Watch out for the daughter-in-law and mother-in-law dynamic

For many this intense relationship has been the one that has magnified love in our families

As complicated as relationships can be, they say to watch out for the daughter-in-law and mother-in-law dynamic. It can be one of the most complex, considering this bond comes with an assumed reciprocal love. Placed together despite differing values, upbringing and expectations, we’re effectively thrown together as family, attempting to be friends, not always successfully.

And yet, for many of us, this intense relationship has been the one that kept us together, strengthened our resolve, and magnified the love in our families. An opening to a friendship like no other.

I’ve known my mother-in-law, Rose, for 19 years after meeting her son at the age of 17. We haven’t always been intensely close, but, as with many long-term connections, our friendship has shifted outside of what brought us together – her son. In fact, she has seen me grow up from the ranks of teenage nuance to working mother. As I matured so did our relationship and it was when grandchildren appeared that our connection evolved into something much more concrete. It’s as though our communality of motherhood connected our understanding of each other.

The in-law relationship should never be taken for granted considering personalities often collide. But it attaches us to people we may never have sought out but love more than most; Relationships that see births, deaths, graduations, marriages and new homes, decade after decade. How we adhere to this connection is often based on a respect and understanding that life is complicated. Why need we weave unnecessary intricate family dynamics into the plot?


Maria Rushe, fitness instructor and blogger at The S-Mum, believes she may very well have the loveliest mother-in-law in the world having felt a part of the family from the first moment she met Eilish almost 16 years ago. "From then until now, we've never had a cross word between us," says Maria. "In 2014, when we were building a new house, we lived with Eilish and Gerry for six months with our then three-year-old. During a time of high stress, she was so supportive and kind. Eilish is always there for us and is so good to our two girls. She's sweet, genuine and funny and I honestly couldn't ask for a more wonderful mother-in-law." We build these relationships on a mutual understanding and respect, remembering that it's an honour to be accepted and loved by someone else's family.

Antoinette Carney’s relationship with her mother-in-law, Marian, was a unique friendship which she will always cherish. Marian passed away all too soon four years ago at the age of 61 and is greatly missed but the memories they made together burn bright. “Marian was Mum to two sons and I married her eldest Paul,” says Antoinette. “I had two sons of my own from a previous marriage, who Marian embraced as her own grandchildren.

"We went on weekends away, holidays to Lanzarote, shared hotel rooms, and secrets and confided in each other. We stayed in the best hotels and even went to see Tina Turner in London and Lady Gaga in Dublin together. There was no competition between us and we both wanted what was best for family. She was kind and made everyone feel so welcome. I was very blessed to have her in my life for 10 years."

Transcending through decades, acupuncturist Mary Fletcher Burke has built a 47-year relationship with her mother-in-law, Lily. A relationship evolving through years of shared understanding and admiration. It was not one of hanging out together, but rather a companionship of pots of tea and soda bread when help or advice was needed. "It wasn't long before meeting Lily in 1973 that I learned how truly wonderful and generous she was to us all," says Mary.

“I have never heard Lily raise her voice or say a bad word about anyone and no matter what happened she held that same dignified inner quiet strength. She was always there to support us and never judgemental. Our relationship grew strong over the years and I think it was one of mutual respect. Lily isn’t so well these days. At 93 she struggles to know us all, although when she does, I’m proud she introduces me as her daughter. I guess I did a lot of growing up around my mother-in-law. Both Lily and my own mother Bridie were two very strong female role models in my life. As a mother-in-law myself I understand how difficult it can be to draw that fine line between interfering and being there for your children and grandchildren. But I learned from the best.”

Building positive relationships comes instinctively from how we view each other, being open-minded, non judgemental and respecting each other's choices. Easier said than done, but who said this multi-layered relationship would be straightforward? Martina Lennon, a Virtual Assistant, knows how lucky she is to have a wonderful mother-in-law, when she sees how others don't necessarily have the same optimistic relationship. "We hit it off from day one," she says.

“Geraldine really is a second Mum to me. Always there to listen with a cuppa. Her calm and gentle manner helps me to put things into perspective at times and she’s got a very clever way of giving just the right amount of advice while being respectful of my opinion. She’s my role model and I try my best to follow in her footsteps in raising my two children. I see the love and respect that my husband Niall has for her and I can understand why. She has raised three wonderful men all of whom have families of their own now. I’d be lost without her and as we’re both Louth women who married Monaghan men, we have to stick together.”

A daughter-in-law and mother-in-law relationship can leave a positive lasting mark. Poignant friendships we may never have had otherwise. Always cherished, remembered and loved. "I have always said, when it comes to "outlaws", I've been blessed with the best!" says Eimear Kelly from Socially Solved.

“When I lost my mother at 19, I felt such a void in my life that I thought could never be somewhat filled until 2004 when I met my now husband. Without my own mother when I got married, I couldn’t have asked for a better person, my mother-in-law Lily, to be by my side when I chose my wedding dress and to be there when our children were born.

“Lily sadly passed away last May after a long illness and like my own mother, I miss her very much. I knew her nearly as long as my own mother and for that I am very grateful.”