The father/daughter relationship is unique in many ways. Fathers typically view their daughters as the most precious woman on the earth. Daughters (sons as well) are not only seen by their fathers as extensions of their identity, but in light of traditional male role, fathers have an innate tendency to be the protectors and defenders. As daughters reach puberty, the relationships with other males seem inevitable. Fathers usually have their guards up for unscrupulous and unsavory male characters. They do not want to see their daughters harmed in any way, but most importantly, they want to make sure that their daughter’s male friend or companion treats them as a special woman. These concerns often become bones of contention between the fathers and daughters. The root of this conflict lies in the classic male-female dichotomy in world view. This is especially true with the changes in the modern society; many men have difficulty adapting to women’s changing expectation of a man’s role. Modern women want to fend for themselves and prefer to be self-reliant. Another relevant factor is the paternalistic instinct of a father. Therefore, even when a daughter becomes a legal adult, or even truly matures as an adult woman, many fathers do have difficulty letting go of an urge to protect. Finally parents, including fathers, do have a biased opinion of their children, including daughters. At least in their minds, very few men appear to meet the imagined/expected standards for their daughters.
So what can fathers do to be good father-in-laws?
I suggest fathers use the following principles in cultivating a healthy relationship with their son-in-laws:
Do not view your son-in-law as a competitor. He did not “steal” your daughter. In most situations, he is somebody your daughter really loves and respects.
Please realize that once your daughter is an adult, and especially when she gets married, it is natural that your role as an advisor and protector should diminish.
Always remind yourself of the times when you were courting your wife and the challenges you may have faced with respect to her parents acceptance of you.
If you have done your job as a father, then you should learn to trust your daughter’s instincts and decision making. In this context, please try to focus on the positive qualities in your son-in-law that your daughter was attracted to.
Please accept that it is very unlikely that you will like everything about your son-in-law. Remember, you most likely do not like everything about your wife or daughter either.
Since it is very difficult to get to know people, find some time to spend with your son-in-law. Try to understand his family, cultural, ethnic, religious and professional backgrounds. You should be able to find some common threads.
What should son-in-laws do?
Son-in-laws can earn a couple brownie points by doing the following:
Remind yourself that you are a new member of the family. It is very important that you get to know the rest of the family well because your wife should not be expected to live in a vacuum just with you.
Parents should be universally respected, of course, barring a few expectations. Your wife’s parents deserve all the respect you can give them.
You did not choose your parents, nor did your wife. So accept them and love them even with their flaws.
Perhaps the surest way to become an excellent son-in-law is to truly love and respect your wife. When her parents understand that, they should kiss your feet!
It is smart to listen to her parent’s advice as it is to listen to your own. Both your and her parents have had more extensive life experiences. Make good use of that. If you have a disagreement, express it respectfully.
Special tip for son-in-law and mother-in-law relationship
Get with it, guys. Charm her socks off!
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 visit Charakcenter.org and request an appointment with us.