We are over the moon thrilled that our son and his beautiful girlfriend announced their engagement. If you are a parent and have had this experience, you must know how special it is.
While we savor this exquisite moment in our lives, I have already started to ponder my new role as mother-in-law.
Of course I want to be the best mother-in-law possible, a Mother-in-Law Extraordinaire. But how? Being brand new to this long awaited-for role, I need advice. So I asked some of the midlife women from Midlife Boulevard for tips.
How does one become an awesome mother-in-law?
"Respect your son's choice. Love them both. Dance like a fool at the wedding," commented Elaine Ambrose.
"Don't give advice that's not asked for," cautioned Suzanne Fluhr of Boomeresque.
"Be their mother-in-law, not their mother," chimed in Shelley Zurek of Still Blond After All These Years.
"Include her in traditions and when they get married ask if she would like to be in charge of arranging said tradition in the future," noted Shelley Buffitt of Just Shelley. "Families can make or break a marriage....treat her as you would any of your adult children...with grace and respect."
Patricia Patton of Boomer Wizdom advised, "Keep your mouth closed, especially if you and your son were close-close." Patricia refers to her daughter-in-law as her "daughter-in-love, because I do want the best for them. I think it appropriately covers what we hope and pray for our sons -- someone who will love them as much as we shamelessly do."
Jacqueline Tierney DeMuro, who blogs at Ambling & Rambling, offered, "My mother-in-law -- who I loved dearly -- was very generous with her recipes! It was a great way to bond with her."
Warned Barbara Shallue of Long Hollow, a mother-in-law of one year, "Stay out of the way!"
Sage advice from Connie Ott of miscfinds4u: "Never say anything to your daughter-in-law that you wouldn't appreciate your mother-in-law saying to you."
Another wise suggestion from Estelle Sobel Erasmus of Musings on Motherhood & Midlife: "My advice is to try to understand and accept your child's choice."
Miriam Hendeles of Bubby Joys and Oys (oh do I love that name!) quoted Sarah C. Radcliffe, M.Ed C. Psych of Toronto, who maintains that the "ratio of positive feedback to negative needs to be 105:5 (as opposed to mother to young child per day is 80:20)." Miriam added, "May the mean mother- in-law stereotype be gone forever as we learn new ways to interact with our couples."
Amen to that!
Lynne Cobb of Mid-Life Random Ramblings agreed. "I swore I would not be the stereotypical mother-in-law," she declared. "That promise was as much for my children as it was for me."
What about giving advice? Elaine Plummer from ElaineR.N. said, "Don't give advice unless specifically asked and always watch the kids when asked."
I hope that my relationship with my new daughter-in-law will be as loving as that of Cathy Chester and her mother-in-law. Cathy, who blogs at An Empowered Spirit, said, "My mother-in-law is a friend and a mentor. She never judges or discourages me, and is always supportive of everything I've done. She's a good listener, and calls me whenever something is up. I think that's why I'm crazy about her. I miss her -- it's been a year since we've seen them in Florida. P.S. She's also an excellent grandmother!"
Commented Kim Jorgensen Gane of Gane Insight, "The bottom lines are respect, trust, and, above all, love. We have to be adults, set aside our own egos, and trust, respect, and love our grown children in their choices." She added, "Trust our children to make good choices, and if they don't, trust that they will handle it the way that is best for them/their children. We should always use our powers for good."
Enthusiastic mother-in-law Joan Bickley Stommen of Gramcracker Crumbs said, "I love my daughter-in-law! We got on really well from the get go. We love to chat over coffee or wine. She has brought so much joy to all of us. I always call her my daughter."
Show gratitude, urged Lucia Paul of Dysfunctional Scrapbooking. "Be vocal about how lucky he/she is to marry your child AND also be very vocal about how lucky your child is to be marrying him/her."
What advice would you give me about being an awesome mother-in-law?
Gone is the detritus of your children's lives scattered here and there, carelessly flung about and forgotten. Your bathroom towels will stay hung neatly on their bars, the dishes are placed in the dishwasher instead of left to sit next to the sink. Beds remain made, floors remain clean, clothes are neatly put away. Mystery spills vanish, and you never wake up to a mess. Who knew it could be like this?
Some couples decide that it's time to separate and move on, others remember why it was they fell in love in the first place -- or find new reasons and ways to connect to each other. Without your kids, you become each other's only companion when you're at home. It can't be overstated how much of a distraction our kids are while they are growing up. This is probably the most jolting part of the empty nest -- when you look at each other and think, "Oh wow, it's just us now." For better or worse, it will happen.
No longer are you waiting for the sound of a key in the door, or the porch light to be turned off upon your children's safe return from another night out. No longer are you part of the day-to-day ups and downs of your children's lives ... no matter how often they may text/call/email/facebook message/tweet you. Their mental and physical well-being, though still hugely important to you, are their responsibilities now, and you no longer have the minutiae of their daily lives to think about like you did when they lived at home.
If your kids are in college, or even if they're not, you may still be paying for them to eat. But it's nice to go to the grocery store and come home with the things you want, and not have to buy all the things they want, things that you really don't want in your house.
Initially, this may be disturbing or difficult for you to deal with. You may want to do things you've missed -- museums, movies, theater, travel or you may not want to do much of anything at all. Whatever your thing is, there's now time to do it ... a lot of time.
No longer do you have to socialize with other parents because of your children's connections. No more booster club barbecues or committee meetings, making small talk with people you most likely never would have crossed paths with if it weren't for the fact that your children were on the same team/in the same class/part of the same group of friends.
Your children leave home and, for better or worse, they have to grow up, no matter how much help you may be giving them financially OR emotionally. There are just too many daily things to manage, too many random people to deal with, too many bumps and blips that they have to encounter on their own that leads to them, inevitably and sometimes painfully, growing up. It can be liberating when kids take over, driving or planning or explaining -- giving up some authority is in many ways a big relief.
There's nothing quite as wonderful as seeing your kids after weeks or months apart, especially when they first go away to college. Their faces are familiar and beautiful, their smiles just for you, their laundry ready to be washed...it's such a thrill to have them home for holidays, or summers, or a weekend visit. Within minutes of their return, it's as though they never left. You love having them home for a while, but then...
Remember before kids, when you would dream and plan for the rest of your life? Remember when it was wide open, and you had no idea what would happen next? Well, you can do that again, now that you're an empty-nester. No longer do you have to worry about childcare, or kids missing school, or whether they'll like the place you pick to go on vacation -- your time, your future, and your life is yours to create. Always wanted to travel? Now you can. Go back to school? Now's the time. Write a book? Get cracking. You have your life to live, just as they have theirs. Go do it!
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