There must be millions of in-laws stories or jokes like if you look up the word Satan in the dictionary, you’ll see a picture of my mother-in-law holding a pitchfork, with horns growing out of her head.
But the reality is not humorous. Many a marriage counselor has heard stories about how the in-laws are ruining their clients’ marriages. “If only they weren’t around, we would have a wonderful life, but . . .” And many a husband or wife has heard “Your mother/father hates me.”
Many parents, when they see their newborn, and all during their developmental years and beyond, start weaving fantasies of the wonderful things their child will accomplish someday. For some, it’s taking over the family business, for others it might mean becoming president of the United States. The list of their child’s wishful accomplishments is long and varied and it might get to a point that no mortal will ever be good enough to marry their child.
When the child finally marries, and it doesn’t matter if that child is seventeen or thirty-five, the parents become in-laws. They can either make nicey-nicey or they can become the dreaded in-laws. Sometimes, it doesn’t make any difference if the spouse and the in-laws try to make nicey-nicey if another factor is at work.
Married children, having spent a lifetime of seeking parental approval, often still confide things to their parents that are better kept between husband and wife. When a mother or father hears that their child’s spouse has been doing things to make their precious child unhappy, the disapproval rating goes up.
The parents may have learned the lesson that it’s better to listen than to offer advice or criticism but that doesn’t stop them from holding a grudge against their child’s spouse. If they hear enough of those stories, that dislike is bound to escalate and they may soon start to give both criticism and advice.
When the child remains married to the spouse, and the parents still hear complaints against the partner, it becomes very difficult to act like nothing is wrong and to make nicey-nicey when you see one another.
There is one other factor that is equal in importance and that is the gossip mill. Women have a tendency to sit around and compare stories of the worst mother-in-law. In order not to feel like an outsider for not having at least one of those stories, a woman may have to dig very deep to try to remember something that her in-laws did that hurt her feelings.
When you concentrate long enough on all the things you might hold against someone, you can usually find enough grievances. The same holds true that if you concentrate long enough on all the things that are good about a person, you can usually find enough good qualities to form a great relationship.
If every parent and child tried to concentrate on the good qualities of their in-laws instead of the bad experiences, comedians and playwrights might soon have to find another subject for their stories and jokes.