The Good Son-in-Law

By Bonnie Baker Cowan

Grandmothers with daughters-in-law often feel they don’t enjoy enough access to and information about their grandchildren. The relationship isn’t always easy and comfortable sometimes because of the natural bond between a daughter and her own mother or because a daughter-in-law feels her measure of control is being threatened by a ‘meddling mother-in-law.’ But what about the relationship with a son-in-law? Is it just as fraught with tension?

I am blessed with the best one in the world. He’s not only a terrific husband to my daughter and father to my grandchildren, but he is also easy to talk to, supportive of me and forthcoming with information. He’s been there for me on numerous occasions and I think of him as a son. Like many mothers, I confess that when he replaced me as my daughter’s confidante, I felt a twinge of loss. But he makes up for that loss with other attributes that create family harmony for all of us.

Jill of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan felt the same loss, but even more poignantly when her only daughter married. “She and I shared a wonderful intimacy until she married Bruce,” Jill says. “She’s my only daughter and I really miss that connection now.”  The problem is amplified for Jill because her son-in-law seems very possessive of his wife and children. “I often feel he is threatened by my presence and my visits are really uncomfortable sometimes. When I call to ask about the children, he’s very non-communicative and seems to resent my asking questions about his family.”

Celine of Quebec City has no problem with her son-in-law and the relationship they share. In fact, she’s breathing a sigh of relief. “My daughter was 37 when she married and I was beginning to think it would never happen,” she explains, laughing. “So imagine my eagerness to promote her marriage and happiness. As far as I’m concerned, he’s perfect.”

My mother adored my first husband. In fact, with three daughters and a couple of divorces and remarriages, she continued to stand her ground and refused to like any subsequent sons-in-law, even the one who married my middle sister and is still married to her  after 40 years. She simply showed her disapproval of all her daughters’ husbands except for my first one until the day she passed away. We daughters have since mused that maybe she had Mrs. Robinson designs on him!

I was determined I would not be that kind of mother-in-law. Fortunately, I lucked out. And, we’re all changing with the times. Dr. R.C. Dubuc of Ottawa says “Men in this generation are different too. They’re more involved in helping to raise children and be partners in the marriage. Getting along with their mothers-in-law is part of the new male attitude.”

As mothers-in-law, we can do our part to make the relationship work for our daughters, sons-in-law and ourselves. Welcoming the man our daughter has chosen to spend her life with is the first rule. Her love for him is different from her love of her mother. Their bond deserves our respect and support.

Meddling in their relationship, even if a daughter complains about her husband is not a good idea. Nor is competing with him for your daughter’s attention or that of the grandchildren. He may be your daughter’s new best friend, and he is definitely the daddy of the grandchildren and that won’t change even with marital spats and disagreements along the way.  In fact, supporting him and appreciating his favorable attributes will make a daughter happy and help cement harmony in the family.

Jill recently helped her son-in-law babysit one weekend while her daughter was away on a girlfriends’ weekend. “That time together changed our relationship,” she says. “We had to work together to look after the kids and I think we both began to respect and trust each other.”

I might see if my son-in-law wants to have lunch this week!