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Friday, September 24, 2010

Your Children-in-Law

How do you react when your daughter comes home with the man she wants to marry, or live with, or maybe even just date? How about when your son brings home that girl he is clearly into?

Numerous people have come to see me professionally to talk about their difficult relationship with one of their off-spring's partners. Or more than one. Their children-in-law. And of course when they come to talk about this, it is almost always the son-in-law or daughter-in-law who is at fault. Members of my own extended family have also been there.

Years ago, when my eldest son was a toddler sitting on my lap at a public event, another young mother with a little girl, just a bit older than my son sat close to us. And that little minx, why she made eyes at my son and once she had his attention, made faces at him to frighten him! And he started crying! As I felt my anger rise, my tiger-like instinct to care for my child, I thought to myself: oh my God, this is what it probably feels like when you get a daughter-in-law. And I immediately decided that it was not going to happen to me. Not for my sake, and most definitely not for my sons' sakes.

So I did some thinking about it. And of course, years later, when people come to see me about this dilemma in my private practice, I essentially say this: isn't your relationship with your daughter or your son more important to you than being - possibly - right about whether or not the person they are with is the best or the right person for them? And if it is, then doesn't it make sense that you protect that relationship by taking the conscious decision to accept the person they have chosen? And trying your very best to create a good relationship with that person?

But what can you do if it's already years later ... you and the child-in-law have a rough relationship in part at least, because you did no such thing way back when. So my idea is this: arrange a meeting with that person, have a coffee or a meal, just the two of you and put your cards on the table. Here's what I believe I did wrong in the way I began my relationship with you all those years ago and I would really like to improve on that ... do you think you could meet me halfway? (or some version thereof)

Of course, that takes some humility. It may even take you having to swallow a lot just to get those words out, because perhaps a part of you still believes that none of it is your fault. That may be so. But you can try to change things, and since you are the one having these thoughts and reading this post, then you are also the one who can take the first step. You might be surprised at the results!

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Photo Credit: Francesco Marino


  1. Oh how I have been here... I am not ready to do what you suggest yet. Will I ever be ready? How can one accept someone who has verbally abused your child time and time again reducing her to tears? Maybe in time I will learn to accept him, but all my motherly instincts want to protect my daughter from her lazy good for nothing sponging boyfriend. I only hope that in time she will see his true colours just like her family and friends do.

  2. Right! This is not an unusual situation. Sounds as though perhaps your daughter may not have the best boundaries, but telling her that it is so will not get you very far ... may only produce animosity.

    In a case like this, I would suggest you do your utmost to live your own life in such a way that she can see your as a role model.

    In the article written on Sept. 21, 2010 in this blog, about Being a Fabulous Parent, there is a link to another article called "The Absolutely Best Way To Help Your Children Grow Into Exceptional Adults". That might give you some ideas.

    Good luck!

    Best, Gabriella