13 Things Your Mother-in-Law Won’t Tell You

Build a better relationship with his mother by remembering these things she'd like to say but won't (you hope!)

By Maureen Mackey
Also in Reader's Digest Magazine May 2009
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    1. It hurts to be downsized.

    I spent a couple of decades being the leading lady; now I have a character role.  

    2. I know he's your husband now.

    But he’s still my son.

    3. You don't seem very confident about yourself.

    The littlest comment from me is taken as a criticism, so I’m very careful what I say around you.

    4. A little gratitude wouldn't hurt.

    Every year, I send you a birthday present, but you never even pick up the phone to thank me. This year, I said, “That’s it. No more.” Yet look at me: I’m about to send another present. I guess that’s how I am.

    5. I want the best for both of us.

    We mothers say to our children, “I want you to be happy.” And we mean that. What we don’t say is, “But I would like to be happy too.”

    6. I know a little something.

    I’ve bought and sold 13 houses in my life. Why won’t you ask for my advice?

    7. When I visit you, I'm just coming to see the family.

    I’m not coming for a "white-glove inspection.”

    8. I've got his number.

    When I really want to talk to my son privately, I don’t call your house. I call his cell phone.

    9. I'm truly appreciative.

    I’m so happy that you allow my son—your husband—to visit me on Mother’s Day. It’s a long trip and a big expense.

    10. I have a dirty little secret.

    I’m afraid that if I don’t get this right, you’ll cut me off.

    11. I'm in competition with your mother.

    She takes you on vacations every year and buys things I can’t afford. All I can do is love you and babysit for you. I hope that’s enough and that it’s appreciated.

    12. I'm lucky to have you!

    Whenever I stay at your house, you always have my room ready, my towels, everything. You do all the right things.

    13. You know me well.

    I cherish the refrigerator magnet you gave me: “Age and treachery will always overcome youth and skill.”

    Sources: Susan Abel Lieberman, PhD (The Mother-in-Law’s Manual), Jane Angelich (What’s a Mother [in-Law] to Do?), and anonymous mothers-in-law in four states.


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    Your Comments

    • jskiss0055

      Haha, number 7. that is exactly how I feel when my MIL in town. But she is a nice lady, I have no complains, she does not interfere . Actually I wish she was more grandmotherly to my kids then she is and sent more time with them and spoiled them like grandmothers should do.

    • Amber

      Absoultely none of these apply to my MIL. She is very distant does not talk to her son or grandson (our child) only to my spouses ex and their daughter. Its really sad.

    • idunnogal

      My mom would tell us ” A daughter is a daughter, all of her life. A son is a son until he weds his wife.”
      Nothing wrong with that, someone making his own life. Others (including old party buddy’s) not invited.

      • LoriBelle

        So why don’t you leave YOUR family as you expect your husband to do? It’s a two way street you know.

    • Lynn

      Could I get advise from daugher n laws and mothers. . I was a single mom raised two wonderful sons, we were very close. My oldest son got married and within three months she took “control” over him, not health loving control. They have been married for ten years, two children. I have spend most of those ten years, hardly seeing them, but I see them when she will allow it, take whatever time and place I can. I don’t complain, and always try to show kindness, buy her presents as I do my son and grandchildren. However, no matter what I do, or how hard I tried, she treats me like she hates me. She seems to think “that this is a competition” and that if my sons loves me, he can’t really love her. Always quoting scriptures about how to leave his mother and cling to wife. The last year, I had to take off work on medical leave, and my youngest son lives in Seattle, and so much of the year, and all the surgeries I’ve been through alone. I even had to hire someone to take me to procedures. If you are a mother, you should understand how bad this hurts. My heart has been broken over and over. I have not ask for anything, I’ve never been to their house uninvited, not seen them in ten years on Holidays or mothers day, and I’ve not complained. Few weeks ago, I moved closer to them, and text my “daughter n law “she does not work”, please let me know if I could come watch the girls anytime, she cleans, rest, or anything she needs”, that I would love to see them, help out in anyway. Also ask her if she would like to get together and go for a walk. Never responded, then my son told me that me moving closer has been very stressful for her, and we would have to take things really slow. Please, if you have any advise, I would really appreciate it.

      • LoriBelle

        Sweetie, I don’t see anything changing also long as she sees her husband as property. He’s hers and that’s all it is to it. I’m in a similar boat, no children yet though. My son is in the Navy and I (nor his dad) have seen him in over two years, because every moment that they don’t spend alone, they spend with her family. There’s not even an opportunity to work on a relationship.

    • PosterGirl

      My MIL is critical, unappreciative and likes to play the guilt card every chance she gets. My mother, on the other hand, is generous, thoughtful, always asks about my husband and will scold me if she thinks I’m being unfair to him. As a result, if my mother needs anything and we can provide it, we do. If my MIL needs something? Not gonna happen.

    • liz29

      I just had lunch yesterday with my 104 year old MIL she has been nothing but kind and loving and having lost my Mom at fifteen I will always be appreciative.

    • Rebecca Ramirez

      Umm Im actually closer with my M.I.L than My own mother. We’ve had our ups and Downs but not a day goes by to where I havent AT LEAST talked to her on the phone or came by. I couldnt ask for a better mother in law…..LOVE THAT lady

    • Shannon Nealey

      When mothers-in-law cause problems–and they frequently do–the culprit is more often the man’s mother. These mothers have a hard time turning their sons over to another woman and having to give up their place at the helm that they’ve held for decades.

      I’ve encountered many male friends who were dating, engaged or even married but still put their mothers first. I was always the “voice of reason,” mainly because I told the truth and didn’t pull any punches. Plus, I have a degree in psychology. So they often came to me for advice. And I would tell them to end the marriage, take themselves off the market and remain single so they can be at their mothers’ beck and call since she came first in their lives. I always got protests about their emotional and sexual needs and I would reply that maybe their mothers would be more than happy to help them with their needs and I was always met with anger, shock and fury. Then I would say that I made my point and go on to explain that once they became men, they went out into the world to make a life of their own, to start their own family. To do that, they have to leave the woman they needed to be with the woman they choose to marry and have a family with and that the true role of a mother is to be left behind when the children leave the nest. Putting the wife first isn’t nor should it be an insult to his mother, but a testament to who well he was raised that he should respect his wife. When you marry, you forsake all others and let no man–or woman–pull you asunder. A good MIL will not compete with the DIL for the son/husband’s attention and vice versa. A good husband will never put his wife in that position where she feels she has to compete for his attention and if he or his mother does indeed force the wife/DIL into that position, she would do well to address the issue or end the relationship because she deserves a relationship where she doesn’t have to fight for her place in the family.

      • dragonwych

        Thanks. I wish my husband had known you before he destroyed our marriage with his clear preference for his mother.

    • Cecilia

      “I know you’re married to my son now…but please please don’t act like you own my son and that I’m an intruder when I want to speak with him. (that really hurts my feelings and unnecessarily puts distance between us) Let’s find out what we have in common besides my son and your husband and try to get to know each other.”

      • dannicalliope

        Please don’t act like YOU own your son and grandchildren and that I’m an intruder, and we’ll be fine. :)

    • Helena Corelle

      This must have been written by a mil. Sorry mil out there bible says a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife follow this rule already!