My son, Paul, and I have always been close. In fact when he was younger, I wrote a book about the mother-son bond. But before he got married to his long-time sweetheart Afroz, I wrote an article about my worries that I might lose my son after they got hitched. I wanted to figure out how to be a good mother-in-law.
I was confident in my prediction—we would stay close. Paul is a wonderful son, and I assumed he’d be a wonderful husband. Love was not a zero-sum game. It would be easy. Of course all this bravado belied a basic truth: I knew exactly nothing about what it would be like.
When my story appeared, I was struck by the wide variety of comments, some of them describing heartbreaking estrangement between formerly close mothers and sons. A few wondered how it turned out after Paul was married. Well, the answer is: I’m still learning.
Back then, Paul and Afroz hadn’t even picked out a wedding venue. And as the wedding plans progressed, I started to understand my … I was about to write “diminished” role, but that’s not accurate. My “different” role is a better description.
The Run Up to the Wedding
The two of them wanted to plan their own wedding. What’s more, they wanted to pay for it. Many friends told me that was the point at which I should have fallen on my knees and simply said, “thank you.” But I’ll admit to feeling a little left out. Fair is fair—if they were footing the bill, they were entitled to control. But it might have been nice to be part of the cake tasting or to check out various sites.
In fairness, Afroz did invite me to go wedding dress shopping with her, an extremely sweet gesture. I was excited about joining her for the bridal salon appointment. Sadly, I couldn’t make it, as my dad was suddenly hospitalized. Accompanied by her best friend, Afroz tried on some lovely white gowns and sent me photos of each one from the dressing room. It was bittersweet, opening those pictures at my father’s bedside.
But that wasn’t the real wedding dress trip, more of a fun outing by a girl who’d watched more than one episode of Say Yes To The Dress. In the end, Afroz opted for a traditional South Asian-style gown, in a gorgeous red, with gold trim and a stunning veil. For that, she shopped with her own mom and her sisters.
When it came to wedding planning, I’ll admit to feeling a little left out.
As the wedding plans progressed, my husband and I mostly watched and listened. The wedding would be small, mostly family. We could invite maybe two couples who were friends. The ceremony would be interfaith. Paul and Afroz did ask if any particular wedding rituals were important to us. All I could come up with was the mother-son dance. Afroz, I assumed, would want a father-daughter dance. “Oh no,” she explained. “We would never do that. But feel free to have one with Paul.” In the end, my only decision would be my mother-of-the-groom dress, and I was to coordinate with Afroz’s mom on color.
We’d met Afroz’s parents, who live across the country, only once, six years earlier at the kids’ college graduation. Of course I’d called Afroz’s family family when she and Paul got engaged. Now her mom and I texted regularly—we agreed that a jewel color would work for our outfits and settled on blue.
Here Comes the Mother-in-Law
Fast forward to the wedding—it was a dream. Paul and Afroz did an amazing job. Somehow, my blue dress with silver trim perfectly matched the blue and silver sari that Afroz’s mom wore. All of the wedding rituals emphasized the joining of the two families. Paul and I danced alone to “Here Comes The Sun,” which I always sing as “Here Comes My Son.” The wedding was beautiful, intimate, and filled with love. As for all of our friends—we threw a party two months later so they could celebrate the married couple.
And now I am a mother-in-law. Am I as close to Paul? Yes and no. We still have long, meandering talks on the phone every week. We talk about how our careers are going. We compare notes on handling stress. We despair about the state of the country. We talk about the food we’ve cooked and trade recipes. We talk about the family.
What’s changed? Well, during those long phone calls, Paul and I don’t talk about everything—certainly not his marriage. Nor would I want to, any more than I’d share with Paul my feelings about my own marriage to his father. That’s in the privacy zone. Nor do I see Paul as much as I used to because holidays are split between two families, and when they can snag a few days off from their respective jobs, they like to go away together. And, of course, I’m not Paul’s number one go-to for help or consultation on anything.
A rift with her would almost certainly result in a rift with my son.
Yet none of this seems like a lessening of closeness so much as a transition, one appropriate at this stage of Paul’s life. The biggest difference since their marriage is my relationship with Afroz. A son’s girlfriend is one thing. His wife is another. I’m deeply committed to nurturing the relationship with my daughter-in-law. I know we love each other, but more than that, her good will and respect mean a lot to me. A rift with her would almost certainly result in a rift with Paul.
Of course, right now, I have no big disagreements with my daughter-in-law. Perhaps we’ll always get along as well as we do now. But let’s face it—I’m not even two years into being a mother-in-law, so I’m a rank beginner. And I do know I’m incredibly lucky because Afroz seems to feel the same way I do. She, too, goes out of her way to nurture her relationship with me. Last week, I had a long, catch-up FaceTime with her. If I’m under the weather, she checks in. I get handwritten notes, thanking my husband and me for embracing her into the family.
Are things different than when Paul was single? Sure. But in most ways, they’re better.
Kate Stone Lombardi has been a journalist for more than 25 years. She work has appeared in the The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Time, Ladies Home Journal, Parenting Magazine and other national publications. Lombardi is the author of The Mama’s Boy Myth: Why Keeping Our Sons Close Makes Them Stronger.