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Princess Diane & Kate Middleton - By Chris Gearing

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Brides and Mother-In-Law Blues

Inevitably the upcoming nuptials of Prince William and Kate Middleton cause many of us to remember Princess Diana and her fairytale wedding thirty years ago. As the wedding countdown continues, the press has been full of comparisons between the two women leaving many of us to wonder if we would want to be compared to our own mother in law, especially at our wedding?

First of all, why do we all think about Princess Diana’s memory at her son’s wedding?

We are still in love with the princess who was so much like us-- rejected, misunderstood, and betrayed by her husband and his lover. We identified with her failures as much as with her successes. We also still have enormous compassion for the sons she left behind so William’s big day is somewhat healing for us all—we like to think of him as comfortably partnered. But there are several reasons why Kate will be compared to Diana:

Both Larger than Life: Both women will have married the heir apparent to the British throne. We all love meteoric rises and we will enjoy seeing their lives transform from routine to royal.

Both are Open and Humble: Both of these women share an uncommon friendliness despite their great stations in life. They both enchant us in by their humble demeanors.

Dreams Versus Real Life: Diana enthralled the world with her dramatic life and we journeyed with her from Cinderella dreams to the stunning reality of betrayal and divorce. We don’t want Kate to suffer a similar fate so we are studying her similarities and dissimilarities with her mother in law to reassure ourselves.

How will Diana’s legacy impact the marriage?

Prince William has already been quoted as saying that “no one is trying to fill my mother’s shoes.” He will, no doubt, be highly protective of Kate since he does not want her to be pursued and hunted by the media like Diana was. This is ultimately a chance for William to do what he could not do for his mother—protect her. Diana’s example has also made this couple much more careful in committing since they know that the spotlight can be tough on a marriage. Diana’s legacy will make them much more likely to move as a team and to put their marriage first before their royal positions.

So for the rest of us, why are mother in laws often so challenging for daughter in laws?

There are several reasons:

Confused About Roles: There can be natural tension because these two women have to share the same man. Many mothers are reluctant to move from being the top female in his life to a secondary position. On the other hand, many women enter the marriage demanding that they “own” their husband and the mother in law is seen as interference.

Mom is Right: Research shows that men are often reluctant to “buck” their mothers even if their wife demands it. They see the wife as stronger and younger and the one who must make concessions to the older woman.

Empathy is Needed: Men have more difficulty talking about emotional matters than women. The woman initiates eighty five percent of relationship- focused conversations. A man becomes overwhelmed by conflict faster and he shuts down to prevent his discomfort from rising. When his mother is the issue, this habit on his part can be especially frustrating since he shuts down and disappears into silence.

Closed to Reassessment: Many men refuse to look at things from their wives’ perspective. “She didn’t mean it like that” or “you’re too sensitive” are common excuses. Sometimes mother in laws do mean exactly what their daughter in law thinks they mean. On the other hand, some women can be oversensitive and inaccurate in how they’re interpreting their mother in law. Their husband needs to at least hear her out and help her reach a solution in her own mind.

Here's how you can improve your relationship with your mother-in-law or your daughter-in-law today:

For Mothers:

Respect her relationship with your son, don’t criticize her parenting even if you disagree, don’t criticize your grandchildren to her, and please do not compete with her mother. Keep your boundaries and focus on your grandchildren—they are your ultimate legacy!

For Wives:

Your mother in law is your husband’s mother and holds a sacred place forever in his life. Hold your boundaries with grace. Lose that idealism about how things should be and focus on making things better as they are. Don’t compete with her, please try to diffuse conflict by being overly gracious and don’t cut him off from his family. Your children will suffer and you will regret that loss.

Remember that you will be a mother in law someday and that you are teaching your children how to navigate differences in a family. Be kind because we always reap what we sow!


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