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Building a relationship with DIL

Started by MollyM, April 03, 2013, 09:48:57 am

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My youngest son married a woman he'd been dating and then living with for 7 years in 2011.  She's always been an odd person - more into her books than people.  She's come out of her shell somewhat over the years and truly is a sweet, talented person.  She doesn't have a lot of self-confidence though.  She's always been a little wary of me - I'm an outspoken strong woman.  I don't live near them but when I've visited she's been gracious and we have great talks and get along fine.  She says all the appropriate things - you are welcome here anytime, we love you, etc.  But when I'm not there, communicating with her is very difficult.  None of us are phone talkers . . . we are texters and writers.  She takes forever to respond to my emails . . . sometimes doesn't respond. And the thing that bothers me the most, is that she doesn't say "thank you".  Last Christmas I couldn't go home so I spent the money I would normally spend on the trip there on presents for both of them.  My son made sure he said thanks for everything - but I never heard ONE WORD from her in the way of thanks.  Nor did she say thanks for her birthday present the month after.  Am I being a snit by thinking that it's just rude not so say "thank you" for gifts??

I want to say something to her or to my son but I don't want to rock the boat.  I will never be that generous again - not with her at least.

We should be fast friends as we share so many of the same interests.  I have always sent her little notes, flowers sometimes, and thank her for loving my son and being such a good wife to him.  They are adorable - date nights, romantic gestures, common goals.  He's back in college and she's financially and emotionally supporting him.

What to do?  Probably should just be thankful for what I've got and keep my big mouth shut!!


It might be a family culture thing, whereas saying thank you might be very important in your family but it wasn't in hers.  And just because she isn't saying it doesn't mean she isn't grateful.  Some people have trouble saying their feelings and maybe showing gratitude is uncomfortable for her.  You seem to think she is sweet, so it doesn't seem like she would be ungrateful.  But if it's a big deal to you, maybe you should just come right out and ask her about it.  You could  ask her if she liked the gift or something.


My take is that you ended your post with the solution. People are how they are and don't need to explain themselves or meet our expectations, even the reasonable ones. Our expectations are about us, not them. It took me a long time to get to the place where I was able to give a gift a let go of it and finally see that whatever came up for me afterward, was about me, not them.
Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible. Dalai Lama


What Luise says makes a lot of sense


Yep.  Just accept the differences and keep going.  She sounds like she loves your DS very much.
We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us. -
Joseph Campbell


M, your post could almost be mine, with a few tweaks!
I'm struggling with the same-- trying to build closer relationship with DIL, and it seems to be going nowhere. 
I have to remind myself that the marriage is between her and my DS-- not the three of us. They've been married almost three years now, and still deeply in love. They've also gained a new GD.
As much as I would like to be closer, I can't force it. A relationship is a two-way street.
And I'm glad that DS has a wife that loves him, and is a good mother. So it's not about ME. It's about them. I'm keeping my mouth shut too, and hope that she will warm up to me as time goes on. If not, so be that. It will be her loss as well as mine.
And one of Luise's wise comments is that we create our expectations, and there is no one to fill them...


And you are handling it well, S. Good for you! Simple but not easy.
Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible. Dalai Lama


Luise, you're right--this is easier said than done! And many of the wise comments on this site have helped a lot!
Also, some of my experiences have enlightened me as well, such as my own MIL. She died fifteen years ago, and I miss her greatly. She never interfered with our marriage; never insisted on following her family traditions; never said an unkind word to me; never criticized me, my house, my kids, or anything--although in that season of my life, she could have said a few things!
I learned a lot from her that my mother did not teach me b/c of abandonment. Examples: to keep a clean house, cook good food from scratch, write thank you notes, how to dress nicely, and on and on.
She didn't "tell" me about these things--she modeled them for me, and I learned by observing her life, w/o her saying anything. We lived two hours from her, and didn't see each other maybe five times a year, but in hindsight, she was an excellent MIL. So hopefully, I can pass on some things to my DIL by what I do-- not say. (Reminder to self: get duct tape from garage and put over mouth..)
I am reminded that my AC are in a busy season of life, where I used to be, and they don't have time for one more thing on their plate. It may not be that DIL doesn't desire a "close" relationship, she just can't squeeze another person in her life now. It would be helpful to reflect on how our lives were between the ages of twelve and forty!
I am thankful that my DS is still close to me and DH, and lets us see the GD.
We all need to focus on the blessings we do have, and not on what we want and don't have...
Hope this is not hijacking your thread, M. I'm just expressing what has helped me, and hopefully others, too.


My advice is don't rock the boat, I have found in dealings with many people from different family backgrounds and walks of life that some just do not have the social skills that we expect.  Also if you are a strong person and she is not you may be a bit intimidating for her.

In my case the DIL would say thank you and then send me a nasty gram 1 day later or write a nasty text about me.  So honestly I would rather have not had the thank you and more respect.

Whatever you do remember this, works once spoken cannot be unspoken ever, and if the meaning is not understood or taken wrong (as in insulting or worse butting in) you may ruin what could be a relationship in the future forever.   WIth my DIL no matter what she would say to me now I will never, ever trust her again with anything and it will effect the GC. as she is someone who gets mad and says anything regardless of who is within earshot.

So unless your DIL is being rude, let it go and try and talk with her, but do not push, maybe an email every so often, or a text just to see how they are doing.

It is a very fine and hard line we as the MIL have to walk.  I am learing that the hard way, and thank heavens for this forum!


Shiny- What an inspiring post! I am going to copy and paste a post I wrote back when I started this Web-forum and published under "Success Stories about my own MIL:


This is the story of my role model where mother in laws are concerned. She is gone now but she lived to be 102 and we remained friends my entire life.

I don't know when I met her because she spent her summers at the same place my mother did. They took their little 3 and 4 year-olds, (my future husband and me), down to the beach and visited with each other while we played there.

Fast forward...long story, we married in 1947 and she became my mother in law. She was a kindergarten teacher and she had the patience of a saint. I am absolutely sure that many of her students were more skilled and more mature than I was at the time we became related through my marriage to her son.

I had firmly withstood every attempt my own mother made to teach me to cook and clean... and be responsible. I had no concept of money management and I didn't know anything about kids. As I look back all those years, I know I had to be every mother in law's nightmare. 

She was a friend. We shopped together, decorated our homes together, and even joined the same social club together in the little mid-west town where we lived.

She was never bossy or disapproving. She taught by example, and as I have mentioned, with infinite patience. Where she got her patience, I have no idea... but it was never ending. And I learned. My only skill to start out with was that I was a nurse. I didn't work outside the home but I knew how to take care of my kids when they were sick. Chalk 1 up for me and a 1000 up for her.

I learned the way most of us do, intermittently and sporadically. You know... one step forward followed by three steps backwards. A lot of what I was expected to do didn't interest me... which didn't help the process much. Yet she didn't push me or hold me back. She honored my eventual progress calmly, as through it had been a given. Ha! What were the odds?

After eighteen years of marriage, I divorced her son. End of my relationship with her, right? Wrong! She and I stayed in touch and remained friends for another 40 years.

The moral of this story is that I knew what to do and what not to do when my sons married and I became the mother in law. I had daughter in laws that related to me like I did to her and I had daughter in laws that didn't. You have to have the raw material to work with and when you are labeled as "the enemy" even before you are introduced, it can all be downhill from there. However, I also have a daughter in law who divorced one of my sons and you know what we did? We decided to not get divorced! As a result, we have been inseparable for over 25 years and only death will part us. She's the daughter of my heart.

I was willing to learn and my mother in law was willing to teach me. The bottom line, I think, was willingness... openness... forgiveness and our constant acknowledgment of our mutual humanness. Bless her heart!

Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible. Dalai Lama


Wow- This could be written by my MIL!. I would say that I am a very quiet person. (My MIL thought that I had something to hide- what? I am not sure- But it is laughable) My future MIL is very loud, and has an opinion on everything!!!!. She ALWAYS brings up this perfect girlfriend of his that he had many, many years ago. But one of the reasons why we (my partner and I) get on so well, is because her son and I are both quiet). He felt that he was overshadowed in his past relationships- and his opinions and thoughts didn't get heard.

I would give it more time. When you have conversations, ask her questions about her life, or what books she is currently reading (to try to bring her out of her shell). I guess one of the reasons why I am shy, is that I had 5 sisters, all older and quite louder (they used to joke that I was the 'Beth' in our group of "Little women'.
You sound so understanding, she will come around, it will just take time.


This reminds me of my husbands family.  They never thank me for anything and rarely thank my husband for anything.  >:( I've have complained several times to my husband and his response is that he wasn't raised that way.  Yes, sometimes I do believe that my husband came from a pack of wild animals because that is how they act.  My husband is learning from my example that it is very appreciated to hear a thanks or get a note.  Hopefully, she will pick up on your cues.


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Rudeness or a lack of proper etiquette training or ??? It comes in all shapes & sizes and from people who should know better. I keep sending those thank you notes, hoping it'll kick in, lol. I raised DS & DD to write thank you notes practically immediately upon receipt of a gift but neither of them carried that skill into adulthood apparently. I'm sure I'm being blamed for being a poor parent by someone.

Respect ... is appreciation of the separateness of the other person, of the ways in which he or she is unique.
-- Annie Gottlieb


I don't mind people not sending me thank yous.  I do believe people should, but when someone doesn't, I get to feel smug.  It doesn't reflect well on me, I know, but there it is.  I get to think about what a nice, generous person I am plus I rise above their rudeness by continuing to send gifts and never making any comment on the lack of acknowledgement.  That's the key.  If I made snotty comments about their lack of manners, I'd be guilty of more rudeness than they are.  But I keep my smug pats on my own back to myself and it's just a win-win.