10/15/2014 10:36 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

My Phantom Daughter-in-Law

My son, age 24, has a lovely girlfriend who I like very much. I say this with a great sense of relief because really, I don't know what I'd do if I didn't like her. I'm sure there are plenty of parents who are in that boat, dealing with a boyfriend or girlfriend they can't stand. (If that's you, do you fake it or do you tell your child that his choice is a weasel? Just wondering.)

Fortunately, I don't currently face such a dilemma but with each passing year and each successive girlfriend, the stakes get a little higher. I met my husband when we were both 23 so at this stage of the game, any girl either of my sons (shown below in their pre-girlfriend years) dates could potentially become my daughter-in-law.


This feels huge. For one thing, having a child of marriageable age makes me old. I don't feel old but if I have a child of marriageable age, I must be. Secondly, entering the realm of marriage material means my son must be a grown-up, a notion that's sometimes at odds with my perception of him. Yes, he's mostly responsible and has a real job and pays his rent and his bills, but a full-blown adult? That seems a stretch, considering I still, on occasion, pack him a lunch, find his missing shoe and wash his underwear when he visits. How can this man-child be capable of selecting a mate for life? And how is it possible that I and my husband, who have counseled our son on every important decision he's made to date, have no say in who he chooses to be our daughter-in-law?

Of course, that's precisely how I think it should be: his choice, not ours. Yet for me, the transition from full time advisor to mind-your-own-beeswax bystander feels pretty jarring. After all, the role of daughter-in-law is a big position that someone will ultimately play in our lives. If all goes well, we'll be sharing holiday dinners (and washing dishes together afterward) for decades to come. We'll be selecting perfect presents based on our keen insights into one another's personality and hobbies. We'll share a glass of wine now and then with her charming parents who will gush that they're as as thrilled as we are with their child's choice of spouse. But much more important, she'll be our son's greatest ally and friend, and the mother of their children. That makes minding our own beeswax a real challenge. But we are.

Contemplating a future daughter-in-law has particular import for me for two other reasons. The first is that while I am (happily) a mother of sons, I've always been envious of my friends with daughters. Besides how much more fun it is to shop for little girls and shop with big ones, there's an innate understanding mothers and daughters share, a sensibility and bond that is uniquely female. My sons love me but they don't always get me the way I fantasize my daughter-in-law one day will.

Also, I lost my mom when I was a teenager so I'm perpetually wistful about mother-daughter relationships. This yearning has been assuaged to a great degree by my lovely mother-in-law whom I adore, and who is also the mother of sons exclusively. A motherless daughter and a daughterless mother is a match made in heaven, yet I harbor the hope that gaining a daughter-in-law (and perhaps someday a granddaughter) will somehow soothe a wound that still hurts.

Mind you, I'm not rushing anyone. This isn't some veiled plea for weddings and babies. It's just a mom hitting the midlife mark and realizing those next big milestones aren't so far down the road. So to my sons (and their girlfriends), I say take your time and savor every minute. And to my future daughters-in-law, I say I'm ready to shop whenever you are.