Disrespecting Mothers-in-Law

Commentary by Dr. Ursula A. Falk


Mothers and Others:  The Beleaguered Mother-in-Law


The term mother-in-law is an unfortunate term for a woman who has been judged as soon as her term of endearment changes from the warm loving mama and turns into the wife of her son - the son that she loved, nurtured and strengthened, and encouraged emotionally in any and all possible ways.  The moment that the daughter-in-law meets this person she has decided that she wants this person out of her life and her husband’s life.  She is determined to achieve this goal regardless of the “flaw” that exists.  The picture thus painted and labeled appears to have become a reality in the eyes of “daughter-in-law” and she makes certain that she paints the picture that she wants her spouse to see.

As Jews, as psychotherapists, and as people, we must understand the meaning, feelings, and actions and the result of such acts.  The perpetrator wants to own the man she has been able to win.  She wants to erase any love or obligations that this person feels or has, any connection with anyone to whom he has allegiance, especially if she is a female, and absolutely if she is his mother.  The mother was his first love and she might have some influence over the “boy” she raised who has become a man.

The mother wants her beloved son to be nurtured, loved, to receive care, just as she had nurtured him from birth to adulthood.  She also wants to be able to accept and be appreciated by her daughter-in-law and to somewhat feel reassured that her son will have a healthy and good life for the rest of his “one hundred and twenty years.”  She searches for a way for the new couple and their future children to live together in peace, harmony, and happiness.

The biblical story of Naomi and Ruth is such a wonderful one that every mother wishes she could have.  The daughter-in-law, who had become a widow, was a kind gentle young woman who had a conscience.  She accompanied her mother-in-law, wherever she needed to be.  They were best friends, and whatever needs Naomi had, Ruth was there to help and console her.  The two women loved one another and acted accordingly.  Of course, we must remember that the son/husband was no longer alive and there was no more competition.

 If you are the unfortunate rejected mother-in-law, do not expect much.  Be yourself; you apparently did a good job raising your son.  You have created a worthwhile son who is a desirable person.  You did the best that any mother can possibly do and you will continue to think of him with love.  You would hope that he also has love for you and would reject becoming a puppet who allows his mother to be denigrated and rejected.  Do not hold yourself responsible for his negative actions but think back how much he meant to you and what a joy he was in your life from infancy to adulthood.  You have been and are a good parent; otherwise your child could not be the adequate and educated man that he has become. 


 Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the author of several books and articles.

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