When my son was small, he used to look at me with a solemn smile and tell me that he was going to marry me someday. I’d pull him close, kiss his head, and tell him that he’d probably find another girl to make him happy, and that it was OK if he left me when he grew up. His big hazel eyes would look at me quizzically, and he’d insist that I was his one and only. His declaration was usually followed by a tantrum over the wrong color cup for his milk or a meltdown over not wanting apples for lunch, but his point was clear: I was his one and only true love.
But he’s 13 now, and while I know he loves me, I also know that my little boy isn’t so little anymore. He’s going to get married someday, presumably to the little girl I gave him permission to marry when he was 3. And it makes me nervous because I worry that once he does move out and get married, I’ll be persona non grata in his life.
The reason I worry is not because I doubt his feelings for me or my ability to be a good mother-in-law. No, rather, I worry that I’ll be edged out of his life by the kind of woman I see so often in my daily life: the woman who doesn’t remember that a mother-in-law deserves respect. A woman who thinks that the mother-in-law should have no say in her son’s world. A woman who marks her territory aggressively. A woman who feels jealous of the time her husband spends with his mom.
As I’ve raised my son and listened to many women complain about the women who raised their husbands, I get genuinely nervous that my son will find a woman who feels that it’s OK to dictate the relationship I have with my son. To push me, and his father and sister, to the side when it comes to holidays, birthdays, family gatherings.
And so, I am pleading to the mothers of daughters to hear me out.
I was there with my son from the moment he took his first breath, from the minute they pressed his cheek next to mine after an emergency C-section. I could smell his breath, hear his cries and feel his warmth as I cried with relief that he arrived safely. Remind your daughters of that, please.
I was the woman who kissed his knees when he scraped them on the sidewalk, and the bearer of ice packs for his bruised head when he bumped himself playing outside. I dried his tears, kissed his sweet face, and held him when he felt scared. I rocked him through the night with each fever. Please remind your daughters that I loved him with my whole heart and worried about him every minute of every day, and that I always will.
I am the woman who has watched him sprout into a towering giant and grow out of his clothing like the Incredible Hulk. I’ve withstood his teenaged angst, his eye-rolling, and his out-of-line attitude. I’ve held my tongue, bitten my lip, and sat on my hands to avoid being the mom who goes too far, says too much, or fights back harder because I know the teen years are hard for him to navigate. Please remind your daughters that I am patient, quiet, and kind when I have to be, even when he’s being a total asshole. Remind your daughters that I can be an ally, an asset, when he’s acting a fool. I saw him do it first; I know how to handle him. Ask me for help.
I am the woman who worries that there will come a time when I will be denied access to my son (and grandchildren) on Thanksgiving or Christmas. I am the woman who is scared that I will lose the closeness I’ve cultivated with him because he’s too blinded by harsh words his wife says about me. I am the woman who is terrified that I will wake up one day and find that I barely know him, that he’s chosen a path that includes a woman who wasn’t taught that the mother-in-law isn’t always the enemy.
To the mothers of daughters out there, I beg of you to remind your girls that we mothers of boys love our sons more than life itself, much the same way you do your daughters. We want the best for our boys, and we want to feel safe in the knowledge that we will always have a special place in our sons’ lives. Raise your daughter to accept her mother-in-law, to reach out in friendship, to extend the kindness of including us in their life.
And if it means teaching by doing, then so be it. Let your guard down with your own mother-in-law. Look at her through my eyes, through the lens of a woman who once changed your husband’s diapers and filled his Christmas stocking with tears on the last year he believed in Santa Claus. Remind yourself that your mother-in-law did the very best that she could, that she had days where she doubted herself as a mother, just like you do when your 3-year-old is melting down.
Remind your daughters to include us in their lives, to let us love them and invite them into our families. Help your daughters see that mothers-in-law bring rich wisdom, unconditional love, and quiet strength to the table. We want to be loved and respected, not shunned, scorned, and cast aside. Mostly, help your daughter realize that the woman who mothered her son wants the very best for her too.
And, to my future daughter-in-law, I promise to raise a son who knows how to love, respect, and value their partner. I will do my best to make sure my son always puts the toilet seat down, knows how to do his own laundry, and is able to cook at least six dishes from scratch. I can’t guarantee he’ll keep his side of the room clean though. There are some battles a mother will never win.