The day Shprintza got engaged to Joel, her soon-to-be sister-in-law took her to a corner and said.
“Whatever Joel’s mom says…. don’t take it to heart, as she’s just being a Mother-in-law.”
The relationship that she had heard so much about from her own mother, was now being passed along to her.
The famous Interfering MOTHER-in-LAW
I often wonder what it is that makes our preconceived ideas of ‘in laws’ specifically Mothers-in-law, become so shrouded with misgivings, upset and anger. It is rare to hear of a great daughter-in-law/Mother-in-law relationship.
Why is it that a mom who is so loved by her child in his single life, and is the person the child would talk to for hours about the problems he faced become, ostracized and vilified? This is the mom who cooked, did his laundry and wiped his tears when he was down. How does this mom suddenly become the enemy? What has she done to make her beloved child, turn so completely against her, often within weeks of the marriage?
Going back to our narrative of Sprintza.
As soon as her sister-in-law warned her, it set into motion a string of thoughts, that became ingrained in her head space without her being aware of their presence.
“Joel’s mom is going to say things that I don’t like”
“Joel’s mother can be mean”
“Joel’s mother is like dad’s mother, who doesn’t get on with my mom”
“I’m not going to let her get close to me.”
“I will have to be careful about how much Joel tells her.”
I recently heard a story from a friend about her experience, and it truly upset me.
Her newly married young couple came to eat at the boy’s childhood home soon after their wedding. Mom cooked her son’s favourite meal, and was so excited about his new wife coming. She asked her if there was anything that she liked to eat and the young lady said she would eat whatever was served. The day arrived and after putting a welcome sign on the door, setting the table with her best china and cutlery and pulling out all the stops, they sit down to the meal. The boy is ecstatic, he is eating a meal he has eaten most of his life, made by a mother who’s cooking he has known since birth. He innocently tells his mom that he loves this meal, can he have the recipe for the soup. The new wife gives him a look and the young man starts to stutter. So starts a long lasting divide in the mom and son’s relationship.
What is happening here?
The mom is trying to welcome her son.
She tries to make the new wife feel integrated in the family
The young man, who doesn’t have the experience of age, tells his mom. “I love the effort you went to”.
He gives her a compliment by asking how she made the soup, he isn’t saying to his wife, “I don’t like your soup” he is just asking his mom for a recipe.
The wife who is young and has heard bad press about mothers-in-law is on her guard and automatically twists the scenario into something it isn’t. “My husband’s mom made a soup for her son, who hates my cooking, and is going to give me his mom’s recipes. I’m not good enough.”
So the vicious cycle begins
How can one change this narrative?
For me it’s as simple as telling your child before they marry, “I am your mom and just like your wife has a mom, we both love you. This is not the love of spouses but the love of a mother to her child.” “Please don’t let things fester, be understanding, and if for any reason your wife and I don’t get along, please don’t feel like you need to take sides.”
Instead, what happens is that the young man, goes home to an earful from his new wife. He tries to protect his mom and wife, but ultimately, because he lives with his wife, he wants a quiet life. He doesn’t compliment his mom’s cooking again and Mom is hurt.
Years later it becomes a standard family joke at mom’s expense
“When we got married your mom tried to teach me how to cook, because you hated my food.”
This is all sad but true.
How can healthy relationships be built on these foundations?
How can we change this behaviour that goes on from generation to generation, being passed down like an infectious disease?
Perhaps this scenario can be changed before it even takes seed. There are two things we must do for all our children before they get married.
Just as we buy them clothing and pick the menu, we must make certain our young have the tools for a good marriage. The boy must have a Rav or mentor who will talk to him and explain the comon sense needed for a successful marriage. He must know that his new wife needs to be given the support, whereby she can feel confident that she is loved, and that Mommy is no threat. The girls also need mentoring. Many young people lack confidence, and they see the ‘other woman’ in their husband’s life as a threat. Girls need to be taught amidst all their Kallah lessons a bit of hakoras hatov. After all, generally speaking, the young man she has married was raised and nurtured by this other lady.
Mothers-in-law have to be sensible as well. Biting one’s tongue must be practiced till you reach olympic standards! These two kids have to develop their new lives in a complicated world, one their parents won’t even understand. Let us give them space to work things out. Parents can’t know what baggage their new family member brings with them, just as they can never entirely understand their own child.
Building a new home is a tricky undertaking. Parents have to trust their kids, and then pray for them to do the right thing.
I heard from an old couple who had been married for over half a century, that when they first got married their father-in-law laid down a set of rules. The young bride was discussing with her new husband if they should go on a shopping trip to the city. The father-in-law was sitting in his chair learning. His daughter turned to him asking, “Tatti, what do you think? Should we go?” The elderly father smiled and said, “I believe I was at your chasanah last week, and you married this young man. You have to work such things out between yourselves. He is your husband and you have to discuss things together with him. Now, if he wants to ask my opinion, that’s something different, and it’s up to him.”
Parents have an unwritten contract that becomes binding when their children stand under the chuppah. Don’t expect a perfect script that always follows the rules. Young men and women come into their marriages with a whole raft of expectations, and dreams, all of which will change when life gets in the way. Be there for them, but try not to fit them into your mould or needs. In this way, relationships will grow, and although it is natural for a young woman to be jealous or insecure about her husband’s relationship with his mother, it need not become toxic if we bide our time and help them on their terms.