhancement to your son and family.

¨     Validate her positive attributes, accept her choices and ways and be grateful for her love of your son.

¨     Welcome your daughter-in-law with open heart and embracing arms. Acceptance will create the treasured daughter-in-love you deserve to have.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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