Theresa was very sad when she first came to my office. She was now 62 and, unfortunately, her husband of over 30 years had passed away about 5 years before. She had been living by herself for the last few years and felt rather lonely. Her only son, Dan, now 40, lived with her off and on until he met a woman about a year ago.
Dan was the apple of her eye. She loved having him around but especially after her husband’s death. Dan had a successful career, and he was the biggest source of Theresa’s support and pride. When Dan first met Molly, he came home and told his mom that he had just met the woman of his dreams. Theresa was quite excited since Dan has had a few painful breakups in the past.
A few months later, Dan brought Molly over and Theresa got the opportunity to meet her. She viewed Molly as her own daughter, especially because Dan was always the center of her universe. She could tell that they were very happy together. Theresa felt as though Molly was very lucky to have her sons love and attention.
About six months into their courtship, Dan proposed to Molly and the wedding date was set. Within a year of meeting, Molly and Dan were married. Now Dan had moved out and had his own place. Even though Theresa was sad not to have frequent company with Dan, she was also very happy that he found the love of his life. At the same time, she was saddened by her memories of how she met her husband decades ago. She began to miss her deceased husband even more.
Before getting married, Dan would check up on his mom even with just a phone call almost daily. But it seemed that his attention was now divided and often Theresa would not hear from him for days. She was feeling lonelier by the week. She noticed that at times, she left messages with Molly for Dan to call her back.
She would later learn that Dan never got the message. At times, when Molly answered the phone, Theresa could hear the resentment in her voice. Theresa didn’t know how to handle this difficult situation. She became increasingly sulky and withdrawn. She began not to eat or sleep much. When her family doctor noticed that she had lost about 15 pounds in 3 months without medical reason, he recommended her to see a psychiatrist.
The Root of the Conflict
The conflict between daughter-in-law and mother-in-law has existed for ages and may be one of the most contentious and complicated human relationships. In essence; it seems the conflict revolves around a man even though two women are involved. This man is both a son and husband. One woman will always view this man as a child while the other will always want this man to be by her side. Both women may seem justified in their perspectives and feelings. Therefore, the main key to minimize this conflict lies in the understanding of the basic cause of conflict itself.
What Mother-in-Laws Can Do
There are certain attitudes and/or behaviors which will promote healthier and more fulfilling relationships with your daughter-in-law’s:
· You should understand that the arrival of your daughter-in-law signals a very exciting and critical chapter in your son’s life. You should be excited about it and do everything possible to help your son transition smoothly.
· You should realize that your daughter-in-law is not there to replace you, just like you’ll never be the mother of your grandchildren. Nonetheless, both you and your daughter-in-law play distinct but critical roles in the lives of your son and grandchildren.
· It will serve you and your family's life very well to familiarize yourself with your daughter-in-law’s social, family, cultural and religious backgrounds. You should not try to impose your values but should celebrate the richness of life experiences that are offered by different backgrounds. You should realize that marriage offers your son new opportunities for growth as he makes a commitment to the love of his life and nurtures her. On the other hand, your daughter-in-law is not your foe. If you give it some honest thought, you and your daughter-in-law should work together to create the best life environment that you can provide to the man you both love. Ask yourself, what could feel more fulfilling?
· You believe your son is one of the most special people you’ve ever known. So your daughter-in-law should also be one of the most special people in your life because he chose her to be his life mate or even a soul mate. Given that you are older, more mature, and perhaps more resourceful, you should make your best efforts to be an ally and mentor for your daughter-in-law.
· As your son is beginning a new chapter in his life, you should be prepared to respect the new rules. You should respect their philosophies and ambitions. Always remember that at one time, you were a young daughter-in-law too. You should not want to subject your daughter-in-law to the same trials and tribulations that you had to undergo.
The purpose of this article is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical or psychiatric issue. Dr. Rakesh Ranjan is a practicing psychiatrist and a researcher. He is a recipient of several research awards and has authored several peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapter on psychiatric illnesses and their treatments. He is a national speaker for several organizations and serves on the medical advisory board for NAMI for Greater Cleveland. If you or a loved one is experiencing any symptoms that would lead you to believe that there could be a mental imbalance, please contact the Charak Center for Health and Wellness at 216-587-6727. You can also look us up online at charakcenter.org.