Dear Dr. Yael:
I wish to share some thoughts with you and Despondent Daughter-in-Law (Magazine, 10-28-2011). I am a happily married woman who has a great relationship with my mother-in-law. Although it might seem to others that my mother-in-law sometimes favors her other children’s families over mine, I don’t let that bother me – I have a different approach toward the whole situation.
One must keep in mind that in-laws do not have any obligations toward their children once they get married. Parents usually help us as much as they can, and we appreciate them for it. However, we should not feel as if they are “fulfilling an obligation toward us” and always expect help. That being said, if parents choose to give special care or attention to one or more of their children – that’s their choice. And they most likely have good reason for doing so. It is inappropriate for us to judge them unless we know all the details of their relationships with everyone. To Despondent I say, there could be many reasons why your mother-in-law treats your sister-in-law better than she treats you. Here are some possible examples:
Your sisters-in-law help their mother or do things for her that you are unaware of; thus your mother-in-law feels that she should help them more in return.
Your mother-in-law feels that they are more appreciative of all that she does for them, and therefore wants to do more for them. I am not saying that you do not appreciate her efforts – however there are different ways in which we can appreciate things. (I will explain this point later.)
Your sisters-in-law give your mother-in-law expensive gifts in private. Your mother-in-law may feel that she should buy them more expensive gifts for two reasons: to express, in kind, her gratitude for their generosity, or to help ease their possible difficult financial situation.
Maybe at the bris of one of her grandsons, your mother-in-law felt that your sister-in-law was less capable of holding the baby (among other things), and therefore needed her help more than you did.
Your mother-in-law might feel closer to your sisters-in-law because they share everything with each other, and it’s easier for your mother-in-law to communicate with them and make herself available to them.
My point is that you never know what the real reason is for your mother-in-law’s greater closeness with one child as opposed to another. Accordingly one should not speculate.
By no means am I trying to justify your mother-in-law’s actions. I am simply saying that you should feel she has good reasons for doing what she does, and not be angry or upset with her. This is the only way for you to get closer with her in the future. I know of many older couples who express the thought that if we would only be a little more forgiving of the actions of our parents and in-laws, our lives would be so much better.
I would suggest the following to Despondent Daughter-in-Law:
1) Do not expect anything from your in-laws. Do not feel that they are obligated to help you. If your mother-in-law does something that you feel is unfair, justify her action (you should be dan her lekaf zechut – judge her favorably) and tell yourself that whatever she does is between her and her daughters. This might be hard at first but it will get easier with time, and eventually you will see that there will no longer be any unfair situations taking place.
2) Be very appreciative. When your mother-in-law does something nice for you (i.e. helping you), make her feel as if this was the nicest thing that any mother-in-law could do and thank her over and over again. You can even show your appreciation by sending her flowers and card. You can’t imagine the effects that these little gifts can have. In-laws have a special ability to see beyond your words, namely if you are truly thanking them or saying thanks but feeling that it was nice but not good enough. If you do this, you will see that after a while she will want to help you and your family much more.