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Mother-in-Law is not Mom

Alma Gill | 2/26/2014, 5:44 p.m.
Dear Alma, When I married my husband a few years ago, my mother in-law invited me to start calling her ...

Dear Alma,

When I married my husband a few years ago, my mother in-law invited me to start calling her “Mom” as opposed to her given name. I was uncomfortable with the suggestion for a couple reasons – and without giving you a full-blown explanation, I just plain don’t want to. My MIL has never been ok with this and often politely corrects me in front of family members. Usually, I just keep talking and try to let it go. We all attend the same church, and just recently my MIL called me out at choir rehearsal, insisting that I call her “Mom.” I am beyond angry, and yes my husband has had this conversation with his mother. She just won’t budge. What should I do?

Ava T.

Hi Ava,

I’m sure you’ve heard that in marriages you’ve got to pick and choose your battles, so let’s not waste this space discussing something you already know. Evidently this is extremely important to you, and I truly can respect that. You’d think that your MIL would, too, but that’s not the case. You have a right to reserve the special title of “Mom” and “Dad” for your parents and your parents only. Now, how do we convince your MIL of that, you ask? Sorry, sister-girl, it’s clear to me we can’t. You said it yourself; she won’t budge. Now, let me tell you why….

She wants everybody to know that you’re her DIL. Girl, wear that sash with pride! It not only connects you to her, but it connects you to her son, and she’s proud you’re in her family. Bless her heart! She’s proud of her whole family, including that special woman her son selected to marry. You’re the mother of her future grandchildren. There’s nothing wrong with that. This matriarch is trying to uphold her family unit – one for all and all for one – family strong. Don’t take that for granted.

In the long run, trust me, your kids will benefit from her commitment to family and labels of respect. Back in the day, you had to honor your relatives by name – Aunt Sherryl, Uncle Baron – it was none of this first-name calling, like kids do nowadays. You said Grandmother and Grandpa; there was no “Hey, Jesse.” Nope, that didn’t happen, and for good reason. It commanded respect. I think you should compromise on this one and meet her halfway. Understandably, Mom is reserved for your mother – that’s not a problem. How about addressing your MIL as “Mother Helen” or whatever her first name is? This way, you’re acknowledging she plays a maternal role in your life and it makes her feel special and accepted by you. When you say it, while addressing her, give her a big bear hug. She’ll need a minute to cozy up to it. Don’t misunderstand me, you aren’t relinquishing any of your independence in the “Mama Mia” contest; you’re merely transforming this competition into a mutual collaboration. Remember, this woman raised the man you married, so she can’t be all bad. Take on the role of her new DIL with joy in your heart. Acknowledging her as a mother figure in your life doesn’t minimize the role or abundance of love you have for your own mother. And your mother knows that. I can’t help but add, though, sweetie: If this is the biggest MIL thorn in your in-laws related rose garden, count yourself blessed and highly favored.

Alma