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Dear Dr. Yael,

I am writing to you about my problem in getting along with my daughter-in-law. She is very nice, but she never calls me by any name. I discussed this with her and told her to call me any name that she doesn’t call her mother. She calls her mother Mommy, so she can call me Mom or Ima. My son calls her mother Ima and her father Tatty, as they call her father Tatty and my husband Daddy. She smiles when we discuss this matter, but ends up avoiding calling either of us anything. This is very painful. She is a good wife to my son, and a respectful daughter-in-law in other ways. I don’t want to make a big deal about this, but it bothers me so much. Please respond how I can deal with this.


A mother-in-law


Dear Mother-in-law,

Thank you for your letter. I understand that it is hard for you that your daughter-in-law has a hard time calling you Ima or Mom, but you mention that she is otherwise respectful and nice to you. This is obviously uncomfortable for her and it seems like you have to respect that. Instead of feeling pained; try to focus on all of your daughter-in-law’s good points. This situation will also probably change once the couple has a child. At that point, your daughter-in-law will likely call you Bubby, Savta, or Grandma (depending which you choose).

Please don’t make a huge issue out of this situation. As in all situations, the only person we can change is ourselves. Is it possible for you to develop a closer relationship with your daughter-in-law by inviting her to eat out with you? Can you buy her special personal gifts that make her feel special to you. Maybe take her on a shopping trip where she picks something she likes. Praising your daughter-in-law with specific and descriptive praise will also lead to a closer relationship between the two of you.

Please focus on attributes that are important to her and praise her on specific things. People appreciate sincere praise and it tends to build relationships. For example, instead of saying, “your apartment looks great” (which is a nice thing to hear from a mother-in-law, but it is not specific and descriptive praise), you can tell her how you like the specific manner in which she decorated her apartment and you can be specific and descriptive. Then you can share that you notice that she always has great taste and makes things look so pretty. The more specific and descriptive you are the more real the compliment feels.

We all want genuine praise. As I write this letter, I don’t really know how easy it is for you to praise others. This idea may be difficult for you to carry out. I am advising you to examine yourself and try to treat your daughter-in-law with respect and love. Even if it is hard for her to call you a name, building a warm relationship with your daughter-in-law will lead to a closer feeling from her. She may have a hard time calling you a name and may feel criticized by your objections. Positive feelings between you is more important than calling you a specific name. Ultimately a close loving relationship will help your overall communication and feelings towards this daughter-in-law. Focus on what you can do to make this a more positive relationship. This will also help your son’s marriage. Hatzlacha!!


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Dr. Yael Respler is a psychotherapist in private practice who provides marital, dating and family counseling. Dr. Respler also deals with problems relating to marital intimacy. Letters may be emailed to To schedule an appointment, please call 917-751-4887. Dr. Orit Respler-Herman, a child psychologist, co-authors this column and is now in private practice providing complete pychological evaluations as well as child and adolescent therapy. She can be reached at 917-679-1612. Previous columns can be viewed at and archives of Dr. Respler’s radio shows can be found at