Our son enlisted in the USMC right after high school graduation. Five years later, on his second enlistment, he tells us he was “really in love this time,” with a fellow Marine. Deme was a woman we had never even heard of, let alone met.
To say we were in shock would be an understatement. We were in Pennsylvania. They were in Hawaii. A getting-to-know-you visit was out of the question. This was long before Skype and social media, so it was left to phone calls and/or letters. Fortunately, Deme was just as interested in trying to get along for Doug’s sake as we were.
While the past 16 years have had their rocky moments, the key to getting through those moments, as in every other situation, was a willingness to communicate and at least look at each other’s point of view. That has seen us through multiple deployments, overseas tours and thousands and thousands of miles between us (although from 1988 to 2001 we lived two blocks apart, which is a whole other story).
These are the thing make someone a good parent-in-law, also makes for a good daughter-in-law or son-in-law.
1.Tops is LOVE. In our case, Deme’s love for my son comes through in everything she does. I admit he’s far from perfect, and while she also admits he has shortcomings, she loves him anyway, just as I do.
2. Keep us in the family loop. Communicate, communicate, communicate, which is a lot easier with today’s social media. Facebook photos, emails, texts don’t take the place of a good, long phone chat, but they go a long way to making us feel like we are still an important part of our son’s life.
3.Remember patience is a two way street. This is my baby we are talking about. Sometimes it’s hard to see beyond the childhood memories. He left us as a teen, worried about acne and the like. It’s sometimes hard to reconcile that with the man you know, the father of your kids/our grandkids. He’s spent so much time away from “home.” How the heck did he grow up without us knowing? (When did I become middle aged?)
4.Visit with us. Whether we come to visit you, or you come to visit us, don’t lock yourself away, physically or mentally. How can we bring you inside the family if you insist on acting like we have “cooties.”
5. Invite us. Ask us to be part of your family. Even if we can’t make it to the birthday parties, etc., it’s nice to be invited. Follow that up with a photo (or 20).
6. Accept our help. You don’t have to do it alone. Our son chose you, so you are someone special. Most grandparents would love to spend some alone time with the kids, so go out with your friends once in a while. Even better, let the kids with us while you and your spouse enjoy a night out on your own, especially before and after deployments. Heck, make it a weekend.
7. Allow us to brag about our grandchildren. The years pass by so quickly. In many cases, our grandchildren are growing up without us. So please share their silly stories, photos, report cards, etc.
8. Have some concern for us. Ask how we’re doing and listen to our answers. Let us share our memories from your spouse’s childhood. Get to know who we are besides just parents/grandparents.
9. Help us stay informed - Please don’t make us hear about our “baby’s” deployment from the media. Unless we come from a military background, we have no idea what a FRG is unless you tell us. Yes, it should be his job, but he probably won’t even think of that.
10. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you . We all have our faults, but a little respect, concern, compassion and love goes a long, long way.
Our son and daughter-in-law are in the U.S. Air Force now. He is on active duty. She is a milspouse. They have gifted us with three precious grandchildren. Our daughter-in-law practices each and every one of these “talking points,” allowing us to be part of her/their family even though they are too far away for regular visits.
I hope I am as good of a mother-in-law as she is a daughter-in-law. Every person, every relationship is different, but a little respect goes a long, long way. If we, as parents, want to continue to be part of our grown children’s lives, we must learn to share. That goes the same for our children’s spouses.
Kathy Kunkel lives in the coal regions of Pennsylvania. Her husband is a former Marine. Her son spent 8 years in the Marine Corps and is now in the Air Force. Mrs. Kunkel is not currently accepting applications for new daughters-in-law, but wishes you and yours every happiness.