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About the Writer:

Cynthia discovered the value of being organized out of necessity. She and her husband, Kevin, have six children. Kevin serves as a Pastor with the Berean Fellowship of Churches. Their home is affectionately known as “grand Central Station”. It was critical to have a home that was welcoming to family and friends, often at a moments notice. In 2001, Cynthia started "Simply Put", an organization service for families in her Wyoming area. She's available as a speaker for women's retreats, MOPS groups and other events.


Have You Heard the One About the Mother-in-Law Who…

By Cynthia Workman

One of the prickliest relationships on the planet is that of the mother-in-law to her married children. On a recent trip to India, while sitting in a concrete block building, enjoying some very hot and spicy food with our Indian friends, my husband began fanning his mouth, as if to put out the flames from the hot food. One of the Indian men said, “We call that sauce the “mother-in-law sauce”. They all began laughing at their joke and I realized again this is a universal and for all time issue that affects nearly everyone in some way or another.

When my son announced his engagement and I realized I was about to become “one of them,” I began to come up with a list of how I would approach my relationship with my daughter-in-law to be, as well as future sons and daughters-in-law.

My first goal was to establish a foundation of love and respect. I wanted her to know that comments she questioned or did not understand should be run through a filter of knowing that I loved and respected her. My husband and I felt open, honest and frequent communication of this would be the best approach. We took our son and his fiancé out to dinner and simply stated, “We love you. We are here to support you. We will let you live your own lives and not interject opinions unless you ask for them.” I told my daughter-in-law to be, “You love my son. You love God. Those are my two desires for a daughter-in-law, and you fill them to a tee. I will always be your cheerleader and love you, so don’t ever question my words or actions as they relate to my love and respect for you.” That said, we were off on our wild adventure of relationship building.

These are the distilled principles we live with in our relationships with our daughter and now son-in-law:

1) Be a Cheerleader.

Facts about cheerleaders -

They do not tell the quarterback which play to use or remind the defense of what would have happened, had they held to their route patterns. Otherwise known as, cheerleaders cheer! This aspect of being a good mother-in-law encompasses a lot of territory. Keep your opinions on child rearing, feeding the husband, cleaning the toilet, and which laundry soap to use to yourself, unless you are specifically asked. They will be fine, just as you and your young spouse were fine. No mate has yet been starved, no babies have been intentionally harmed, and no one had the sanitation department called because of a foul odor. They can handle their own household and will learn best through trial and error just as you did. Exceptions obviously would be in the rare case where there is a child endangerment issue. But, whether your daughter breast or bottle feeds is not a matter of child endangerment.

Also, included in the role of cheerleader is positive communication. Cheerleaders unconditionally root for their team, whether they are up by 20 or down by 20; their role remains that of support! Make sure before you open your mouth and words come out, they will be a source of help, encouragement and joy to the hearer. Just think about what you would have loved to hear as a new bride or groom from your mother-in-law.

2) Don’t be a Bank

If you involve money in your relationship, you will sabotage your relationship. If you want to be generous and are able to give gifts, make sure it is a gift. Gifts come unconditionally with no strings attached. The “gift” of a house, right next to dear old mom and dad, is not a gift; it is a ball and chain. A loan increases tension and stress in the relationship. If asked for a loan, simple say, “We value our relationship with you so much, we don’t want to muddy it up with money in the middle,” or “We cannot give you a loan, but we would be happy to give you a gift, and once it is given we need never hear about it again, it is yours to use as you see fit.” Do not use a gift as leverage or to create some perceived sense that you bought yourself a right to an opinion. That is not a gift that is a ball and chain. Keep money out of the conversation as well. There is no need for you to ask, “So, how much is he/she making?” Do not ask, “So do you really think you need a new sofa right now?” Cheer for your son-in-law being a good provider. Cheer for your daughter-in-law making wise choices or being a good shopper, or working hard to help the family.

3) Don’t Be a Tabloid

If you have an inquiring mind, turn it off. There are certain tabloid secrets that are juicy, but absolutely none of your business or your friends business. Keep your inquiring mind out of their bedroom. No need for you to wonder and pry about what goes on in there. This includes topics related to birth control, pregnancy, etc. That is private territory and you need not prompt, pry or try to steer conversations in that direction. If they need help in that area, they have friends and doctors they can go to, not mothers-in-law.

We have tried to communicate that our lack of giving advice is not because we don’t care, but because we trust them to make good judgments, make mistakes and make it up as they go, just like we did. They will learn more as they forge their own way and they will enjoy sharing what they have learned with us, if they know we are not going to jump in the middle of it.

This is a wonderful stage of life. I love seeing my adult children fleshing out their goals and dreams. I don’t need to make my goals and dreams theirs or try to make them live up to my dreams for them. They are making different choices than I would. That is good and right and how it is supposed to be. I want to be the one that looks for triumphs to celebrate and offers encouragement in defeat. I want to be the one that when they see my number on caller id they say, “Oh good, it’s your mother!”


Copyright © June 28, 2007 – Cynthia Workman. All rights reserved.


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