By Alma Gill

NNPA Columnist

Mother-in-Law is not Mom

Dear Alma,

When I married my husband a few years ago, my mother in-law invited me to start calling her “Mom” as opposed to her given name. I was uncomfortable with the suggestion for a couple reasons – and without giving you a full-blown explanation, I just plain don’t want to. My MIL has never been ok with this and often politely corrects me in front of family members. Usually, I just keep talking and try to let it go. We all attend the same church, and just recently my MIL called me out at choir rehearsal, insisting that I call her “Mom.” I am beyond angry, and yes my husband has had this conversation with his mother. She just won’t budge. What should I do?

Ava T., Charlotte, N.C.
Hi Ava,

I’m sure you’ve heard that in marriages you’ve got to pick and choose your battles, so let’s not waste this space discussing something you already know. Evidently this is extremely important to you, and I truly can respect that. You’d think that your MIL would, too, but that’s not the case. You have a right to reserve the special title of “Mom” and “Dad” for your parents and your parents only. Now, how do we convince your MIL of that, you ask? Sorry, sister-girl, it’s clear to me we can’t. You said it yourself; she won’t budge. Now, let me tell you why….

She wants everybody to know that you’re her DIL. Girl, wear that sash with pride! It not only connects you to her, but it connects you to her son, and she’s proud you’re in her family. Bless her heart! She’s proud of her whole family, including that special woman her son selected to marry. You’re the mother of her future grandchildren. There’s nothing wrong with that. This matriarch is trying to uphold her family unit – one for all and all for one – family strong. Don’t take that for granted.

In the long run, trust me, your kids will benefit from her commitment to family and labels of respect. Back in the day, you had to honor your relatives by name – Aunt Sherryl, Uncle Baron – it was none of this first-name calling, like kids do nowadays. You said Grandmother and Grandpa; there was no “Hey, Jesse.” Nope, that didn’t happen, and for good reason. It commanded respect. I think you should compromise on this one and meet her halfway. Understandably, Mom is reserved for your mother – that’s not a problem. How about addressing your MIL as “Mother Helen” or whatever her first name is? This way, you’re acknowledging she plays a maternal role in your life and it makes her feel special and accepted by you. When you say it, while addressing her, give her a big bear hug. She’ll need a minute to cozy up to it. Don’t misunderstand me, you aren’t relinquishing any of your independence in the “Mama Mia” contest; you’re merely transforming this competition into a mutual collaboration. Remember, this woman raised the man you married, so she can’t be all bad. Take on the role of her new DIL with joy in your heart. Acknowledging her as a mother figure in your life doesn’t minimize the role or abundance of love you have for your own mother. And your mother knows that. I can’t help but add, though, sweetie: If this is the biggest MIL thorn in your in-laws related rose garden, count yourself blessed and highly favored.


My Boyfriend’s BeBe Kid

Dear Alma,

Help. I hate my boyfriend’s daughter. She is only 10 (a year older than my daughter). She is fat, lazy, manipulative and needy, just like her mother. She is behind at school and whines constantly. She and my daughter are complete opposites physically and intellectually. It’s gotten to the point that I ignore her completely and would rather not do anything with her. I find myself criticizing her to her father quite often and later feel bad. I think her mom is influencing her behavior. My boyfriend says she a good kid but I just enjoy it better when she is not around. Should I talk with my boyfriend about this again or just call it quits?

Robin Davis, Washington, D.C.

Call it quits Robin, and don’t date another person who has kids, ‘cause you are not ready to participate in a blended relationship. Girl, pleeze! You’re all dressing up in drama just as much as her mother. Instead of masking your displeasure and jealousy, you’re taking it out on his daughter. When you imply that her mother is putting her up to this behavior, who, my dear, is contributing to yours? At least she has as excuse; she’s 10.

You have two choices. Right here, right now, make up your mind. If you’re interested in this man, then get along with his daughter. It’s as simple as that. Let me remind you: She was his daughter before you met him. She’s known him longer than you. She will be a part of his life for the rest of his life, regardless of whether the two of you work out. The reason why I’m putting you in charge of this pile of laundry is because you’re the adult. You’re mature enough to separate the delicates from the heavily soiled. Grab yourself a cup of softener and talk to him about how you’d like to help him in raising his daughter’s confidence and self-esteem.  When she’s with you guys, go bike riding, hiking and swimming. This will help her become active and healthier. At first she’ll resist, but encourage her and tell her she can do it. Your daughter can help, too. Study time and schoolwork should be incorporated in her visit. You can encourage her Dad to check her work and make sure she’s improving in her studies. Your actions are influencing your daughter. So stop it with the mean girl routine. Teach both girls to get along. Be the example, patiently, lovingly, allowing his daughter to trust and learn to fit into your world. Cut that little girl a break. This is a huge adjustment for her. On the real, what’s an addition to your family is a division to hers. Stop blowing out her candle; it doesn’t make yours shine any brighter. Put an end to the criticizing and don’t ever mention her in a negative light, ever again.

Finally, you are not in a competition for the love of her father. Love isn’t only about what makes you feel good. Long, lasting love is about contributing and assisting your partner become the best they can be. What you pour into your boyfriend’s daughter will feed into the love you two share. She deserves your best. If it ain’t in you, walk away.


Alma Gill’s newsroom experience spans more than 25 years, including various roles at USA Today, Newsday and the Washington Post. Email questions to:  Follow her on Facebook at “Ask Alma” and twitter @almaaskalma.


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