Sunday, February 27, 2011

Mother-In-Law Madness

Mother-In-Law or Monster-In-Law?

Q: How many mothers-in-law does it take to change a lightbulb?

A: One. She just holds it up there and waits for the world to revolve around her.

Mothers-in-law have historically gotten a bad rap. Why? For some the jokes are likely true, but that's not true of all mothers-in-law. Whenever I do speaking engagements and the subject of mothers-in-law comes up, the room explodes into fireworks. I've asked myself, "why is this such a hot topic?" So, I've decided to write an article and do some research on this subject.

I have been married to Jeff for almost 26 years. I'm incredibly lucky to have Terry as my mother-in-law. She's loving, supportive, non-intrusive, non-demanding and has made me feel loved like a daughter, not just a daughter-in-law. I truly admire her for how hard she works to ensure that her relationships with her kids and grandkids are filled with love and quality time together. She's also very smart and incredibly funny. She should absolutely give mother-in-law lessons! Even so, things haven't always been perfect. Inherent in the "in-law" relationship are complexities, to say the least.

I know that I'm very lucky and not everyone is. I hear stories from my clients and my students all the time about the difficulties they have with their mothers-in-law. Lack of respect, lack of understanding, lack of kindness, selfishness, demands...I'm sometimes astounded by the stories I hear. I've decided if I can write an article (and maybe a book, later on, with my mother-in-law), perhaps I can help bridge the gaps in these challenging relationships and teach some of the do's and don'ts for mothers-in-law, daughters-in-law and sons-in-law how their behaviors might be creating the difficulties.

Here are a few items from my research so far:

  • Mothers-in-law (MIL's) have better relationships with their Daughters-in-law (DIL's) when they engage in inclusive behaviors such as sharing family stories, calling her "daughter", etc... 
  • MIL's and DIL's better relationships occur when the MIL is seen as warm or sweet in personality.
  • A better relationship is associated with a good relationship with the MIL's son or daughter.
  • A better relationship is associated with the spouse displaying loyalty to the DIL before the MIL. (That one's going to cause some fights tonight!)

 There is so much more information that I will save for my article. Stay tuned. In the meantime, I'd love to hear from you about your relationships. E-mail me at  and put "mother-in-law" in the subject line. Thank you, in advance, for your input and sharing.

  Wishing you balance,





Friday, February 11, 2011

Tiger Mother Thoughts Continued

I'm going to share some more thoughts on The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua since now I have actually read the book.  Amy Chua actually allows herself to be quite vulnerable and shares even the ugliest sides of herself.  She admits the flaws in her philosophy, although, still holds on to the basic pillars of her beliefs in Chinese mothering. 

My overall reaction is sadness.  Watching Ms. Chua hold on to an argument with her daughter at all costs, including the cost of her relationship and self-respect.  To me, it simply shows stubbornness, not a cultural lesson at all.  The other impression I walked away with was that Ms. Chua experiences profound anxiety and uses her compulsivity and control of others to alleviate her own discomfort.  This, too, was a great cause of sadness for me. 

I appreciate Ms. Chua's honesty and even believe that perhaps Western parents should expect more of our kids than we do, but I do not condone her methods on any level.

This subject has been belabored in the media in recent weeks, so I will be quiet about it now.  I just thought that my previous blog post was unfair because I hadn't read the book.  I rest my case!

Wishing you balance,

Bette Alkazian, LMFT