By Mary Jo Rapini, Licensed Relationship and Family Therapist
Few relationships are as wrought with quotes and passive aggressive eye rolling more than the topic of a husband’s mom. This lady can single-handedly change a macho husband into a six-year-old boy. Women who take the time to get to know their husband’s mother prior to marriage are helping minimize possible friction and conflict in their marriage. Son’s who talk with their moms openly about their expectations of her involvement prior to getting married help her continue to feel supported and secure.
Moms of sons do worry more when they marry than they do with their daughters, according to Sylvia L. Mikucki-Enyart, an assistant professor of communication at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. She asked 89 mothers-in-law what they worried most when a child married. Overwhelmingly, the survey reported that when a son married, these women reported more uncertainty and insecurity. Their worries centered on these concerns:
- How will their son’s relationship change with his parents and nuclear family?
- Will he visit or call less often?
- Will he spend holidays with the family?
- Will his wife change him?
- Will he still be reliable and loyal to his family?
- Is he eating enough?
- Does he feel good about himself?
Dr. Mikucki-Enyart also studied 133 daughters-in-law. Their main insecurity with their mothers-in-law was more often focused on her over-involvement in their marriage. They were also concerned with her ability to take care of herself financially, and their ability to trust that she did not talk badly about them behind their back. In a marriage, part of the reason there is a tension between the daughter-in-law and mom is based on competition to nurture the same man. Since mom was the first nurturer, she has to step back and allow her daughter-in-law to step forward and take over primary nurturing. This isn’t easy, and it involves both women understanding one another and forgiving. It also means that the husband/son plays a huge part in establishing boundaries in his marriage.
Many of the problems I counsel between mothers-in-law and their son’s wife are centered on the son feeling caught in the middle and not taking a stance. My primary focus is with the son. He is the one in the middle, and since he has a relationship with both women, he must intervene. Below are suggestions to help.
- Make your new wife your priority, but don’t leave your mother out. Talk with her, and tell her that you love your wife, and you need her support helping her feel welcome.
- When your wife has concerns, listen to her. Don’t become defensive, but rather try to understand why it is a problem for her. If it is an invasion of privacy or a matter of your mom being too involved, talk to your mother in private, without blaming. For example, if your mom wants to drop in unexpected, that may have worked when you were single, but it can be disrespectful when you are married. Tell your mom you love seeing her, but would like her to call first.
- If your mother has concerns, listen to her, and don’t get defensive. She may be prone to jumping to conclusions out of fear for you…however, if you explain exactly what took place with whatever situation she is referencing, she will understand.
- As much as possible, include both families in your celebrations. Anytime a mom on either side feels excluded, she is going to be hurt. If you cannot join family celebrations, acknowledge you will miss them, but do what is best for your wife and your marriage. Parents do best if they know their son is happily married, so make that a central theme.
- 5. Never badmouth your wife to your mom, and never badmouth your mom to your wife.
We usually leave family relationships to the women, but the relationship between a son, his mother and his wife, needs a son’s touch. Sons have a history with their moms as the first women who ever loved them. This love is strong and complicated, because moms want the best for their sons, and understand women to a degree her son (or any man for that matter) cannot. This means moms have to let go, trust this woman, and trust that her son understands both. It isn’t easy, but if moms and wives can agree to disagree, and respect one another, their husband and son can continue to be the man they both love.