10/30/2014 02:15 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Using Mindfulness to Remind Us to Do Unto Others

2014-10-30-sKINDNESSsmall.jpgWhen I first married and experienced "in-law" reality, it was an adjustment, I will readily admit. Who were these people asking questions and giving opinions that I was not used to anyone asking or telling except my parents? And, of course, it soon hit me that this was...normal. As my husband's parents, they were only asking and telling me things they were entirely used to asking and telling their son. And, as his wife, I was now part of the system, too.

I didn't like this at first. "You're not my mother!" I would think. "Hey, only my father can tell me something like that!" And that's when I came up with the Mother-in-Law rule. If one of the in-laws said something that irritated me, before I was allowed to be upset, I had to ask myself, "Would that bother you if it came out of Mom or Dad's mouth?" I was not allowed to respond to myself with the fact that my own parents would never ask such a question, or the the statement would have been phrased in a much different way; I was only allowed to consider the content involved.

I can't begin to tell you how quickly and wonderfully this little invention of mine worked! I was trained in no time (Yes, I was trained, as the only person's behavior over which I had, and continue to have, any control is my own ), and, whenever a situation reoccurred, I fell right back into the pattern of asking myself that question.

Issue forward.

I am now the mother-in-law. I, again, can admit that I couldn't understand why everyone didn't want to role play like I had done. I thought the Mother-in-Law idea was great! But, no problem. I turned it around: Would I be upset if the exact same situation occurred with my son or daughter? And, now, a step further: Would I want them to be upset with me if I said or did that? Would I want them to hold a grudge or stay angry with me?

I know. I know. This is pretty much the same as 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.' But that's not how it felt. This was family, and family, for better or worse, was different. Is different.

Now, I use this on a regular basis, and, for that, I thank my mindfulness. Asking myself a few simple questions has the ability to bring me calm, peace, and a rational reason for many things that occur:

  • Is this true?
  • Is this happening now, or am I thinking of something from the past, or worrying about something that might happen in the future?
  • Is there another possible explanation for this?

Finally, after these and any other questions I think of have been asked, if I still can't find an explanation that brings me to a better, more understanding place, I then ask myself just one more question: What if that's the best they can do? What if that's the best they have to offer?

That question's a tricky one, because it is presumed that someone can always do better. Try harder. Do more. But what if they can't? What if that's really and truly the best possibility for that person?

Even if the answer to that question is, "Well, then that would really be sad for them"... it still shines a new light on the situation. And then I seem to find myself in a quiet place in my mind and heart, ready to move forward and able to offer compassion and understanding to that person who once upset me. Because I now realize that that person needs understanding and patience as much, or more, than I.

Dr. W can be reached via her website at