I’m not sure when the words “mother-in-law” became synonymous with “here comes trouble,” but they have. Gather a group of married friends together, say "mother-in-law," and the stories will fly. Words like "meddling," "jealous," "bossy," and "controlling" bounce back and forth like tennis balls at a Wimbledon open. Some mothers transition into the role of mother-of-a-married-child and mother-in-law easier than others, but there’s a learning curve for everyone.
I became a mother-in-law for the first time in 2013 and again in 2015. I’m still figuring out my job description, but so far, so good. Both sons-in-law like me. If you’re married and have a mother-in-law, you may wonder sometimes what she’s thinking. More specifically, you may wonder what she’s thinking about you. Today I’d like to crack the curtain and give you a peek.
1. So you’re the one I’ve been praying for all these years.
Shortly after my first daughter was born, I realized there was a pretty good chance she’d get married one day. This dawned on me somewhere between I never dreamed I could love a 5-pound, colicky baby who never sleeps and I think I would jump in front of a train if necessary to protect her.
The thought that she would one day fall in love, get married, and spend the rest of her life with someone other than me and her dad was disconcerting, to say the least. Trust some 25-year-old kid to take care of my precious daughter and, one day, my precious grandchildren? Oh my.
That’s when I started praying—praying for her, but also praying for you.
Lord, I don’t know who my daughter will marry one day, but you do. Please draw him to yourself just as soon as he understands his need for a Savior. Give his parents wisdom to rear him well and teach him the ways of the Lord. Keep him safe, healthy, and pure. Help him study hard so one day he can provide for his family. And Lord, make him a kind and patient man, because if this colic is any indication, he’s going to need it.
When I finally met you, and she said you were “The One,” I felt like I was meeting a family member I’d been praying for but had never met.
“Hi. It’s nice to meet you. I’ve been praying for you for a long time.”
2. I hope he/she likes me.
I remember the first time I met my mother-in-law. I was so nervous. What if I say the wrong thing? Or do something stupid? What I mess up, and she doesn’t like me?
I never dawned on me that she might be thinking the same thing.
Now that I’m a mother-in-law, I know. One of the things mothers-in-law secretly think about their sons- or daughters-in-law is I hope they like me.
No matter what Hollywood says, we really do care. We want you to think we’re smart, pleasant, and fun to be around. We hope you like our cooking, enjoy the activities we like, and want to spend time with us. We want to love you, and we hope you want to love us back.
3. I don’t care what you call me, but please call me something.
There’s nothing more awkward than not knowing what to call your new mother-in-law. When you and your spouse were dating, you might have called her "Mrs. _______," but that sounds too formal now. Or maybe you called her by her first name, but now that you’re married, you wonder if you should you start calling her "Mom." Maybe she insists that you call her "Mom," but you love your mom, and to call someone else by that name seems disloyal or fake.
A friend of mine, not comfortable with "Mom," "Mrs.," or her mother-in-law’s first name, came up with a creative solution. She calls her mother-in-law "Mil" for Mother-In-Law. It’s a name they both feel comfortable with and even laugh about. (And, you guessed it, she calls her father-in-law "Fil.")
I didn’t feel comfortable calling my mother-in-law "Mom," because, well, she wasn’t my mom. I also didn’t feel comfortable calling someone 30 years my senior by her first name. I hadn’t heard of "Mil" and "Fil" yet, so for five years, until our first child was born and I could call her "Granny," I didn’t call my mother-in-law anything. I just waited until she looked my way before I spoke. Awkward.
Determined not to put my first son-in-law through such an ordeal, I delivered a carefully thought through speech the week before the wedding. “I know you love your mom, and you might not feel comfortable calling me 'Mom,' so if you’d rather call me by my first time, that’s fine with me, whatever you prefer is great,” I blurted out.
He blinked once, looked at me with a puzzled glance, and said, “Mom’s fine with me.”
You may not be as easy-going as my son-in-law, but however you feel about names and titles, please choose one early and use it often. Your mother-in-law will be very grateful.
4. Please take good care of my daughter/son.
For better, for worse. For richer, for poorer. In sickness, and in health. As long as you both shall live.
Please encourage them to eat right, get enough sleep, and floss. Nurture your faith so you can inspire theirs. Work hard and encourage them to do so also. Love them the way Christ loves the church and gave himself up for it.
Remember that they’ve never loved anyone like they love you. Be gentle with their hearts. Treasure them always. Be faithful to them. Be a good father or mother to your children. Show me I can trust you with my most precious treasure.
5. I’m here to help. I hope you’ll let me.
I may not know the difference between Tumblr and Snapchat, nor can I explain why a Tall coffee at Starbucks is surprisingly short, but I’ve learned a few things in my 50+ years of life. Stuff you don’t know yet, like how to buy a dependable car or what to look for in a house. How to set up a budget and where to find the best bargains. How to fix a toilet, hang a curtain rod, or buy life insurance.
I know you want to be independent. I want you to be, too. But a big part of adulthood is realizing what you don’t know and learning it. I can help.
6. I’m not always going to take his/her side.
I know he/she’s not perfect. Believe me, I know. Those challenges you’re encountering? We had them first. Because I know his/her weak spots, I understand your struggles. Don’t automatically assume I’m on his/her side.
I promise to give you the benefit of the doubt, because every story has two perspectives. I commit to pray for you every day, remind your spouse of your good qualities when he/she seems to have forgotten, and brag on you often. I promise to send my adult child home to work it out if he/she shows up on my doorstep.
Mothers-in-law aren’t perfect, but neither are you. There’s a learning curve on both sides of every relationship. If you make an honest effort, be gracious, and always assume the best, you may be pleasantly surprised—your mother-in-law may become one of your favorite people—whatever you decide to call her.
Lori Hatcher is a blogger, inspirational speaker, and author of the Christian Small Publisher’s 2016 Book of the Year, Hungry for God … Starving for Time, Five-Minute Devotions for Busy Women. A Toastmasters International contest-winning speaker, Lori’s goal is to help busy women connect with God in the craziness of everyday life. She especially loves small children, soft animals, and chocolate. You’ll find her pondering the marvelous and the mundane on her blog, Hungry for God. . . Starving for Time. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter (@lorihatcher2) or Pinterest (Hungry for God).
Publication date: August 24, 2016