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Confession of an ex Mother-In-Law: 10 tips to be a cool mother-in-law

husband in the middle

By Madam Ong

I have a 36 years old son who was married to Mandy (not her real name) for about 4 years, and they have a 2 years old daughter. My relationship with Mandy was courteous and fine until my grandchild was born.

It has been a year since Mandy wanted a divorce because she did not want to have anything with me. I felt hurt and was in denial for a year. I went for several counselling sessions.

Now I feel better and understood how I have indirectly contributed to their misery. I am sharing this now because I hope many can learn from my lessons, hopefully not too late, to have a mental shift of what it takes to be a mother-in-law.

The core of these 10 tips is to LET GO.

1. Stop living in the past

If your expectation is still stuck in 1970s or 1980s on how your daughter-in-law should be, you are in for big trouble. Do not use your own life as yardstick. What is acceptable in the past DOES NOT necessary work now. If you find yourself saying: “Last time my mother-in-law… and I…” to your son or daughter-in-law, you have not actually put the past behind.

2. They need bigger personal space

Before we get our own place, I used to live with my husband’s other 15 family members in a tiny HDB flat. Now, I also thought that we all should live together because we are a close-knit family. My biggest mistake was to insist that they should live with me since the first day they were married. My reasons were that they can save money; I can cook for them, do their laundry and etc. Of course my son loved the idea to stay in his comfort zone.

But Mandy wanted something different. She wanted privacy as a newly-wed couple; serving and bonding with her husband. When she brought this up, I thought that she wanted to pull him away from the family.

3. Leave and cleave

Yes, it is very painful. In fact, sometimes I was angry at Mandy that she is “the other woman” who snatched my son away. One day, I learned this from a wise friend, she said: “Marriage creates a new family and this new family must be a higher priority than their previous ones, because they need to leave their families and cleave to one another, joined in one flesh.”

And now, I became “the other woman” instead.

4. Stop demanding for your right

I admit that I am a matriarch, after being a full time housewife for almost 40 years. I am so used to having my way because I am THE MOTHER and THE GRANDMOTHER. I fought the right to name my grandchild (because my son is the eldest in the family) and to look after her.

That included planning for their wedding.

5. Stop being pitiful when they do not want to involve you in everything

Mandy preferred to plan and prepare for the wedding, on their own. I was upset because they did not want to involve me. They wanted a western-style buffet but I did not like the idea. My son went with my preference to have a Chinese sit-down dinner instead. That was the first big fight between them and they almost called off the wedding.

Retrospectively, I should have taken another stand. I will be there to support if they need my help. I should not feel victimised just because they choose to be on their own.

6. Respect the boundary

Do you watch Everybody Loves Raymond? If so, you will know what I mean to have free 24/7 access to your son’s house. They moved out after living with me for 2 years. I asked for a set of keys from my son to their new house so that I can go there anytime I want. I knew Mandy was uncomfortable with the arrangement.

It is all well if your children want to give you the key but even so, ask if it is convenient to drop by. They may have other plans or want to spend time with one another. If they do not want to give you the key, respect their decisions, too. After all, you are now the extended family member. You do not own keys to all the cousin’s and in-laws’ houses, right?

7. Stop babying your married children

I know we mothers care and love our children forever. We serve them and do everything for them. However, it is uncool to mother your almost 40-year-old son in front of the relatives, his wife and children. He is now the man of his household. He should be the respectable figure, not a mama-boy to his family. Yes, I am sure we meant well when we offer to wash their dishes, clothes, buying his socks and under garments. Don’t cross the line, it is their responsibility now to take care of their own living. You can offer help if they ask.

8. Respect their way in bringing up children

Sure, we are more experienced in bringing up children. Look at how successful they are now, right? Again, what worked in the past may not actually work for this generation now. Mandy and I got into so many heated arguments about her food, discipline matters and many other miscellaneous things. It affected their marriage very badly.

9. Speak to wise people

We love sympathy from our friends. Some friends tell you what you want to hear, not what you need to hear. It did not help when my friends kept affirming me that Mandy was a disrespectful, insecure and controlling woman. But a good and wise friend prompted me to reflect on my own actions, to see things from others’ perspectives and to let go of my expectation.

10. Enrich your life

I had expectation of how my life should be after my children are married but it did not turn out the way I wanted. I soon realised that I was going through empty nest syndrome. Think of it this way, now it is the best time to pursue your interest, spending time with spouse and friends. Go and volunteer in charitable causes and enriching your life through various means.

In short,  stop demanding, let go and you will be free.