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Understanding the Mother-in-Law/Daughter-in-Law Relationship Part 1

Updated: Mar 3, 2021

Cecelia and I filming our MILDIL video

Do you remember the movie Monster-in-Law? It starred Jennifer Lopez and Jane Fonda in a romantic comedy centered around the tumultuous relationship between a bride and her future mother-in-law. If you have not seen it, you should. It will keep you laughing but, sadly, may hit closer to home than you would like to admit.

We have all heard of the dreaded mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship. Comedians tell jokes about it, shows have highlighted it, and hundreds of books have been written about it. No wonder some women grow up fearing their future mother-in-law, and why some mothers look on their future daughter-in-law as a foreign invader into their already established family.

My question has always been, “But, why?” Why does a relationship, that should be one of the most precious in a family, cause so much anxiety and hurt? Is it real? Or is it a false narrative? My daughter-in-law, Cecelia, and I are on a mission to destroy this negative stereotype and tell women who find themselves in these roles that if you think you are destined for misery, you have been fed a lie. To see our vlog on the subject, click here. But for now, let’s take a deeper dive into part one of our three-part series on this relationship.

At Lisa Lou’s, we seek to point you to truth. God has given us an example of what the mother-in-law/ daughter-in-law relationship should be. It can be found in the book of Ruth, and It is a beautiful illustration of how God designed this bond to work. These two women did whatever it took to care for each other, even when the man that brought them together was no longer with them. They loved each other, they honored each other, and the key to their success? They both put God as the most important figure in their lives. To help us understand the dynamics, let’s take a deeper look into the psychology of the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law.

Side note: These names have always been too wordy for me, and we do not use the word “in law” in my family. So, I have coined a new term. Knowing our relationship should be one based on love, I have incorporated the Spanish word for love: amor. I have created my own nicknames. Mother-in-law is mamor, and daughter-in-law is damor.

Understanding the Mamor:

First, we need to understand why things happen the way they do in this relationship. There is a special bond that occurs between a mother and her son. It is like the father/daughter bond, but different in certain ways. A little boy’s first love is usually his mother. How often have we been told stories where a toddler asks his mommy to marry him? She is the love of his life. He brings her flowers. He holds her hand. The affection he shows is strong.

As the boy grows older, he begins to separate from his mother and move toward his father. He looks to the male figure in his life for guidance on how to become a man. This separation is part of God’s plan, and it must occur for him to grow and mature. The first separation between mother and son can be painful, although she knows it is necessary for the health of her child.

The second, and final, separation occurs when the son marries. This can feel like a death to the mother, but these emotions have zero to do with her future damor, and they have everything to do with the separation that is occurring with her son.

I remember when my son, Caz, proposed to Cecelia. The two had dated since high school, and Cecelia and I had the advantage of several years to cultivate our relationship and develop a true love for each other. If my son had not asked her to marry him, I would have been crushed!

When the day finally came, I had butterflies in my stomach because I was so excited. Yet I suddenly had a flood of emotions that blind-sided me. I was not prepared for my reaction. When my father passed away and I received the initial news while standing in an airport, I could not breathe. I felt as though someone had stabbed me in the heart and punched me in the gut. This same feeling occurred when the day came for Caz to propose. “What was this feeling? What is happening?!?”

Years before Cecelia and I had joked if she and Caz did not marry, I could still be a bride’s maid in her wedding. We were being silly in our conversation when I told her I would be the one walking down the aisle crying because she was not marrying my son. It is important for you to understand how close we are, and how much we love each other.

So, why did I feel the same way on this special day as I did when I found out my father had passed away? Because what I had just experienced was the exact same thing. Death was staring me in the face. The dynamics of the relationship I had with my son were about to change forever, and his engagement represented the beginning of the end of a special bond as I had known it.

When a son marries, the mother feels replaced as the most important woman in his life. She is pushed into a new role, whether she is ready or not, and she no longer has control over anything in her son’s life. He is now a man, and he has flown away.

Understanding the Damor:

Caz and Cecelia on a football date

There are certain things a damor also experiences when it comes to her mamor. When she first begins dating her future husband, she might sense the strong connection between he and his mom. As the relationship moves along and the couple become engaged, there can even be a jealousy that develops. The bride wants her fiancé’s whole heart, not just part of it. If she feels he is holding back a portion of his love and giving it to his mother, this will cause problems.

Once the son and bride marry, the new bride can often feel she does not meet the expectations of her mamor. The first year of marriage is wonderful, but it can be hard. Two lives are learning to become one, and there will be bumps in the road. Maybe the damor borrowed a recipe from her mamor to cook her husband’s favorite dish, but according to her new husband it “does not taste like mom’s.” The damor can feel threatened as though she is being compared, by her husband, to another woman. This can make her feel insecure in her new role as a wife, and her instinct might be to push her mamor away, dig her heels in, and make it be known that she is now the Queen Bee.

Now What?

Now that we understand a little of the psychology that is occurring inside the mamor and damor, what do we do with this newfound knowledge? Embrace the reality! Acknowledge that these are very normal feelings for both women. Each of them is going through changes and being pushed into new roles. If you have never been in this position, then you are having to learn “on the job.” This means mistakes will be made and feelings might be hurt, even when it is unintentional.

The greatest thing both mamor and damor can do is show grace! Do not just listen to the words being said but, also look at the actions. Take a hard look inside her heart and ask, “What does she really mean? What is she, deep down, trying to communicate?” This helps everyone be more understanding as we continue to foster our new relationship.

Be on the lookout for the second part of our three-part series as we take what we have learned and discuss practical application in our new roles.

Together with you,

Lisa Lou


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