We all know the Golden Rule of being a mother-in-law is to never dole out unsolicited advice. Ever. Under any circumstances. So I’m getting it out of my system now while I still can.
“Two things every woman needs: her own bank account and her own career,” my mother-in-law casually told me one morning over coffee. “It doesn’t matter how deliriously in love she is. If a woman is financially dependent on her husband, she’s in a bad spot. Don’t be that woman.”
This conversation took place approximately a week before I married her only son and so it kind of caught me off guard.
‘Okay, then. So much for something borrowed or blue.’ Insert eye roll here.
Looking back, it’s painfully–embarrassingly—obvious to me that she saw the writing on the Hurry-Up-and-Get-Married-Before-People-Start-Talking Wall. Truth be told, I was only twenty-two years old and 7 months pregnant when her son and I wed so pretty much everyone saw the writing on that wall. Including us.
So in the least surprising plot twist of the century, her son and I divorced two short years later. But it’s okay; we’ve both since moved on and are now happily remarried. We’ve even managed to live around the corner from one other for the past few years without incident. And while I don’t want to jinx it, we might even be doing a not–completely-terrible job parenting our now teenage son. (Minus a few bumps in the road; we’re all human.)
Some fourteen years and two sons later, I’ve started thinking more and more about my ex-mother-in-law and our morning chat over coffee and I’ve come to realize that she wasn’t overstepping boundaries at all; she was giving me an out. She was trying to tell me, ‘Hey, whatever happens, it’s okay.’ And this totally went over my early-twenty-something’s head, as most things did back then.
And while I still cringe over my misjudgment of our friendly chat, it’s got me thinking about the kind of advice I might give to my daughter-in-law someday. But since the Golden Rule of being a mother-in-law is to never dole out advice—ever—under any circumstances, lest be on the receiving end of a smug eye-roll, I’m getting it out of my system now while I still can.
Although I reserve the right to drop a truth bomb or two over coffee if the moment feels right.
1.Don’t just hang out with married people.
Your husband doesn’t have to like your best friend’s husband and vice versa. This isn’t to say that either of you get a pass for the occasional get together, but don’t force a friendship. It’s awkward for everyone.
2.Never stop making friends.
You see those bridesmaids standing next to you? Chances are you won’t be speaking to half of them on your tenth wedding anniversary–unless they’re your sister and in some cases, even if they are your sister. Meet new people everywhere you go and take a genuine interest in them. Go beyond the mundane pleasantries with your coworkers and really get to know them. If your entire social circle is composed of friends you went to high school or college with, you’re doing it wrong.
3.Don’t take your bad days out on him and don’t let him do it to you.
Bad moods are inevitable and if some of your anger after a particularly stressful day lands on my son from time to time, I hope I’ve raised him well enough to react with some compassion. But it’s a rotten feeling when a person continuously dumps their anger out onto you, so try not to make it a habit.
4.Choose being happy over being right.
You don’t have to win every argument. If the argument itself is doing more harm than whatever it is that you’re arguing about, it’s not worth it. (I’m still working on this one myself, but I’m hopeful that by the time I have a daughter-in-law I’ll be able to deliver this piece of wisdom with at least a modicum of authority.)
5.Don’t watch The Notebook.
Just kidding. Love stories are beautiful and inspiring and Ryan Gosling is adorable. Just please don’t strive for Notebook love. A real-life love story is messy. Some days (weeks, months) are really hard and there will likely be times you’ll want to walk away. Before you make that decision, remember that real love is a totality of small gestures and everyday kindnesses.
Real love is bragging about each other when you’re out to dinner with friends. It’s leaving the witty, but sarcastic comment unsaid—once in a while. It’s crying into his shoulder when the baby isn’t gaining weight and just won’t latch on. It’s crying together over the baby that almost was. Real love is taking the kids out somewhere–anywhere–so the other can get an hour or two alone. It’s sleepless nights together in the hospital when the 3 year old is admitted with pneumonia. It’s holding hands while the kids ride their bikes or a whisper in your ear– ‘You’re doing a great job, babe.’ Real love is simultaneously maddening and exquisite and terrifying, if you’re brave enough to let it be.
6.Give me some time.
From the second I heard his heartbeat I’ve been madly, profoundly, hopelessly in love. I can still close my eyes and see the nurse hand him over to me for the first time. And I can still hear his tiny 5–year old voice asking me to marry him. I can still feel his soft, rhythmic breathing after crawling into my arms to escape a bad dream. And my heart is still broken from his first broken heart.
And I’m so happy he’s found you–that you’ve found each other– because I know that he’s about to create these same exquisite memories with you by his side.
Still, it hurts a little. It’s a good hurt but still a hurt.
But if you’d just allow me this short grace period and give me some time to adjust to everything I promise to repay your patience by working to establish healthy boundaries. I promise not to make you feel inadequate through passive aggressive, stereotypical ‘mother-in-law behavior’. And I definitely won’t pass judgment or give you any advice unless you…
Actually, how about I just give you the recipe to that chocolate cake of mine he loves so much. He told me how you’ve been trying to figure it out since the two of you started dating.
You can pick it up at the Shoprite on Fischer Boulevard.
Rat me out and I’ll deny it forever.
What advice would you give to a future daughter-in-law?
Leave a comment below.
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