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Understanding the Mother-in-Law, Daughter-in-Law Dynamic
The mother-in-law, daughter-in-law relationship can be a slippery slope. With patience and respect, learn how you can build a better relationship.


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With a little understanding, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationships can blossom.


Right up there with evil stepmothers rank manipulative mothers-in-laws. In a survey conducted by iVillage, some daughters-in-law stated that they would rather undergo a root canal procedure than spend time with their mothers-in-law. Since I am a mother-in-law myself, and one who did not have a particularly good relationship with my own mother-in-law, I made it one of my priorities throughout the years to find out what the major complaints were against this much maligned group symbolized by Marie Raymond on the popular TV sitcom, "Everybody Loves Raymond." Here are the complaints:

* Wishing to be called mom or mother by a daughter-in-law as soon as the knot is tied.
* Expecting to be loved and admired as an inalienable right.
* Taking certain liberties, like dropping in uninvited.
* Giving gratuitous advice.

To be a good mother-in-law, even a great one, requires all the basic principles of stress management: a sense of who you are, personal empowerment, the ability to see things from the other side, a sense of humor and the generosity of spirit to let others be who they are.

The root of this relationship problem lies in women’s competitive nature. There are two women in love with the same man. However, if a mother-in-law understands that she will always have a special place in her son’s heart, then she can enjoy this younger woman as a friend with new things to teach her and who can in turn learn from her wisdom and life experience. To get to the friendship level with any new acquaintance requires time, space and boundaries. Ease on down the road.

Keep in mind that many daughters-in-law view the whole concept of a mother-in-law as a betrayal to their own mothers— perceiving a mother-in-law to be a stepmother trying to replace their primary relationship—"How can I call you mom? I have only one mother." This is why it is important for a mother-in-law to stay a few paces behind and relax into her new role while her daughter-in-law does too. A heart can expand to love many people. Aim for loyalty and mutual respect in your relationship.

Most conflicts and unpleasant visits occur because of personal insecurity. This is why freely-given, well-intentioned advice can be perceived as critical and controlling or advice not taken can be perceived as a dismissal and invalidation. Look within and be aware of what you need to fortify about who you are.

It took my mother-in-law 25 years to realize that she loves me even though I am not the daughter-in-law she had originally envisioned and tried to mold, so there is hope. As for my daughter-in-law and me, we are great friends and I feel lucky to be part of her extended family. Although I wasn’t the traditional mother-in-law she had envisioned, I think she is pleasantly surprised by my sense of humor, fun and most importantly, non judgmental.

Debbie Mandel, MA is the author of "Addicted to Stress: A Woman's 7 Step Program to Reclaim Joy and Spontaneity in Life," "Changing Habits: The Caregivers' Total Workout" and "Turn On Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind and Soul," a stress-reduction specialist, a radio show host and has been featured on radio/ TV and print media. To learn more visit: www.turnonyourinnerlight.com.

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