I have been asked to write something about in-laws, particularly as a time of family gatherings will soon be possible. This is a complicated topic to address, because there are so many dimensions to it, depending on the individual situation.
I will start with daughters-in-law and will address other relationships in future columns. When a son marries, his parents gain a daughter, his siblings, a sister, grandparents, a granddaughter and so on. His wife, in choosing to marry him, takes on a myriad of roles, and accept it or not, she is evaluated for all of them. It sometimes happens that everyone loves her, she loves everyone, and they all live happily ever after. Usually it’s not so perfect, and no matter how wonderful she might be, her very presence changes relationships across the board.
For example, the son now is closer to his wife than to his mother, and his mother is no longer the first one he turns to when he needs a woman’s point of view. Mother’s birthday is still important, but it is his wife’s that for sure he’d better not forget. Mothers can feel displaced by this “other woman,” and there can be some hurt and resentment, even though the son is just trying to be a good husband. If mother makes the son feel guilty, he is going to resent her for not understanding. If she makes snide or critical comments about his wife, she sets up a no-win situation. If the daughter-in-law senses the judgment, then she is hurt, angry and defensive, because she knows she cannot compete with a man’s mother. She feels like an outsider, may be withdrawn and distant in order to protect herself, and this only brings more criticism. The vicious cycle is in full swing.
The only way to avoid all of this is to honour our children and respect their right to choose who they want in their lives. We must make every effort to be patient and kind with this person, for she is the one our son has invited to share his life. Prejudice does not happen only along racial lines, it can happen in families. If a new family member is “rejected,” however subtle that process might be, a majority-minority mentality is created. The majority may discuss her behind her back, she becomes the minority, and a process of discrimination ensues. She may be held up to scrutiny, with every move analyzed and discussed.
Even if there are faults, difficulties in her personality, a warm hand of friendship and acceptance will bring more change than all the criticism in the world. It’s not about who’s right or wrong, it’s about creating harmony in our relationships, so we can be close to those we love.
Gwen Randall-Young is an Alberta author and award-winning psychologist.