With Mother’s Day around the corner, it's a great time to shift your focus to family. But when you’re in a relationship, this can be complicated, because there are two families to contend with. Each will have its own quirks, difficulties, traditions, and dynamics. But perhaps one of the most tricky relationships to navigate is between you and your mother-in-law.
There’s no “right” way to have a relationship with your mother-in-law. You might find you hit it off from the beginning, you may find that you never really break through and become friends. That’s OK. You don’t have to become bosom buddies, but there’s always room to bond with your mother-in-law and make your relationship stronger. Having a good relationship (even if it’s not a close one), will make life easier for you, your mother-in-law, your partner, and everyone in the family.
Luckily, there are lots of ways to bond with your mother-in-law; some are about fostering emotional intimacy, some are about spending quality time together. If you’re struggling to get close to your mother-in-law, here are nine ideas to get you started.
1. Cook Together
If the heart of the home is the kitchen, that’s a great place to start bonding. Offering someone help is always a good way to create warmth, so next time you’re over see if you can help her prepare a meal. If not, keep an eye out for other ways you could lend a hand—maybe she’s gardening, maybe you could watch after some younger family members, just look for a way you can assist.
2. Ask Her Questions About Her Life
This may seem simple, but it’s so important. Often, we only see our partner’s family as extensions of our partner, and we ignore the fact that they have their own lives, histories, and passions. So try asking your mother-in-law more about herself. Whether she runs her own business, grew up somewhere interesting, or has a lot of hobbies, try to gently question (you don’t want to look like you're prying) and see if you can get her to open up about herself.
3. Go to a Movie or Play Together
If you really have trouble making small talk with your mother-in-law, then plays or movies can be a lifesaver. Iit’s a trick my brother and I used to use when my divorced parents had to spend time together, and it worked every time.) It’s a way of spending time in the same space and experiencing something together, but it also keeps talking to a minimum—you spend most of the time sitting in silence watching something, after all. And afterwards you'll have an easy topic of conversation: dissecting the show's plot! Sure, you may not become BFFs, but it’s still quality time together.
4. Ask Her for Advice
Another great way to build a connection is to make yourself vulnerable to someone else. I’m not talking about opening up about all of your biggest fears, but just asking for advice can help initiate a bond between two people. It doesn’t have to be about something big and life-changing (although it can be), but reaching out and asking for her help might help soften things up. Whether it’s asking for a recipe or advice for problems at the office, it’s a good place to start.
5. Host a Family Board Game Night
As long as your partner's family isn’t too cutthroat, a board game night can be a great way to bond and have fun. Firstly, if you and your mother-in-law feel really distant it can help to do a group activity before you get one-on-one time. Secondly, very few things in life are as revealing as watching someone Monopoly. You’ll make some memories, but you'll also really get to know each other.
6. Plan a Spa Day
If your mother-in-law likes a bit of pampering, a spa day is another opportunity for bonding that doesn’t have to involve a lot of emotional sharing. Book some manicures or massages (or both) for Mother’s Day or a birthday. Everyone feels better when they’re more relaxed, so you may find the conversation flows easier than you think.
7. Talk About Your Partner’s Childhood
There can often be a weird, underlying sense of competition between you and your partner’s mother. They raised them and knew them way back when, but chances are that you’re the most important person in your partner’s life now. Give a nod for the fact that your mother-in-law has been there since the beginning by asking about your partner’s childhood, looking at old photos, and maybe even swapping embarrassing stories about your partner. It’s a good way to show that you understand how important their relationship and history is, which can go a long way.
8. Participate in One of Her Hobbies
Pottery, yoga, rock climbing: It doesn’t matter what it is, showing an interesting in your mother-in-law’s hobbies can be a really good peace offering. If they’re a private person or you sense that they prefer a solo endeavor, it may be best to steer clear—but if they’re up for a partner, try volunteering to join.
9. Go for a Walk
A good walk and some fresh air have a way of getting the conversation flowing—maybe it’s because many of us do our best thinking when we’re moving or maybe it’s just the outdoors that give us a gentle boost of endorphins. Heading out for an informal walk doesn't have the pressure of, “We’re doing this because we NEED to bond.” Instead, just take the opportunity when the time (and weather) is right and ask some general questions to get the bonding started.
Everyone has a different relationship with their mother-in-law, and it might be that you’re never going to be super close. That’s OK. But taking opportunities to bond when you can will make you life easier and make you feel like you're on the same team. When in doubt, start small and build your way up—it’s better to let it happen naturally than to force it. Simply spending time in the same space can be a great start.