Your mother-in-law shared her pain with me. Now I’d like to share some of my thoughts with you
You don’t know me. We’ve met, of course — at your vort and at your wedding and at your sheva brachos. What a radiant kallah you were! And what a joy it was for me to be a part of your simchah.
I’ve known your chassan since the day he was born. Your mother-in-law is like a sister to me. I’ve enjoyed seeing my friend’s nachas as her precious son started this chapter in his life. She was so excited to have a new daughter.
Since your husband was her first “married,” she asked me for tips on being a good mother-in-law. She wanted to make sure she didn’t overwhelm you with her eagerness for a close relationship. She wanted to be careful to give you and her son plenty of room to start your new life together.
Over the past year-and-a-half since your wedding, she’s checked in with me from time to time to ask what’s normal, what to expect, what’s appropriate in terms of help, advice giving, inviting you for meals or Shabbosim. She wondered if it was normal that you never called to say hello or good Shabbos or Yom Tov. Or that when she called you, you didn’t pick up, but texted her a brief greeting in return.
She began to wonder why her son only called when he was driving to yeshivah or was at the store, never from your apartment. She asked her son if everything was okay, and he said it was. Having always been close to him, she was unsure what to say, not wanting to make trouble for you. Once, after she’d texted you about a particular idea she had, her son called to say that she should please only give her advice or ideas to him, not to you.
She’s sent you gifts. You did text a thank-you for those. When you came for Shabbos, just that one time, she tried to make the foods she thought you might like. She understood when your husband told her you felt uncomfortable sleeping at her home, so she set you up with a neighbor who had lovely accommodations. And she didn’t question it when you’d only come for two of the meals and wanted to keep them short because you were tired.
And there was the time right after sheva brachos when she texted you to ask when would be a good time for her to fill you in on the family’s kashrus minhagim and you wrote back that her son knows how to keep kosher and so do you and you’ll do whatever you want to do.
Needing somewhere to turn for help, and realizing I know a bit about the topic and about her, she chose to share her pain and seek guidance from me. And now I’d like to share some of my thoughts with you.
I know their home is a bit chaotic at times. And I know that my friend likes to give advice. And I know it’s hard for her to let go of her son and take a giant step back. I’ve been encouraging her to do this and supporting her in the transition to a different kind of relationship with her son, now that he’s married.
I realize it’s still early in your marriage and that building a relationship takes time. I imagine your mother-in-law’s ideas and advice probably don’t help you want to get closer to her. In fact, the opposite.
Newly marrieds need and deserve their space. And most of us perceive unasked-for advice as criticism, so I assume hers was unwelcome on many levels.
I just wanted to share with you a few things about your mother-in-law that you may not realize yet. Even though she sometimes offers unasked for advice, and has some ideas you’re not interested in, and may even come on a little too strong at times, she, too, is learning how to navigate this new parshah of having her son leave and become part of a new family. Your mother-in-law may have her flaws — don’t we all! — but she isn’t mean or dangerous. In fact, she’s one of the most generous people I know. She doesn’t have a lot of money, but she has a lot of heart and she would do — and has done — almost any kindness for anyone at any time. I’ve been on the receiving end many times. Your mother-in-law also has a natural emunah that’s something to respect and emulate.
Since she’s asked for and welcomed my advice, I remind her that she shouldn’t give you advice unless you specifically ask her for it. (By the way, she happens to have good advice about a lot of things! I tend to find it worth my while to hear her out, even if it doesn’t resonate.)
I tell her that you have to come first now; you’re her son’s priority. That she should never put him in the middle between his wife and his mother — it’s a terribly painful place for a boy/man to be, and her son’s shalom bayis is the most important thing in the world, and she should do all she can to support and encourage it.
I imagine you’re trying to set boundaries, but I wonder if you’d be willing to do so with a little more kindness and sensitivity. I know you’re the new daughter-in-law, and she’s supposed to be the experienced adult, but this is new territory and a big change for her.
And after all, she raised your husband in a good, loving, and happy home, under some challenging circumstances. She deserves some kavod, doesn’t she?
And since you don’t follow her advice in any case, why not have some good will and indulge her good wishes on occasion and hear her thoughts? While her advice, and maybe even her approach, may have been off-putting to you, I wonder if you’d be willing to get to know her a bit. She’s a warm, funny, loving person who has only good intentions and isn’t out to intrude, but rather to connect.
She’s open to anything that would make it easier for you to become part of their family. She’s working on taking a step back. But I’m wondering if you might consider taking a step forward.
Your Mother-in-Law’s Friend
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 760)
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