The term `mother-in-law' or shvigger has slightly
negative connotations. Mothers-in-law have been the butt for
humorists since time immemorial and jokes, sometimes unkind,
often hilariously funny, abound in many Western cultures.
What has caused this antipathy towards someone who is, after
all, one's partner's mother? Presumably, in most cases, a son
loves his mother. He gets married and his wife does NOT love
her. Why is this and what can we do to foster good
relationships with parents-in-law?
Actually, nowadays, there are numerous in-laws who are much
beloved by both partners. As people become more aware of the
pitfalls, they are more mindful of various do's and don't's.
Moreover, as mothers-in-law get younger, there is less of a
Most girls of eighteen or nineteen who go for their first job
interview are naturally nervous. "Will they like me? What
shall I wear? What shall I say?" Meeting a prospective mother-
in-law for the first time is just as daunting. The difference
between the two interviews is that the employer is not in the
least bit nervous of the impression s/he is going to make on
the prospective employee. Most future mothers-in-law,
especially if it is a first son or daughter getting married,
are nervous too. But as the mother is the older and more
mature of the two, it is up to her to make the greater effort
to put the girl at ease.
It is axiomatic for both sets of parents to leave the young
couple alone. When a child is learning to ride a bike, or
even to walk, he will have quite a few falls. A girl learning
to bake or cook will make mistakes. Mothers cannot possibly
protect them all the time.
The young couple is bound to make mistakes. If they have
enough confidence in their parents, they will ask for advice.
Give it, by all means, but don't check up to see if they
took it! If they do not ask for advice, don't offer it.
Very often, a girl's mother has different ideas from the
boy's mother. Thus, if the mother-in-law suggests that she
feed the baby on demand, the girl might say, "Well, my mother
says every four hours and no more." Naturally, she will want
to follow her own mother's advice.
Before I got married, my mother said to me, "If you have a
quarrel with your husband, don't tell me about it. You two
will make up, but I won't forget, and according to the laws
of nature, I will take your side." Another thing she said
was, "Start right away by calling his parents Daddy and
Mummy. It gets easier after the first week or two." Excellent
advice which I pass on to my daughters when they get
Although you are tempted to listen to your daughter's woes,
if there are any, try not to. The youngsters should settle
things by themselves. Many people disagree with me and feel
that they have to help their child. Unfortunately, there are
numerous divorces which stem from parental `help' and
If the couple lives near the parents, the young man might
drop in on his parents on his way home from kollel or
work. His wife is waiting for him so don't give him a meal
before he goes home, nor even a snack to dampen his appetite!
When a son comes in and sniffs appreciatively, check up with
his wife first to see if she would like an offering of cake
or cookies. If she has just spent an hour trying out a new
recipe, harden your heart and tell your son he can have a
taste when he visits with his wife. I am personally very
grateful to all my daughters-in-law for looking after their
husbands and putting up with their foibles. Each one of them
has asked for the exact recipe of various dishes so that they
could cook to please their fastidious husbands.
All the foregoing is for the first year or two. After that
you will (hopefully) be much more relaxed with each other.
That doesn't mean that you should forget all the rules of
common civility which one should practice even with one's own
children. Some mothers say things to their daughters which
they wouldn't dream of saying to their daughters-in- law. If
it is criticism, maybe they would be wise not to say it to
their daughters, either! They are adults now and if we didn't
achieve our aims when they were children, we won't manage it
In some families they try to treat all the children exactly
alike. It doesn't work. Families are not a Communist
establishment (and even in Communism it doesn't work). Hashem
created us with different abilities and different needs.
True, Chazal tell us not to single out one child for
preferential treatment. If the oldest girl gets a new dress,
the second one gets a dress which is new for her, passed down
from the older one. Does it matter? It depends on what you
make of it. The second child will get something special
another time. If your family ran as a `democracy' when the
children were growing up, then when they are married you can
also treat them according to their needs, without arousing
jealousy. Perhaps one family is particularly short of money
and the children have little to wear. Your taste may not [it
likely won't] coincide with your daughter's or daughter-in-
law's. If you feel that is the case, either take them with
you shopping or give them the money. Alternately, give them
the receipt so that they can exchange the garment. Jealousy
is a terrible trait but much depends on the education the
children had, whether adult siblings feel envious of each
And now from the vantage point of the younger generation. Try
not to be too prickly. If the mother-in-law says, "I used to
do it this way," don't take it as criticism. She is just
stating a fact or perhaps, just making conversation. Relax.
She is not your mother, but she IS your husband's mother and
your children's grandmother.
Some time ago, a woman went abroad to visit her married
children. The daughter-in-law was a highly sensitive person.
The shvigger came in during the morning when the new
baby was being bathed and she said quite innocently, "Oh, I
used to bathe my babies at night." The foolish young woman
took offense and told her husband that she didn't want the
mother-in-law visiting again. "She even criticized the way I
bathe the baby."
Don't try to compete with sisters and sisters-in-law. For
instance, if you want to send m'shloach monos, don't
make yourself ill about it just because you know that a
particular sister-in-law is really creative and talented. We
have asked our children NOT to send us anything on Purim. In
many families it sometimes creates tension and ill
The old adage of "open your purse and close your mouth" is a
good rule of thumb for the older generation. For the younger
ones, it might be an idea to treat the in-laws as you treat
your parents. There are few hard and fast rules for parent-
children interactions. Family relationships tend to
boomerang. Your own children will very likely treat you in
the same way you treated your parents! Every family has to
work out their own path to friendship and love.