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Beverly Goldsmith Beverly Goldsmith
Zoe Bingley-Pullin Zoe Bingley-Pullin

How to get on with your mother-in-law:

Strategies for getting closer to the 'other woman' in your partner's life.
By Sue Evans
Date: May 08 2015
Editor Rating:

How do you get on with the ‘other woman’ in your partner’s life? Your mother-in-law. If it’s anything like me, it can take a while.

I always knew I wasn’t quite what she had hoped for because my husband is from another culture and another religion and my mother-in-law would have preferred him to marry into the same culture. Considering my husband is the eldest son of five, it says something about him that he stuck with me because it’s not as if we were married recently - but 40 years ago. Over the years until her death a few years ago, we developed a warm and respectful relationship. 

Since then, I’ve become a mother-in-law myself and it is a different relationship – especially when your son’s wife has children, as opposed to your own daughter having children. I’ve gathered a bit of experience; I’ve had some ‘hits and misses’; I’ve done some things right and some things not-so-right.

So for what it’s worth, here are my top six tips for getting on with the first woman who was important in your partner’s life – and always will be.

1.  Get her to teach you something

I’ve become a very good cook of food from my husband’s culture. I am better than my sisters-in-law (his sisters) because I took the opportunity to learn from my mother-in-law. Every time we visited her, or she visited us, I would ask her to teach me something new. She not only enjoyed doing this, but I think she liked the fact that I was willing to learn. Today, I can whip up a feast as quickly as any good mama.

My own daughter-in-law has also asked me to show her this which is nice also.

2.  Ask her about her life before being your partner’s mum

My mother-in-law came here as a young woman in an arranged marriage to a man she had only seen once in her village as a teenager. Wow. Can you imagine doing that? It’s incredibly courageous. She had so many great stories – even just the tale of her journey was amazing, let alone what it was like when she saw her husband for the first time and what rural Australia was like in the 1930s.

3.  Speak the language

I failed at this. I am just terrible with languages. My excuse is that I was a maths teacher and I had four children in eight years! But if you can learn to speak the language if your mother-in-law has a first language other than English, it surely must help.

4.  Keep them involved

This is easy today because of social networks such as Facebook but if you live apart from your mother-in-law, make sure you keep her involved in your family’s life with photos, updates, how well little Isabel did at school and so forth.

5.  Do something unexpected

Try to build a relationship outside of the one you have with her because of your partner and your children. She’s not just a mum and grandmother, but also a woman who has been through life experiences too.

Something as simple as calling her for no other reason just to say hello and, if you live in proximity, have a coffee with her – without anyone else – might be a way of bonding.

6.  Baby time!

This can be a difficult one; but if your own mum is no longer here, your mother-in-law can be someone to turn to for help and advice when you have your own new baby.

I have always tried hard not to give any advice or opinion on bringing up a baby or children with either my own children or their partners – unless they ask. It’s important for parents to sort matters out for themselves and seek the opinions of others when they feel they need it. I cannot say this has always been easy for me, as I have brought up four children and I’ve also been a school teacher so I tend to think I am an expert! J But I don’t know it all.

However, if your mother-in-law does offer advice regularly, just listen. Don’t argue the point or tell her that her way is ‘stupid’ or ‘old-fashioned’ or ‘not how it happens now’.

Is 'mum' the word?

Finally, there's the issue of what to call your mother-in-law. I called mine 'Mum', because that's what my generation did.

One of my daughters has an ongoing battle with her mother-in-law who wants to be called 'Mum' by her, but my daughter doesn't wish to do so. This has to something with which all parties are comfortable. My own daughter-in-law and sons-in-law call me by my first name which is how they and I prefer it. 

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