In a survey of 89 mothers-in-law, she found that mothers of sons tend to be more worried about the changes marriage will bring than mothers of daughters. Mikucki-Enyart attributes this concern to the idea that wives tend to maintain a couple's social calendar, close relationships, and traditions. When a mother sees her son get married, she worries if his wife will interfere in family visits, phone calls, and holidays.
At the same time, a survey of 133 daughters-in-law found that wives often worry about their relationships with their husband's mothers. In a way, Mikucki-Enyart says, the women are competing to "nurture," and the idea that one woman is better at it than the other can be a source of tension.
"We expect a daughter-in-law not to like a mother-in-law and to expect her to be meddlesome," Mikucki-Enyart says. As a result, both women tread so carefully around each other that they eventually become distant. "It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy," she says.
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So how can families stop a "Monster-in-Law" scenario in its tracks? Ultimately, it is up to the husband/son to "step up to the plate," Mikucki-Enyart says.
"He has to make his wife his priority and let that be known," she says, adding that the couple must present a united front. Daughters-in-law, in turn, should keep their mothers-in-law involved with the family by inviting them over, communicating regularly, and sending photos.
This advice makes more sense to me than that offered by the authors of a study published last November on in-law relationships. The researchers recommend that wives avoid their in-laws.
The NIH-funded 26-year longitudinal study of married couples found that wives who feel close to their husband's parents may have trouble establishing certain boundaries and, over time, may regard even well-intentioned advice as meddling. In contrast, when sons-in-law are close to their parents-in-law, the marriage is strengthened, according to the NIH study.