Learning to be loved by my mother-in-law

September 9 | Guest post by Alexandria
Art by Etsy seller collageOrama
Art by Etsy seller collageOrama

My husband and I have been married for a couple of years now, and we recently decided to "take the plunge" into the waters of living with his mom, my mother-in-law. She's been living alone off and on in his childhood home for many years now. With some recent health scares from the last year (and, admittedly, us wanting to save more money to buy our first home), we decided this would be a symbiotic choice of happiness and growth for us all.

Of course I was concerned about our privacy as a married couple, our dogs destroying her beautifully kept lawn, and our love for loud music becoming a nuisance for her. But all those concerns subsided when I was blind-sided by my most difficult adjustment of all: learning to be loved by my mother-in-law.

When I was in elementary school, my mom died from cancer. Cancer took her quickly, I was confused, and I've spent every day of my life since then trying to understand loss and grieve in all the different happy and sad phases of my life so far. The weight of her absence ebbs and flows, but I remember it first hit me hard when I met my high-school boyfriend's family.

His mother was so warm and kind and maternal, and I found myself loving that presence and looking forward to seeing her at his house. Yet sometimes, I would have brief moments of envy that he had a mom like her and sadness that I didn't. Throughout our relationship, I became extremely close with his mother and his entire family. When my boyfriend and I split in college, I was sad things didn't work out between us, but I was equally sad I wouldn't have his mom in my life anymore.

Fast forward to when I met my husband's mother. It was clear to me that their relationship was strong and that he truly loves her, and I have always adored witnessing their dynamic. The way he hugs her, the way he kisses her on her cheek, and how he helps her up the stairs and opens the car door for her. The way they talk on the phone almost every day just to say "hi." She cooks us endless meals made from love and tradition and is always drumming up (sometimes comical) remedies for our random ailments. She is soft, gentle, and a loving mother in every sense. I have grown to love her, too, and I know she loves me.

So, when I instantly found myself uncomfortable and lost in this new living space when we moved in to her house, I was surprised and confused by my feelings that came out of nowhere. As she offered me food, conversation, and company when my husband worked late, I became overwhelmed and anxious and receded to our room and cried. I was embarrassingly confused and mad at myself for acting unintentionally cold to her — unable to find the words to explain to my husband as to why I was feeling this way, because I didn't even understand myself.

I had never had an issue with her until reality hit me that I was about to embark on a new phase in my life where I would become emotionally (and obviously geographically) closer to his sweet, loving mother more than ever before. And that scared the living crap out of me… and that has been a difficult thing to admit to myself, my husband, and my mother-in-law.

Every day since we've moved in has been a slow but steady improvement for us all, where we're learning to understand each other better and appreciate each other under one roof. Just like anything else that is new or foreign to you, you need to practice it — so I am. I am practicing being out of my comfort zone every day I am home where I am learning to embrace a home of love and family, and I am confident it will become familiar to me with a lot of communication, patience, and time.

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  1. This.
    I have a very different MIL dynamic involving moving back to my husband's small town near his very "involved" mother. The past year has has highs and lows of figuring out boundaries and what amount of independence is appropriate, with lots of feeling hurt in the mean time. The last bit of your post can apply to almost all relationships– PRACTICE. We usually choose to be around the people we enjoy, but sometimes in life we have to learn to love people we aren't naturally inclined to. It's easy to just say "no, this relationship isn't going to work," but your life can have so much more joy if you give the relationship a chance and just practice at it. Change doesn't happen over-night, but you have a lifetime as a member of that family, so you might as well start improving things.

    5 agree
  2. This post gave me all the feels. As someone who "lost" my mother at 15 and grieves the absence of her everyday, that relationship is something that I am constantly searching for. Although my relationship with my mother in law is significantly different than the one described, I'm almost grateful because that's the only kind of mother relationship I actually know how to do. So glad you found someone to be your mama, and I hope that everyone who is still searching for that is able to identify that source of motherly love, even if it has to come from yourself.

    2 agree
  3. It is normal to feel a little left out that your SO has a parent(s) while you have none (I lost both of my parents before they were 60). But on the flip side (at least in my case), my parents were so sick before they passed (father died of lung cancer at 54 and mother died of breast cancer at 59), that passing on was better then trying to fight an obvious losing battle.
    While my MIL is not someone I would choose to be around 24/7, she is still my husbands mother and he loves her.

  4. I'm the partner with the happy family in my relationship, while my fiance is estranged from his parents (the final straw was his getting engaged to me against their wishes). My family and I do our best to show him he's welcome, and we love him, but I know we can't replace his parents and shouldn't try to. Basically, he's grieving a loss even though they haven't actually passed away. Those of you who have lost parents- what has been the most helpful way for your in-laws to approach you and support you when it comes to these things?

    2 agree
    • My parents are living but our relationship has never been parental. My husband's family is very warm and welcoming. His parents are pseudo parents to a lot of their kids' friends. This meant adjustment for both of us. For them, it was giving me a bit more space than was intuitive for them. For me, it was reminding myself that the feeling of invasiveness was coming from a place of love and if I felt overwhelmed, it was ok to take 5 minutes by myself.

  5. I lost my mom (also to cancer) about 2 years before marrying my SO. We were high school sweethearts and so our families had been very close for a long time when she died. He grieved with me, and so did his family (obviously in very different ways). His mom (who also lost both of her parents in her early 20s and thus really understands what I have been going through) has in some ways been a second mother to me since then, and we love each other for sure. I very much sympathize with OP's guilt and complicated reactions to building a relationship like that. His mom has often invited me to call her "mom" but I feel so uncomfortable with that, like it's a betrayal of my own mom and the incredible relationship I had with her. I don't know how to tell my MIL that without hurting her feelings. For the relationship to be there is one thing, but naming it and trying to describe it in any useful way is quite another. I'm glad to know that I am not alone in this confusion, discomfort, and guilt.

    1 agrees

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