Depending on your relationship with your future mother-in-law, it can either be an honor or an unpleasant heart-stopper when she utters the words, "You can start calling me 'mom.'"
"I was raised to call adults from an older generation by their surname (e.g.: Mrs. Smith) so that's what I did with my mother-in-law who was my grandmother's age when we first met," says *Amanda, one real bride. "When the engagement happened, she asked me to switch to Beth or mom."
Not able to say the elder woman's first name and reluctant to offend, Amanda complied, though under her breath she'd say to herself, "Husband's mom."
Flash forward nine years, Amanda's son asked "husband's mom" why his mother called her mom if she was dad's mom. Her mother-in-law's response? "I don't know." An abashed Amanda said, "You told me to." Her MIL replied she'd also given the option of her first name in a way that made it clear it was her preference.
Since then Amanda has stuffed her feelings, except to her supportive and empathetic husband. She now calls her mother-in-law by her first name, gagging on the inside.
Marthine, on the other hand, found a workable compromise to the "call-me-mom conundrum." Her mother-in-law was resistant to the relationship for five years because she wanted her son to marry an Indian woman. She explains, "Once we became engaged, though, she not only accepted that I existed but pulled a 180 so fast it made my head spin. All of sudden she wanted us to have a close mother-daughter relationship."
Married in January, 2014, Martine now calls her husband's parent "Amma," which means mother. She confesses, "I still feel a bit bullied into it, but I am growing to like her, even love her, and want her to feel respected and loved as well."
In the end, there is not an easy answer. All you can do is choose one that you can live with in the long term and on your own terms.
Sherry Amatenstein, LCSW is a New York City-based marriage therapist and author.