While Deena couldn’t really forget it and totally let it go, she did begin to look at her mother-in-law in a different light. She began to try to find ways to help that didn’t involve meeting her mother-in-law’s high standard of cleanliness – like running to the grocery store for milk, or dropping off the dry cleaning and laundry. Deena will probably never have a close relationship with her mother-in-law, but these days they are much more civil to each other.
Chana, 28, and Shlomo, 26, have a similar story to tell. They were married for almost four years and each claimed that the relationship with their in-laws has always been strained, and has placed a lot of pressure on their marriage. The dynamics between Chana and her mother in-law, for example, have never been good. Chana feels that Shlomo’s mother is overly critical of how she parents their children. She was also upset about her mother-in-law’s persistent and nagging comments that Shlomo works too hard. Chana saw them as attacks on her choice to be a stay-at-home mom.
On the other side, Shlomo, who is a quiet bookworm, has great difficulty connecting with his father in-law, who seems to live for sports. When Shlomo and Chana visit his in-laws, Shlomo is especially disturbed to see Chana share her father’s sports mania – leaving Shlomo feeling like an outsider.
It’s normal to want to be accepted by your in-laws. But feeling that you need to be accepted can bring complications, causing you to be uncomfortable and unnatural around them.
Unrealistic hopes cause problems, too. Many parents are initially overprotective of their own child, or have expectations that no spouse can meet in the beginning.
Often new husbands and wives assume they’ll be loved and accepted by in-laws, simply by virtue of having married the in-laws’ child. This may be the case, but it usually takes time to establish trust and respect. Just as it takes time to build other close relationships, gaining acceptance into a family doesn’t happen instantly.
After all, you’re stepping into a family with a long history of established bonds. Don’t be too hard on yourself and don’t expect too much. If your relationship with your own parents is wonderful, the one with your mother- and father-in-law may never measure up. If your relationship with your parents isn’t good, you may be too needy and demanding in trying to make up for it.
Next week, Part 27 – Refocusing Your Perspective
Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, MA, is the executive director of Shalom Task Force and author of a “First Aid for Jewish Marriages.” To order a copy, visit www.JewishMarriageSupport.com. For more information about Shalom Task Force, please visit www.shalomtaskforce.org. You can e-mail questions to him at email@example.com.