Detail image for February 2023 Jean West story.

The mother and son relationship often changes when he marries. Jean West reflects on the lessons learned upon becoming a mother-in-law.

Written by Jean West | Photos provided by Jean West

“Mom, I have a girlfriend.”  

Time stopped. The earth stood still. This was the second of three sons in their thirties and late twenties who’d shown no indication of a serious relationship of any kind. 

“Well, What’s her name?” I asked.  


“Where does she live?” I pressed. 

“Here in New York, she’s from Long Island.” 

“Oh, how nice,” I said. “So you’re close to each other. How did you meet?” 

“Well, there’s this app…” 

I had to sit down. Two new things were slowly alighting in my brain. First, this is truly the age of Internet dating. Second, thus begins my new journey as Mother-in-Law. 

“Well,” I said, “I hope she likes me.” 

“I’m sure she will,” he said. 

I remember that conversation with my son like it was yesterday. When I met my daughter-in-law during her first visit to Louisville, I liked her instantly. Sweet, smart, generous, and beautiful inside and out.  

My son and his girlfriend (now wife) survived COVID-19 together, got engaged in Paris, and were married in New Orleans in October of 2022. 

When my friends learned of their engagement, there was no shortage of advice for me, the future “mother-in-law” aka MIL. 

“For the wedding, wear beige and shut up.” 

“You have to like the girl, or you’ll never see your son again.”  

“Your daughter is your daughter all her life, but your son is your son until he takes a wife.”  

It was as daunting as getting advice about my first pregnancy! 

Detail image for February 2023 Jean West story.

Just this past week, at dinner with two different couples, the wedding came up, followed by the topic of being a new MIL. I’ll refer to them as “Friend A” and “Friend B” as they understandably wish to remain anonymous. Both are MILs who have both sons and daughters (SIL and DIL).  

Friend A: “I remember having one friend tell me that when celebrating holidays, even if everyone is in the same city, someone is always going to have his/her feelings hurt; sharing time is tough.” 

Friend B: “One thing that I’ve learned to do is to stay away from preconceived notions or idealizations of what your relationship will be like with your SIL or DIL. After all, it’s not about me. It’s about your child and their spouse developing their own style of relationship. This will include the type of relationship they choose to have with in-laws. And this relationship will evolve and change over time, so it’s important to GIVE it time and space.” 

Friend A: “When I find myself speaking with others who have DIL’s we all seem to agree that we need to ‘pick our battles’.” It’s essential for family harmony. Thankfully, we try hard to communicate and allow everyone input to avoid misunderstandings.”  

Friend B: “I think the difference in having a son-in-law vs. daughters-in-law lies in one’s expectations.” 

Having a daughter with whom I feel close led me to think that I would be very close to my DIL as well. I would be like a “second mom” to her, and we would do things together, and she’d call me just to talk.  

I think I glamorized the role, not considering so many other factors involved. I adore my DIL, but over time I realized that she has a mom of her own and that her main focus was my son! She is delightful to me and very caring, but she didn’t need me to be another “mom” or even a frequent presence if my son was not involved. And I have learned that this is okay and really just the way it should be.  

For my birthday this year, a long time friend gave me a book titled What Do You Want From Me – Learning to Get Along With In-laws by Terri Apter. She writes: “Keep in mind that the power of in-laws can be managed if the competition formed by fear of loss and disappointment can be turned into collaboration.” 

This is not my first rodeo as a MIL.  

In college, I was cast in the lead role of Publius Terence’s “The Mother-in-Law” (Hecyra). Terrence was a Black Roman playwright who wrote a series of comedies born in 195 BC.

“The Mother In Law” was his most famous, about a MIL who kicked her DIL out after finding out she was pregnant by a rapist who turned out to be her own son.(Typical Roman Comedy!)

I now cherish my new role as MIL and absolutely adore my new daughter. Her mom and I have a great relationship and know how important it is to share. And I will hold close to my vest Friend A’s daycare axiom: “You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit!”


Read Jean West’s Modern Family column “An Alternative Plan for Pain“.