We’ve all heard the jokes. Many of us have even endured countless horror stories from friends about the overbearing one, the meddling one, or the one who thinks, “That woman will never be good enough for my son.” Of course, I’m talking about our partners’ mothers. So the question is: How do you meet the parents and win them over? I’ve been with my boyfriend (now fiancé) for over thirteen years, and I still don’t have a definitive answer to that question. Then again, I’ve technically never tried to find an answer. From the day I met his mother, I just tried to be myself and get to know her. Here are some things I’ve learned and tested out along the way.
1. Compliment Her
Whoever said flattery will get you nowhere clearly did not know what they were talking about. Who doesn’t like a compliment every now and then? They make us feel all warm and fuzzy. If you think her new haircut looks great, tell her. Apart from being pleased that you like her sense of style, she’s going to appreciate the fact that you’re paying attention. The greatest thing you can praise her for is something you know she takes pride in. Cooking and baking are my soon-to-be-mother-in-law’s forte, and I tell her so. Of course, I consider myself lucky, as it’s not hard to show sincere gratitude for a mouthwatering meal or a delicious dessert.
Take heed, though; excessive adulation may lead her to believe you’re faking it, which will just negate all the sweet things you’ve said.
2. Ask Her About Her Interests
“So, do you guys have any snow yet?” Unless there’s a blizzard where she is or an earthquake where I am, I’d really rather not know. Questions about the weather drive me nuts—I feel like they’re pure filler—even though I, unfortunately, catch myself talking about it all too often. When I do, I quickly drop the subject and try to pick up on a previous conversation instead. My fiancé’s mother has been taking jewelry-making classes and is always on the hunt for new beads and hardware, so I try to ask her about this when I can. When I inquire about what she’s doing in her spare time, I’m not only showing interest in her life but also actively pursuing topics for us to discuss the next time we talk. Showing curiosity about her interests translates into “This woman cares about my life.” Who knows, she may just introduce you to something that you’ll develop an interest in.
3. Avoid Having Conversations About Family Problems
Even if you’re certain you have something incredibly insightful to add to the family feud, don’t. Unless the disagreement involves you directly or indirectly, family disputes are best left alone. Most of us would probably agree that family members can openly express any type of emotion they like about one another, but that outsiders are not allowed to weigh in. The moment you add your two cents, heads will roll. Even if you’re agreeing with her, it’s never a good idea to offer your take on the matter.
4. Ask Her for Advice
Women, by nature, like to feel needed and that their perspective on life can be influential to those around them. If your partner’s mother has invaluable wisdom to impart, why not take advantage of that? My fiancé’s mother is older and wiser than I am, so, because of her life experience, I seek her counsel from time to time. However, keep in mind that when you do this, you open yourself up to unsolicited advice. Be aware of this, and instead of raising an eyebrow, just acknowledge it, thank her, and move on to a new subject.
5. Remember What She Likes
Did she see that new Meryl Streep movie? You know she really likes Meryl Streep and that if she hasn’t already gone to see it, she’s probably eager to get tickets. These little pieces of knowledge can sometimes make a big difference. Remember, though, that the two of you most likely do not share the same tastes. So before you start denouncing that new Shakira song, think before you speak—she might have just downloaded it from iTunes. Remember, one woman’s ceiling is another woman’s floor.
6. Let Her Do the Talking
While it’s probably not a good idea to be so quiet that you seem bored or disengaged, do try to let her do most of the talking. None of us can deny that it’s much easier to talk about ourselves than it is to be a good listener, but when it comes to his mother, you should definitely try practicing more listening and less talking. Sure, there will be plenty of times when your life will take center stage in your discussion, and when that time comes, she should be willing to hear you out. In the meantime, if giving her that extra time to unload is what it takes to strengthen your bond, sit back and relax.
7. Keep Your Complaining to a Minimum
Having a sunny disposition goes a long way. Keeping your attitude optimistic and upbeat is healthier for you and for her. After all, nobody likes a Debbie Downer. Just think of your own group of friends: Isn’t there one person in your circle who’s a ball of stress, always griping about something? That person probably brings you down, which is what you’ll do to her if you’re whining all the time—and she’s the last person you want to bring down. Also, don’t complain to her about her son. While she’s probably fully aware of her child’s faults, she’s never going to want to hear you calling them out.
8. Call or Write at Unexpected Times
I recently sent flowers to my fiancé’s mother for no real reason except that I thought she was sad. The day the bouquet arrived, it was cold, gray, and rainy and she confessed that she’d been in an awful mood all day. The timing couldn’t have been better. Your partner’s mother will be pleasantly surprised by your call or letter and delighted that you are just randomly thinking of her.
So, do I pass muster? I do feel that I have a nice relationship with my fiancé’s mom. Instead of dreading her visits or calls, I look forward to them. She and I have good conversations and enjoy spending time together. However, over the course of the past thirteen years, I haven’t adhered completely to this set of relationship rules. I’ve made (and will continue to make, I’m sure) some blatant blunders.
While these tips will go a long way toward helping you develop a solid relationship with your partner’s mother, they could also apply to winning over all the people in your life. And those healthy relationships will just make you look that much better in his mother’s eyes.