I shared my daughter-in-law’s excitement as she packed to move her and my son’s belongings to their new home. Watching them go was bittersweet. I’d come to love having them in the house but also still wanted them to move to the next level of their life. After two years with us, they were ready. I’m glad that we got to play a role in them getting to the point in their marriage. It’s our job as parents.
When our children get married, as their parents we have an ongoing job to do in how we build our relationship with them as a married couple and as individuals. Too often mothers-in-law get pitted against their sons- or daughters-in-law when it doesn’t have to be that way. As a mother-in-law, I’ve learned several things about how to maintain a good relationship with one’s married children. Feel free to tweak these tips to what works for your family dynamic!
In Islam, marriage is a noble institution, wherein (ideally) two people commit to share their lives and safeguard each other’s modesty and faith. Allah (S) points out committed spousal relationships as one of his ayah (signs). Allah (S) says:
And of His signs is that He created for you from yourselves mates that you may find tranquility in them, and He placed between you affection and mercy. Indeed in those are signs for people who give thought. [Surah Rum, 30:21]
Islamic teachings center on marriage as a crucial part of a person fulfilling their human need for intimacy and sexual gratification. Allah (S) says:
Let those who find not the wherewithal for marriage keep themselves chaste until God gives them the means. [Surah Nur, 24:33]
Muslim parents should appreciate their children’s burgeoning desires for intimate companions and life partners as they reach adulthood. It may be difficult to see our babies as sexual beings, but we must remember that Allah (S) created them as such; as their parents, we need to help them navigate the social terrain of eros love and marriage and encourage them to engage in intimate relationships in a way that is pleasing to their Creator.
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When our son came to me and told me that he met someone, the theories stemming from the discussions my husband and I had about supporting our children when they were ready to marry transitioned into practice. We met the beautiful Muslimah our son selected and did all the planning necessary for the young couple to wed. The ceremony was simple yet beautiful.
It wasn’t until after the wedding and the newlyweds returned and settled into married life in our home that I realized the adjustments I would have to make when forming a relationship with my daughter-in-law (DIL). I found the label mother-in-law to be vague, because while I considered my son’s bride a new daughter, she wasn’t fully so. I had to find ways to interact with her that fostered a good relationship between us.
It’s been a couple of years since the wedding, and I am happy to have a positive, loving relationship with my DIL. We’ve had our ups and downs and endured some emotional bumps and bruises, but I learned a few things along the way that helped me solidify our affection for each other.
1. Don’t let them move in.
Well, I broke that rule. (And yes, I know many cultures promote joint-family living, but there are many benefits to independent living.) Many Muslim parents accept the reality that if they want to promote halal relationships through marriage to their new adult children, they will have to also offer to aid in their ability to wed.
“O young people! Whoever from among you is able to get married, then you should do so for verily it is the most effective in keeping the gazes lowered and maintaining chastity. And whoever is not able to marry, then let them fast because fasting is a shield that diminishes desire.” [Sahih Muslim, no 1400]
The current economic climate in my area (and many places all over the country) make it near impossible for young couples to start off in their own homes. We knew that once our son announced that he had found his bride, they would need a place to live until they got on their feet. My ex-husband’s mother did the same thing for us.
Ideally, it is probably better for newlyweds to have their own home so the bride has a chance to nest and establish herself as the woman of the house. As the woman of my house, I had to appreciate that the systems I put in place to run my household need tweaking so my DIL could have space to be a wife.
Layla and her daughter-in-law.
Communication is pivotal when it comes to an in-law’s home transitioning into a joint-living household. Discuss things that may potentially serve as catalysts for stress. The kitchen can be a big tension producer. Give your DIL her own cabinets, refrigerator space and time to herself in the kitchen. While you may have the whole family in mind, understand that she may be cooking for just the two of them. If the mutual thought is to cook for everyone, have this discussion and put together a schedule. Is everyone expected to eat together? Will the couple maintain their own schedule?
You may also want to hash out bathroom and laundry room schedules, especially if everyone in the house is working. There’s nothing more irritating than trying to make a mad dash for the bathroom only to find the door is locked. It can be equally irritating to open the washing machine to discover someone else’s wet clothes. Mutual respect for each other’s time can prevent a lot of arguments.
2. Treat her as an adult.
This can be especially difficult if the bride is young. My DIL was 19 when she married my son. I must admit that I did not initially treat her like an adult, and that caused a lot of resentment between us. I had to adjust the way I interacted with her, getting to know her for who she is.
Respect your DIL or SIL (son-in-law) as an individual. Learn her likes and dislikes. See what you have in common, and create an adult relationship with her separate from your son. You don’t have to be best friends, but try to generate a strong, loving bond.
Invite their input in family decisions. They may have a new and valuable perspective. Be positive and supportive, and try your best to avoid subtle and overt criticisms.
3. Consider your ibadah (worship) rules.
Your children may be used to you waking them for Fajr, but a new relative may not. Respect that your daughter-in-law has her own relationship with Allah (S) and ways of engaging in her faith. Any expectations that someone coming into the home is going to worship like you is unfair. Let them be their own Muslim.
4. Don’t pick sides, and don’t try to know all of their business.
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It’s difficult not to hear arguments when living together. My son and DIL had their squabbles like all newlyweds. Sometimes, they poured out of their room and into the rest of the house, making it necessary for me to resist the urge to give my input.
Close quarters can make it hard not to learn about a couple’s problems. As a parent, you’ve spent years addressing your child’s issues, but the thing is that a married son or daughter is not a child anymore. They are someone’s spouse, and you should stay out of their business as you would any married couple. If they haven’t asked for your input, mind your business, even if the bickering is in ear shot. Sometimes if you know too much about the argument, you may harbor feelings of irritation or anger on behalf of your adult child when they’ve already “kissed and made up.”
If they come to you for advice, try to be objective. Don’t make the mistake of placing blame on either of them. If you can’t maintain objectivity, leave it alone and direct them to someone who can help.
5. Accept your new position in your married child's life.
Most of us are familiar with the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (saw) that give precedence to one’s mother. In one hadith a man approached the Prophet (saw) and asked:
“Who among people is most deserving of my fine treatment?"
He [the Prophet (saw)] said, "Your mother, then your mother, then your mother, then your father, then your nearest, then nearest." [Riyad as-Salihin-316]
Although much of Islamic teachings encourage adherents to remain mindful about how they treat one another, the above hadith gives priority to the good treatment of the mothers of the ummah by their children. It can be easy to get caught up in your status as a mother, but when one of your kids marries, you must adapt to their new position in their lives. Your child is still obligated to care for you and treat you well. But your daughter or son-in-law is not. And, if you want your child to remain close to you, that means understanding they must prioritize their spouse.
I needed to resolve myself to the fact that my DIL’s opinion superseded mine in many situations of my son’s life. She was the woman he loved, and their shared life meant hers was the most important viewpoint. I could still give him (and her) advice, but I was no longer the principal voice when he planned his present and future.
Of course, no one can replace a good mother in a person’s life, but a mother’s role shifts when there is a spouse. Learn to accept your new position, and let them take care of themselves. You're not the center of their world, just like they are not the center of yours (hopefully).
Becoming a good, supportive mother-in-law will take work and retrospection. But trust me, it’s so worth it. Now how to be a good grandmother once they have kids without getting too involved in their parenting (even when they are making decisions you’re not cool with)? That’s an article I hope to write someday when that stage in life comes!