Dear Kathy and Amy,
My daughter-in-law has asked me for advice, but I’m nervous about telling her what I really think. I’m afraid it will damage our relationship. Do you have any suggestions for mother-in-laws?
Kathy: As a mother-in-law, I can definitely relate to this question. I’ve tried a variety of approaches, and here’s what I think works best:
1. Resist the temptation to advise unless asked. This goes for my son as well as my daughter-in-law. It’s difficult to stand by and watch your children make mistakes, but sometimes it’s the best way to learn. Be patient and sensitive while they figure out what works best for them.
2. Remember there’s more than one way to make a sandwich. We all come from different backgrounds and tend to mirror how we were raised. A PB&J is going to taste just as good, regardless of whether you cut it into squares or triangles. Though it may be difficult to remember in the moment, there is always more than one way to do things.
3. Never say anything negative about your child's spouse or family. Remember, your son loves his family as much as you love yours. If you criticize while you’re giving advice, expect him to be defensive and offended — just like you would be if someone were criticizing your children.
Amy: Good answers, Mom! As a mother with young children, I recognize that I need all the help I can get. But it has to be communicated in a certain way. Here are a couple of other things that my mother-in-law does that I really appreciate:
4. Shoot straight with your kids. My mother-in-law, Barbara, is great at this. If she thinks you’re doing a fabulous job potty training your 3-year-old, she lets you know. If she’s irritated that no one will help her with the dishes, she’ll speak her mind. If she’s grateful that you paid the pizza delivery guy this time around, she’ll say it — and probably slip you a $20. I always know where I stand, so I don’t worry about our relationship.
5. Use the 90/10 rule. No matter how deftly you craft your advice, your daughter-in-law is going to view it as criticism. So, if she asks you for advice and you really must give it, try to follow the 90/10 rule: For every piece of advice you give, try to give nine compliments. Your daughter-in-law will appreciate your vote of confidence, and she’ll be more likely to take your advice, too.
Best wishes to you and your daughter-in-law. Let us know how everything goes!
— Kathy and Amy
A former Miss Utah, Kathy Osmond has spent the past 40 years raising five children and traveling with the Osmonds. Amy Osmond Cook (amyosmondcook.com) teaches at ASU, writes for LA Family Magazine and is raising five children of her own.