How To Be The World’s Best Mother in Law

There were two women standing in the card aisle with me around Mother’s Day commiserating together about the lack of appropriate options for Mother-in-Law cards. They looked my way for that affirming look strangers give one another when obviously in ear shot of a conversation- the sort of “knowing” smile and head nod. But truthfully, I did not share in their moment. In fact, while I know most women have some sort of complaint about their MIL’s, I really just don’t. I married my husband 11 years ago this month, and one of the greatest blessings I received in that was his family. From the very beginning of our relationship, I knew they accepted me. Here I was, this single mom with 2 little boys, and they never blinked an eye. They just welcomed me into the Russell family with open arms. Whatever reservations they had, they kept to themselves.

Mom and I at Halloween SoupFest 2012

Seeing my sweet mother-in-law in that hospital bed tonight made my heart hurt. God knew when He brought her into my life, just exactly how much I would love her and she would love me. I tell everyone I consider myself in training, because when I grow up I am going to be a Mother-in-Law just like her, if I can manage to gain a little more grace and a little less selfishness between now and then. So, in honor of Judy Russell, my other mom, tonight I am writing my manual- How To Be a Great Mother-in-Law:

1. Let your daughter/son in law know you love them. Tell them, brag on them in front of others, brag on them behind their backs, hug them, give them birthday gifts, compliment anything they do well.

2. Offer help, not advice. My MIL is almost always available for helping me with kids, pets, car trouble- you name it. But what she does not do is tell me what I could have done better, should do next time, how to handle my problems, etc. The help comes with no strings attached and no attempts to control me.

3. Let them be welcome in your home. I have never walked in their home without her face lighting up with a smile. It’s as if she’s genuinely happy to see me any time. In fact, a few months ago I needed to run away from home for a night, and that’s where I went. I called and said “Can I come stay at your house tonight?” And she just said “Sure you can. We’re going out, but go on in and make yourself at home. Everything ok?” I told her yes, I just needed a night away from my family- a little mental health break, and she said, “Of course you do. We all need that sometimes.”

4. Pray for your daughter/son in law. Sometimes I’ll see my name on her little white board along with all her other prayers. It means so much to me that she remembers to pray for me.

5. Spoil them. Treat them to lunch, overdo the birthday gift, cook their favorite dessert, pick up little gifts for no reason. I don’t know if this particular aspect is as important with son-in-law’s, but it really makes me feel special.

6. Listen. Really. If I call to talk to her, my MIL lets the whole conversation be about me at times. I try not to be self absorbed, although sometimes I’m sure I am, but I really feel free to talk as long as I need to about whatever is on my mind. And I know she’s really taking it in, because she’ll bring it up later, to ask how it’s going, or give me a thought she had after our conversation.

7. Forgive, even when they don’t know they’ve messed up. I always get a fresh start with mom. I am far from perfect- as a mom, wife or daughter-in-law, but I never have past mistakes brought up to me.

8. Find things you both enjoy and do them together. Some of the funny things we’ve discovered over the past 11 years that we both love: reading magazines, watching college football on Saturdays in the fall, decorating for holidays, cooking special meals, my kids and anything related to them, our relationship with Christ, girly movies, eating out and drinking coffee on the balcony of our condo in the morning at the beach. We have had serious bonding in all these ways!

9. Let your daughter-in-law help you do things. Praise her efforts. Delegate parts of the Thanksgiving meal. Have her organize your pantry. Let her bring you dinner when you’re sick. Ask her advice on what to give your son as a birthday gift.  We feel closer to people who are willing to be vulnerable.

10. Allow the relationship to grow without expectations. This will be a huge challenge for me one day, because I tend to have a picture of how I want a relationship to look and feel in my mind. But having experienced being loved without pressure to perform, change myself or pay back has been  incredibly powerful. I’m going to need more maturity than I currently possess to do this one, but I’m guessing I’ve got around 10 years minimum to grow into this.

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