You know who understands how hard it is to be a wife and a mother? Our mothers-in-law! Time to practice our humility and take 14 great pieces of advice from women who know.
Is any family bond more fraught than that of mother-in-law and daughter-in-law? And pop culture often feeds into this misunderstood relationship: the stereotype of the mean, controlling mother-in-law is a Hollywood staple.
But in real life, some of us actually love our mothers-in-law and rely on them for advice and support—and why shouldn’t we? Our mothers-in-law have been through a lot. These are women who have walked the walk as wives and mothers, balancing home and families and often careers, juggling kids and dishes and the ever-present basket of laundry. They have a lot of experience in the wife-mother tightrope act, and we can learn a lot from them.
My mother-in-law is a woman who seems to be able to do it all: she’s started a successful business, works two jobs, cooks every meal from scratch, and still somehow managed to raise four kids on a farm while her husband worked insane hours. Bottom line, she’s an inspiration and a bottomless well of useful advice: she frequently tells both me and my sister-in-law, also a mother, that we should “lose the guilt.” It’s a mantra I’ve tried to take on through what seems like an impossible task of trying to raise my own four kids while balancing work and of course, that pesky laundry pile. She’s been a huge source of comfort. The only difference? I definitely don’t cook every meal from scratch.
I know I’m not alone in being grateful for my mother-in-law, and in the spirit of celebrating a precious relationship, I asked a few women to share the best piece of advice that their mother-in-laws have given them. And hopefully we can all learn a thing or two from them, too. Comments have been lightly edited.
1.’Choose your battles’
Mark Kate Dempsey, a mom of seven from Illinois, said her mother-in-law told her to be selective about the fights she wanted to have “especially with toddlers and teens!” Whether it’s that crazy outfit your toddler insists on wearing or the turbulent teen years, MILs know that this too shall pass.
MORE TO READ: Parenting my strong-willed child through his “dark days”
2. ‘The little things are the most important’
I love this piece of advice from Megan Bishop, a mom of four from Michigan: “Mine taught me to burp correctly!” It’s a reminder that helping each other out on the small things in motherhood can really make a difference.
3. ‘Never feel guilty’
Kathryn Hulett, also a mom of four from Michigan, received some soothing advice from her mother-in-law, who told her to lose the guilt about asking for or accepting any help. Amen, sister, amen.
4. ‘Talk to your kids like it matters’
Mary Beth Jacobson, a Michigan massage therapist and a mother of one daughter, said, “My mother-in-law taught me to talk to Kate from day one like an adult (and not so much ‘baby talk’), meaning I narrated what I was doing throughout my day, even if it was laundry, dishes, or errands,” she said. “At two years old, she surprises me with her expansion of language.”
5. ‘Don’t freak out when the kids are sick’
Melissa Reamer, a mom of three from Michigan, says that her mother-in-law reminds her that a stomach flu is survivable, it really is. Actually, now that I think about it, some guilt-free TV watching is never a bad thing, right, ladies?
6.’It’s okay to say no’
When Christina Crismore, a mom of one from Michigan, was feeling overwhelmed, her mother-in-law told her that it’s important to protect your sanity when your plate is already full—because it keeps things calm in the household.
7. ‘Make time for date night’
Ericka Granata, a mom of three, said her mother-in-law told her that one date night a month is critical for maintaining a relationship with her husband.
8. ‘Pray and don’t worry.’
It’s easy to focus on the “big picture” worries of marriage and motherhood, but the best advice might just be the most simple. Ohio blogger Annie Deddens’ mother-in-law often tells her to put her worries in God’s hands.
9. ‘Life has its seasons’
Katie Van Brunt, a military wife expecting her third child, said her mother-in-law taught her to go with the flow, because having a happy life inevitably means embracing change.
10. ‘The grass is greener where you water it’
Amy Hutton Sink, a mother of one son and a birthmother from North Carolina, never met her MIL, who passed away before she met her husband. But she taught her son that instead of looking at what other people have, you should take care of what you have and watch it flourish.
12. ‘Don’t complain—to your mom’
Lauren Hartmann, a writer and mom of three from Oregon, said her mother-in-law “encouraged me to try my hardest not to vent negative things about my husband to my parents. Not because she thought he was perfect by any means, but because it’s easy for parents to take the side of their child and it might cause a strained relationship between them.”
13.’Be a united front’
“If you are going to disagree about discipline, do it behind closed doors and not in front of the kids,” says Jennifer Dohm, a labor and delivery nurse and mother of three from Michigan.
14. ‘Give it up to God’
And when in doubt, take a cue from Spring Maertens’s mother-in-law, who advised her to make this her mantra. Enough said, right?
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