Holidays or anniversaries of loss often surprise me with surges of emotional memories about becoming a daughter-in-law. When I began relating to the woman who became my mother-in-law, I was a teenager eager to please, longing to gain her favor.  I felt honored — but also afraid.  What if I failed to gain her approval? Because I struggled with feeling “in the way” and “not good enough,” I expected acceptance to be rationed out according to my inevitably imperfect performance.  Yet, I secretly hoped that I would be seen and accepted for myself.

Years later when my sons began searching for mates, these same judgments, fears, and vulnerabilities surfaced in my heart as a mom.  I wanted so much for my sons to find mates who saw the real person, accepted them despite their weaknesses, and chose to love them without expecting love alone to heal all relational wounds. Releasing my sons has been hard, but it doesn’t mean abandoning them.  Seeking friendship with them and their mates without partiality means coming alongside them, not between them.  Becoming one available resource in their lives means being the sole provider of nothing but what I carry within myself.

My daughters-in-law are very different women, with varied backgrounds and delightfully unique personalities.  This means that their likes, dislikes, hopes, dreams, and ways of communicating don’t always correlate with mine.  Our wounds can cause us to read alternate meanings into words spoken, misunderstand choices made, or misinterpret each other’s intentions.  Just as my own daughter-in-law dilemma exposed the lies I believed about myself, so my daughters-in-law may face the same dilemma in relationship with me.  I want to love them for their true selves and welcome them into the family with open arms.

Research shows that healthy relationships can help heal relational wounds as painful parenting memories are softened by new restorative ones.  While our culture mocks the idea that healthy friendship between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law is possible, our family has found some ways to relate that result in true connection, as well as a blessing for my sons, their husbands.

  1.  Make time for one another.  Friendship takes consistent communication, a willingness to flex, and taking turns accommodating each other’s schedules.
  2. Choose to share mutual interests.  Several times a year we meet for a girls’ Saturday morning out (shopping/going out for lunch) while the guys play games or do a project.
  3. Celebrate each person’s birthday.  The date matters less than the person(s) honored.  Eating out, visiting a new place, attending an event – what matters is that it’s chosen by the birthday person/people. Right now we share birthday celebrations once a quarter.
  4. Focus your words on appreciating the person, not trying to change their behavior.

A mother’s kindness or impatience, listening or arguing, celebrating or neglecting, taking time or ignoring, appreciating or discounting, celebrating or minimizing her little girl’s attempts to connect – these all shape a daughter’s template for future relationship.  Whether healthy or unhealthy, true or counterfeit, the forms of love absorbed from parents are passed on, generation to generation.  Let’s take time to nurture generational relationships this year!

If you are interested in talking to Karen Bridges, or one of our other amazing counselors, click here to schedule a session online. If you feel more comfortable, or have further questions, feel free to call our office at (970) 490-1308 and we will be happy to assist you in finding the right counselor for you.