Awkward family photo - they meant to do that

Awkward family photo – they meant to do that

My oldest son is getting married Saturday. It is a time for great reflection. Who am I kidding? It is a time for a flurry of appointments, shopping, phone calls, swiping of the credit card (don’t worry, I pay off the balance every month) and stress. There is happiness and joy somewhere amidst all that, too. I’m just sure of it. In any case, here are just a few observations I’ve made on this and other topics near and dear to the hearts of mothers-of-older-children. Not there yet? No worries. It will sneak up on you more quickly than you think.

On teenagers:

If you wait long enough someone else will take your kid to Disneyland, on their dime, and (but not related) your kid will discover the merits of hygiene for his or herself.

If the worst thing your kid wants to do is wear his hair like Shaggy in Scooby-Doo or dye her hair bright red with Kool-Aid, twice, then consider yourself lucky. Everybody loves Shaggy. And Kool-Aid e-v-e-n-t-u-a-l-l-y fades. I’m sure red dye is better taken externally than internally anyway, so everybody wins (unless you live in Hurricane, UT).

It’s harder than climbing Everest, but avoid criticizing bad fashion/makeup choices. Just bite down on your tongue until you induce bleeding. Generally, if you say it out loud, your kid will be more determined than ever to maintain whatever particular style haunts you long after he or she would if you just waited for his or her best friend to mention that it’s totally not cool.

Sometimes it takes two-and-a-half years.

There are still worse things.

Refrain from cursing your child with payback via his or her own children some day. Said children will be your grandchildren, so don’t cut off your nose to spite your face. (Note: I have always heard this as “cut off your head to spit your face.” No doing things half-way around here.) This once came out of my mouth: “I hope your children never behave like this, because no one deserves to be treated this poorly.” It’s sincere. It’s good a zinger. And it carries the added charm of being a blessing against demon grandchildren.

Tragedy+Time=Comedy. Sometimes there is not enough fast-forwarding or time travel in the world to coax a laugh out of some of the truly awful days, but try anyway. It’s better that way.


My son is really truly getting married Saturday. It’s my first wedding. I am getting really good at nodding my head and saying, “Sure.” “That will be great.” “Whatever you want, dear.” “Whatever you decide is fine.”

It’s WAY easier (and cheaper) to be the mother of the groom.

There is something to be said for elopement. Or just not having a reception at all. When I was in college my roommate’s parents paid her three thousand dollars to NOT have a reception. She still ended up with three nice blenders.

Note: Three thousand dollars went a lot further in the olden days than it does now, but it should still buy a nice honeymoon.

No one RSVPs anymore. I still don’t have any idea how many people I am feeding at the wedding luncheon on Saturday. Neither does the caterer. Forget your NCAA brackets. Let’s have a pool to guess how many people will show up for lunch.

Feeding a crowd? Three words: Cafe Rio Catering. Aside from trying to pull numbers out of a hat, this couldn’t be easier. I hope there are leftovers.

Finally and most important: RSVP.

Please, please, please, please, please RSVP. That’s short for if you want food on your plate at the wedding luncheon, please tell someone in advance that you’re coming.

Empty(ing) nest:

If you feed them, they will come back. Sunday dinners are good. Sunday dinners with dessert even better. Sunday dinners with dessert consisting of chocolate rule.

Invest in a decent washer and dryer. Generally speaking, your kids would rather kill time at your house (especially if the fridge is well stocked) doing their laundry than at a laundry mat. (Note: My kids will tell you there is no food in our house. The cupboards and refrigerator are full, but there is still no food in the house. Truth is, we have plenty of food. It just tends to not be food that cooks itself. Does that make me a bad mom?)

Don’t compete with your inlaws/keep track of visits. Even if your kids do not come around as often as they should, trying to make them feel badly when they do come around only makes them want to come even less. As for the competition, if your kid marries up, your inlaws will be better than you anyway. You wouldn’t want it any other way.

Be flexible. Impossible to get everyone there for Thanksgiving dinner on actual Thanksgiving? Have Thanksgiving dinner on Sunday. I’m not budging on Christmas, but that’s ok. I secretly dream about being one of those people who goes to the movies on Christmas Day because they have absolutely nothing else to do.

How about you? What things have you learned the hard way about raising/marrying off older kids. Any tips on how to be the perfect mother-in-law? It’s my greatest aspiration next to *flying.

*more on that next month


  1. Eliana

    March 19, 2013

    Love the family picture. Love the hope for a future when my kids are older. You brightened my day. Good luck for the wedding.

  2. M2theh

    March 19, 2013

    My MIL once threw a fit and cancelled Christmas because we wanted to do it a different day because everyone had kids and didn’t want to open gifts at warp speed so we could get to her house for breakfast.

    If you are flexible about holidays you will be more likely to have your kids come, if you’re inflexible not only will they not come, they will have running jokes about you for years.

  3. anita

    March 19, 2013

    Nice thoughts! One thing I appreciate on one side of our family and wish for on the other is a regular reunion schedule. Being the matriarch requires stepping up to that responsibility to make it happen, or it won’t, and being able to count on seeing siblings and cousins every couple years makes such a difference.
    I appreciate how my MIL never criticizes. I appreciate how my mom never holds a grudge.
    Good luck!

  4. harlene

    March 19, 2013

    Thank you. I am in the thick of it and it is exhausting. I am a constant source of disappointment, as we only have ingredients, no food:)

  5. Debra

    March 19, 2013

    on being a good mother-in-law:

    generally refrain from giving advice unless you just can’t help yourself, or your daughter-in-law asks for it. advice does not equal criticism, but it can feel like that coming from your mother-in-law. i have an amazing mother-in-law (seriously amazing), and i am not one to be easily offended, but i still feel myself get a little defensive any time she gives me advice or little tips (on parenting, especially).

  6. Debra

    March 19, 2013

    i should add, because she is such a fantastic mother-in-law, i do ask her for advice often. but it’s me asking, not unsolicited advice.

  7. Jennifer B.

    March 19, 2013

    So wise Dalene! Love this! Best of luck with the wedding. I hope it goes as smoothly as possible 🙂

  8. Lisa

    March 19, 2013

    This is great, Dalene! I especially love the teenager tips, as I am struggling to survive 2 teenage girls. And they’re my 5th and 6th kids, so you think it would be easier! (My 13-year-old has bright red streaks in her jet black hair right now, BTW.)

    I’m a great MIL and Debra is right — it’s not my place to give advice unless solicited. Nor gripe behind their back. One time I did step up to protect a grandchild from behavior I thought borderline abusive, but that’s my job, too. Once I went with my son-in-law on a trip to NYC — just us — it was great!

    Thanks for the encouragement. Mostly it’s a matter of hanging in there, day after day. Grown kids are better than teenagers. Really.

  9. J

    March 19, 2013

    On the flip side, when your DIL /does/ ask for advice, freely offer it. I have to wring advice from my MIL.

  10. Kerri

    March 19, 2013

    I loved this.

    On Kool-aid in hair: my darling blonde 13 year old still has slightly faint pink streaks from the Kool-aid dying she did last June. She only dyed a swatch of hair at the nape of her neck, but I have been amazed at how long it has lasted. She’s still glad she did it, so I’m still OK with it, but it might have been a different story if she had done a lot more hair.

    On mother-in-laws: My great mother-in-law shows and expresses her love for me all the time. She makes it clear that I am as important to her as her son is. She adores my children and does not ever ever ever criticize anything I do, even if she might not agree with it (like not ironing my husband’s shirts.) She doesn’t give big presents or attend my children’s activities, but she adores us and appreciates us and cooks for us. I hope I remember all of this when it’s my turn.

  11. Paula

    March 19, 2013

    I completely agree with the don’t give advice unless it is solicited. Even my mom doesn’t do that to me. This can be hard when the grandkids come along. Unless you see a truly dangerous situation, bite your tongue. Once my MIL learned this she was wonderful. I had to have hubby talk to her. She did much better after that.

    My SIL got married 5 years after I did. When she had kids, she thanked me for breaking in her parents to grand parenting. She wasn’t so lucky with her ILs but they got the hang of it and so will you!

    Great advice in this article.

  12. Me

    March 19, 2013

    Be fair. If you send a gift for your son’s birthday, remember your daughter-in-law’s birthday, too.

    If you expect your married children to be at an event that is far away, be prepared to help pay for travel expenses.

    Take time to learn about her. She is more than just your son’s spouse. She’s a person, too.

  13. NF

    March 19, 2013

    Great tips on parenting teens and perspective on the wedding. Our oldest son will also be married in a few months.

    Since you alluded to the colored hair issue in Hurricane, UT I’ll just say that it’s my adopted hometown and the writer/reporter never told the entire story. No one interviewed the student’s mom about the effects of the overblown incident: the girl’s hair was a different shade than that portrayed in her photo. The principal, who is a reasonable man, received death threats from around the globe when the story went viral.

    Yes, parents should carefully pick their battles and there are worse things than a teen with bright red hair. But teens should also be allowed to learn that there are consequences to their choices. In our present world, those consequences are too often devastating to others as well.

  14. Naismith

    March 19, 2013

    I guess it is a matter of what qualifies as advice but…I have found that there are times when I am clearly impressed to say something to one of my adult children. However, I have no illusions that is what they should do (I am no longer entitled to revelation for their family!), but only that is what I should say.

    Sometimes it is healthy for them to consider and actively reject an alternative, rather than having “maybe if” regrets later.

    And I try to be clear that I am throwing it out there because I feel that I should say it, but of course the final decision is up to them. And at my age, I’m not going to remember what I said, anyway:)

  15. Dalene

    March 19, 2013

    Eliana–Thank you so much! Your comment brightened my day.

    M2theh–I get you. We are fine spending Christmas dinner elsewhere, but I am selfish about having Christmas morning at my house for my kids. My mother usually comes to join us and that has worked wonderfully. You are so right about being flexible. I will need to be sure to extend the same flexibility to my daughter-in-law as I expected.

    Anita–Thank you for sharing what you appreciate about your mother and MIL. I will aspire to do those things, as I know how I feel when those courtesies are extended to me.

    Harlene–Someday our children will be more health conscious and grateful, right?

    Debra–I hear you. I don’t love offering advice, even when asked, but I know how even the most innocuous things can sting a bit depending on who says them. What else makes your MIL amazing? Does she give lessons? 🙂

  16. Dalene

    March 19, 2013

    Jennifer B.–Thank you! Hope and pray the weather clears up. And warms up, too. The forecast has been so up and down!

    Lisa–You bring up a great point: every child is different! Just when you figure out one the next one comes along and sometimes that means switching it up. I love your idea of one-on-one time, too. Thank you!

    J–I will have to work on that. Someone I very much admire always reassures her in-laws with “I’m sure whatever you decide will be just perfect.” I guess it’s just like with any of my kids–I will have to weigh carefully whether they are really asking for advice or just reassurance.

    Kerri–True fact: the last time my daughter did hers I did a little streak of my own, but my hair is too dark and it didn’t take very well. I was disappointed. And good reminder–I hope to make that very clear as well that my new daughter is as important to me as my son. And also remember to express my love for her.

    Paula–Good advice. I think it’s great that your husband was willing to talk to his mother when it was needed, too.

  17. Dalene

    March 19, 2013

    Me–Good reminder. It is my intention to treat her just like I would treat my son (and so far, so good, I think). I look forward to getting to know her better as an individual and not my son’s girlfriend, fiancee or wife. Thank you!

    NF–THANK YOU! I KNOW better than to believe what I read in the news and I completely forgot. Also, I’m so sorry that principal had death threats. I wish everyone could just tell it like it really is and also play nice. Good luck with your upcoming wedding!

    Naismith–Good point–I will try to let the spirit be my guide and I love your perspective that you are not entitled to revelation as to what they should do, but only as to what you should say. Thanks for your perspective.

  18. Debra

    March 19, 2013

    my mother-in-law is amazing because she makes me feel wanted and needed in her family. she always tells me how happy she is that i am her daughter. she compliments my relationship with my husband and my mothering. she has made an effort to build a relationship with me individually, and not just as my husband’s wife. and she makes me really great food.

  19. jks

    March 19, 2013

    I’ve had a MIL for 20 years, and now my husband’s sisters are MILs and I have a long list of things not to do.
    Mostly I see the MILs seem to be resentful that their DILs are getting off easy because their sons are better at helping with childcare and housework than their husbands. For instance this summer one couldn’t seem to respect and appreciate her DIL who works full-time and is pregnant because she saw her take a nap and saw her son make her a sandwich.
    And she probably fail to understand that part of that sandwich & nap combination included the two of them spending time in bed together making her son very happy to be married. It is their vacation and her DIL works full time with a toddler and is pregnant. Does this particular MIL not get that her son’s marriage needs sex? That maybe this isn’t about her DIL living a life of ease and laziness.
    Never, ever criticize your DIL. It just is so hurtful. I can’t believe what my in laws are willing to say about people who marry into the family. My husband tries not to listen and tells them to stop if they say something about me (it doesn’t usually happen anymore). But hearing what they say about the next generation is eye opening.
    Anyway, it sounds like you have a good perspective. You have the choice to try to help and support their marriage or add stress to it.
    My parents have never said a bad word about my husband even though he isn’t perfect, and I am so grateful. Of course we probably didn’t do things exactly as my parents would have, but we have enjoyed figuring things out together and the two of us were a team. We didn’t need parents to do it for us because then we wouldn’t have gotten experience. I love them and my husband loves them because they have been loving and supportive and thought about things from our perspective, it isn’t all about them.

  20. Laurel Lee Pedersen

    March 19, 2013

    Beautiful article! I went through some tough teenage parenting times, but lived through it and learned so very much, especially the unconditional love and respect I hope both my children and their spouses feel from me. Mother-in-lawing is harder than I thought it would be. Being raised in different home cultures and coming from different backgrounds, I’ve unintentionally offended and been hurt myself more than I ever thought possible. The best rules I’ve learned are 1) to overlook, forgive and forget quickly 2) verbally and physically show your love generously and often AND 3) sacrifice some time and alittle money when they need you. A few dollars here and there, and some tending when they have lots on their plate means more, I think, than some big inheritance down the road when they’ve been through their financially strapped early years. I also learned from my own challenging mother-in-law to always keep “suggestions” to my children and in-laws few, verbal and private, and write only positive , uplifting letters and cards. I’ve saved all my own parrents’ letters because they uplifted me and made me feel I could do anything. I still get them out to buoy me up when I’m sad. I only saved one of my mother-in-law’s. I started to cry each time I would see one in the mail, knowing what was probably in store for my hubby and me. I never heard her verbally tell him or me in 35 year that she loved us. We never left my parents without them sharing hugs, kisses and “what good kids” we were. I hope my grandkids aren’t rottenly spoiled by us, but indulged enough to know we are absolutely crazy in love with them. Having no surviving grandparents when I was born, left me with a longing that I never want my own to feel. Good luck on the wedding – every kind, genereous thing you do and say that day will be a blessing to everyone forever.

  21. Michelle

    March 19, 2013

    I’m in tween/teen mode so I loved what you wrote. I’m honestly loving watching them grow up, but I can feel that they’ll be grown up so, so soon. I just keep telling myself that just because they leave the home doesn’t mean that I’m done being a mom. It’ll just be different.

    Hope your day is lovely on Saturday. But seriously, when did we become old enough to have kids growing up? (I got married later so am old enough to be a grandma. :-). )

  22. jennifer rueben

    March 20, 2013

    your daughter-in-law is the gatekeeper to your grandchildren so treat her very well is what I have learned as a mother-in-law.. from my side as a daughter-in-law- your son’s wife needs to be treated as a equal to your own daughters. Include her in any event or discussion that you plan for your own daughters. I was recently very confused when my daughter-in-law’s parents thanked me for the care I extended to my son’s wife after an operation. After all she was my daughter too and you take care of ill children. Finally, dear mother-in-law any comments to or about your daughter-in-law needs to be positive. Those little zingers really hurt.

  23. Shirley

    March 20, 2013

    At one point in my marriage I thought I had a wonderful relationship with my mother-in-law. We lived close to her and we visited often. I shared lots of personal things with her. We had great discussions and I felt more like a peer than a daughter (in a good way).

    Then I discovered that my mother-in-law and her daughter had been gossiping about me. My sister-in-law had found some private information about me and told her mother. Then my mother-in-law, instead of calling me directly, called my husband. She said she did it to warn him, to protect her son.

    I have probably never felt more betrayed, let down, and angered by someone’s words. Our relationship has never been the same. So my advice–don’t use your son as the mouthpiece to speak to your daughter-in-law. Speak with her directly, especially if it is about her!

  24. Catherine A.

    March 28, 2013

    Dalene – All I know is I’m in LOVE with the family photo! Congrats on your son’s wedding. Such a beautiful, happy success as a mother! xo

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