In this day and age, it should not have come as a surprise that the big announcement arrived via email: "Loved Ones, we just wanted to let you know that we have gotten engaged!" with a fabulous picture of my son and soon to be daughter-in-law attached.
It hit me while I was staring at that picture: I'm going to be a mother-in-law!
Not that I haven't had to be on my best behavior as "the boyfriend's mother," for the last 10 years, but being a mother-in-law elevates this relationship to a whole new level. And this is an extremely scary proposition to me as I am bereft of good mother-in-law role models. But, looking back over my own experiences, I was able to cobble together a few lessons to live by.
My mother, unfortunately, didn't live long enough to be a mother-in-law to my husband as she died when we were dating. She seemed to like him well enough, but judging by her relationship with my sister's husband, there was no telling how it could have turned out as the years wore on.
When my sister and Dick first got married, my mother and father didn't approve of the marriage. They felt he wasn't good enough for her. And so they did the only thing they could think of in response to her defying them and marrying him against their wishes -- they disowned her.
For many years after, when my mother was asked how many children she had, she'd answer "one." My parents neither "officially" saw nor talked to my sister for years. I myself had a secret line of communication to her and refused to participate in my parents' boycott of our flesh and blood.
Eventually, they came around and for the last 10 years of her life, my mother fully embraced her role as Dick's mother-in-law, with just one small peccadillo -- she constantly called him "Bill."
Now, I should not be one to cast aspersions having called my children by the dog's name on occasion, but at least that is a name spoken in our house all the time. "Bill" did not appear anywhere in our household or lineage as far as the eye could see. Why she called him Bill was inexplicable, even by her.
So I glean lesson number one and two about being a good mother-in-law from my own mother: Accept my soon-to-be daughter-in-law completely and get her name right at all times.
My next anti-role model was my own mother-in-law. I remember a girlfriend of mine upon meeting her saying to me, "You know, so many people exaggerate how bad their mothers-in-law are, but yours is even worse than you said!"
The only solace I had was that the other two daughters-in-law were treated to much of same, so I didn't have to take it personally. None of us, it seems, was good enough for the three princes.
And so based on my own experiences I make the following additional pledges to my soon to be daughter-in-law:
I will never tell you that your old boyfriend is a much better match for you than my son. Conversely, I will never tell you that my son's old girlfriend was a much better match for him than you.
I will never read your palm and tell you how strange it is that while you have a very short lifeline and only one marriage line, my son in fact has two marriage lines and a very long lifeline. In the same vein, I will never prepare your zodiac chart and tell you that you are not compatible with my son and then suggest you find someone who would better suit your rising sign.
I will never invite my son to family events and get-togethers without inviting you.
I will never send job opportunities to my son that require him to move far away and tell you that you shouldn't go with him to give him a "chance to focus."
I will always remember your birthday (although I know that in the past 10 years you've been dating my son I have already failed on this front about 50 percent of the time -- I will try harder now I promise).
I will always respect that you are now my son's first priority as it should be.
And most importantly, dear soon to be daughter-in-law, when I do have a different view on one of your life's decisions, I will keep my contrary opinion to myself. (OK well that one is kind of a stretch goal. But at least I will try to make the effort.)
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