3 things this military mother-in-law wants milspouses to know


By Elaine Brye

You are trying to manage a deployment and hold down the home front. Is your mother-in-law driving you crazy? Is she needy and overbearing? Do you dread picking up the phone or logging onto Facebook because she’s right there?

I can be that mom.

With four kids serving and deploying, sometimes I just want to go back to when I could lock them all in the backyard. Those were the days when I had complete control over where they went and could protect them. Or at least I thought I could! We certainly had our share of bumps and breaks and trips to the emergency room, but I was the one who made the decisions and tried to keep everyone safe.

Fast forward several decades: Everyone is a grown-up serving our nation. They fly jets, helos, launch rockets, and deploy to places all around the globe with pistols strapped to their thighs. This is tough for a mom who sometimes still sees them as four-year-olds trying to climb a tree that is definitely too high.

There is no manual for learning to let go (that is until I attempted to write one in my book Be Safe, Love Mom: A Military Mom’s Stories of Courage, Comfort and Surviving Life on the Homefront). Moms struggle as we watch our children move up, up, and away and–here is the kicker–we cannot protect them anymore.

We may become overbearing, nosy, and nagging because we miss our connection with our children. Quite honestly, sometimes we are scared to death. We are also so very proud at the same time. I call it the tightrope between pride and fear.

Keep us in the loop

Old phone from Flickr via Wylio
© 2013 Loren Kerns, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Spouses are a huge help when it comes to managing in-laws… especially when deployment communication is limited. I value my kids’ marriages. I know that spouse communication is the most important and I preach that to other mothers. But as a spouse, if you can send some crumbs of info my way I am eternally grateful. When we have some information it calms our fears. (Not knowing is the worst.) How is my child feeling? Do they need anything? Let me send something. I am a mom and I want to help. Harness that maternal energy for good.

Remind your spouse

Letters (0108) from Flickr via Wylio
© 2012 Jason Dean, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

You can encourage your deployed spouse to call their parents every so often. Have they called their mom lately? We will cherish texts and Facebook messages, but we have been listening to our child’s voice from their first cry in the delivery room. A two-minute call is worth a million texts (in this mom’s opinion). Of course, that is not always possible and we will take what we can get.

Create a connection

Hold on from Flickr via Wylio
© 2010 Buster Benson, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

Help your mother-in-law feel connected. Losing the bond with child because of time and distance is so lonely. We miss them. I don’t expect a text a day. In fact, I never talked to my mom that much when I was a young adult–however the older I got, the more I did talk to her! A little goes a long way and a picture of proof of life can make my week.

Being the parent of an adult is much harder than that of a toddler. We all have new roles and sometimes we can mess things up as we learn to value our children as our equals. Relationships can be tricky and it can be exacerbated when our children go to war. The hypervigilance I feel until I know my child is safe is a weight that wears me down. The best cure for me is to be in the loop and have opportunities to help lighten the load for my child and my child’s spouse. It’s what motivates me as a mom.

I know it’s not easy to balance everything. Just remember it is because we love you both so much. Call your mother-in-law every once in a while. Pass on current info. And Mom, do your part. They are grown men and women. You can stay connected without being a pain. Remember we are all in this together. We can do our part to support you and your family in a healthy way. One team, one fight. It’s how we stand strong on the home front.

Elaine Lowry Brye, an avid supporter of and advocate for military families, served as a longtime moderator for the USNA-Parents listserv and was one of the founding organizers of its parent community website and Facebook page. She became a national figure when she introduced Michelle Obama at the 2012 Democratic Convention. She lives with her husband in western Montana. In Be Safe, Love Mom: A Military Mom’s Stories of Courage, Comfort, and Surviving Life on the Home Front, Elaine weaves stories from her own life as a military mom and those of other parents with advice, anecdotes, and wisdom to help guide other moms and dads on the long and bumpy road of having a child in uniform.  

24 Comments

  1. Excellent advice and as always you got it perfectly. With son on first deployment, you express my exact feelings. Thanks.

  2. Thanks for the article. While not married yet, my Air Force son has a serious girlfriend. This was the first holiday I had to share him with another. I know we raise them to be adults, and I want him to be married and have a family some day, but the transition for parents is not always going to be easy.

  3. Great advice. Yet supports overbearing behavior. Married over 20 years and some mothers need to step back and realize when adult children need space.

    1. I was trying to suggest ways to prevent overbearing behavior. It may not be a good fit for every family. I do a lot to try and orient moms on my website and FB page to let go. Thanks for your feedback

  4. I do all these things for my mother-in-law. I think they are important. That said, I think it’s pretty strange this article is all about what the son or daughter-in-law can do for you, conveniently leaving out what YOU can and should do for her or him. My husband has served 17.5 years and my #1 rule about military life is Nobody should EVER ask a favor from a military spouse while his/her spouse is deployed.
    I also will not be reading or responding to any comments, as mothers-in-law give too many of those anyway.

    1. I spend a lot of time on my Facebook page and website teaching moms. This article was for a different audience. Learning to let go is priority number one- I think we can agree on that.

  5. Been married over 22 years and getting ready for our 10th deployment. Doing these things to stay “connected” or “reminding” our spouses are really nice and good thoughts. But the truth is that for a lot of us, both spouse and deployed member, there often just isn’t that much emotional energy to go around. I love my mother in law dearly. However, many times she has driven me NUTS!!! She calls, she texts, she emails, and when she doesn’t hear back right away, she doubles her efforts. And she uses the excuse “Well I just love you both so much!” I know that is true, and I love her, but there have to be healthy boundaries. Parents, unless they have experienced deployments themselves, don’t fully understand the energy and emotion it takes to keep deployed marriages healthy, intimate, and strong. No offense moms, but when a husband has been working 12 hr shifts every day for over a month with no days off, the last thing he has energy for is emailing his mother. Especially when he may only have 15 minutes to chat/email with his wife and children. I recognize that people have different personalities and not everyone responds the same way, but here is some advice for you moms from me. The more you push, the more you may push away and drain. Please, don’t push. It’s not encouraging. Pace yourself instead and please be patient with your daughter in law! Unless you are invited, please don’t ask or push in to be there when they come home from the deployment. This is a happy time but can be a very difficult time of transition. And almost always complicated. We deserve time for integrating back into life with each other. Instead plan a different time to visit when life normalizes a bit again. And Please Please Please, do not call your child (who is a grown man!) the morning after they return home!!! That should not need an explanation!!! 😉 Depending on personalities and situations, your in-law may need different things from you, wether it is leaving the kids with you to get a break, or even just you sending some extra money and a gift card so that they can get a baby sitter and go out to eat, or just a card in the mail to encourage them, with NO obligations or hidden messages to call! Help feed their hearts instead of draining them. I know you love you children. You want them to be safe and know they are ok. But you also want them to be happy. You want them to have healthy, happy, and wonderful relationships with their spouse and have beautiful marriages. Please don’t allow your motherly instincts and love to tear apart and put wedges there because “you just need to know”. And above all, remember that your deployed child and (hopefully) your in-law loves you. They just may not have the energy to tell you. One last thing, please be careful about telling people about your child’s deployment. It’s called OPSEC, Operational Security. Don’t post online where they are or when they will be gone or coming back. Don’t tell your entire church family all the information. They don’t need all that to pray for them! Help us keep them all safe by keeping information to yourself. And in the midst of it all, take care of yourself and stay strong!

    1. I totally agree. Most of my work is spent trying to educate mom’s who never lived in a military world. I got a glimpse of life in a war zone the year I spent teaching in Kabul. It can be totally exhausting. Blessings to you and your family

      1. As a daughter-in-law whose husband is a Marine and has deployed 11 times in 13 years, I have some advice for the over bearing needy mother-in-law (which is what you are describing and advocating). For the mother-in-law that feels their children are part of their identity, this is for you. You have not lost a part of your self worth. You have not lost your identity. You have actually gained a daughter. Here’s a secret; if you want to be in the know, than include the daughter-in-law as an individual. We are not just conduits to your son. We are not just conduits to your grandchildren. Deployments are difficult for the entire family. EVERY MEMBER SERVES. Your daughter-in-law is a brave multitasking hero on the homeland. When calling to see how your son is doing, at least start the conversation with asking how she and the children are doing… When sending an email to garner information about your son, try and garner information on the entire family including the daughter-in-law. Don’t just send monthly care packages to your son, but send care packages to your daughter-in-law and the children as well. Building a true friendship with your daughter-in-law is the best way to be included in your son’s life, but it has to be genuine. Get to know her likes, hopes and dreams too. Chances are, they have all been put on hold for the advancement of your son’s career. Acknowledge your daughter-in-law’s sacrifices and brag about her bravery too. It takes a special woman to be married to a military personal. You are gaining a daughter and a friend if you treat her as an individual. She is not just your son’s wife. She doesn’t need to be reminded how great your son is. She knows! Acknowledge her feelings and respect her and the sacrifices she makes on a daily basis enabling your son to be a better military personnel. Ask to visit her while your son is deployed to help her with the day to day tasks that she is juggling alone. She is doing double duty on the home front raising the children, holding down a job and running the household all while worrying about the safety of her husband and the moral of the children. Be helpful not a hindrance. Respect the family as a unit and understand your role has changed. It is time to let go to the yesteryears and embrace the future.

  6. You state that you have “4 kids serving and deploying.” Therefore, you should understand the concept of “OPSEC.” You should also be thankful that your child’s spouse understands it also. That is quite important. As a 30+ year Navy wife, one of the things that has been drilled into my head is “Loose lips sink ships.” Rumors and hearsay can destroy morale quickly. Sadly, once your child has married, you need to step back.

  7. I feel that as a busy spouse, oftentimes taking on extra roles already, it is not my job to remind my 40 year old husband to call home. It’s not normal to treat my husband or my inlaws like children. I already have a few younger ones at home to take care of – I don’t need to add to my to do list and take away from them. If parents are doing it right and fostering a healthy relationship, the deployed member will know how to properly interact with his or her parents. If not perhaps the parents need to step back and evaluate how they raised their child.

  8. Perhaps sound advice would be to encourage parents to get linked up with the command ombudsman and FRG. Their active duty member can assist with this as well do it dies not solely fall upon the at home spouse.

  9. To the military spouse: I have been sidelined by my daughter-in-law more than not since they got married 3 1/2 years ago, and my Army son hasn’t even been deployed yet. It’s going to be a nightmare if he deploys. Some of your attitudes sound selfish, just like my daughter-in-law’s behavior is selfish. They were stationed several thousand miles away from home before they transferred to Italy. At every visit that was at least 2 weeks we had him/them stay over for 2 or 3 days the most. This Christmas she sat in the living room reading, while the rest of us were in the family room. She didn’t come to church with him and us on Christmas day, and did not come back to the steak dinner last night that they were invited to 10 days ago.
    The only reason he is not sitting on her parents’ couch for 2 weeks is, that our Marine son is home from Okinawa, and they haven’t seen each other for 3 1/2 years.
    Her disrespect is blatant, and I don’t think I’m the only mom that is being disrespected by her daughter-in-law. We are trying to be supportive, but in reality she considers us as a nuisance. Remember that we raised the man you fell in love with. You think he is a good man. Try to think who guided and molded him into being a good man. When my boys were both stationed overseas, I was missing two pieces out of my heart. They both left for overseas within 2 months, and I was broken. I have two younger kids who keep me busy, but that doesn’t fix the broken part. What puts a band-aid on it is the occasional call or Facebook message. Rather than hating your mother-in-law for being pushy, show her ways to support you. For a while I was sending them coupons for the commissary, until she blew me off, telling me they didn’t need them. Try to be kind and supportive, and the support you get back will be 10 time of what you are giving to her.

    1. Sounds to me like your relationship is not the best. Maybe stop blaming your inlaws and try to look at the big picture. It’s easy to judge when you haven’t been in someone’s shoes.

  10. Thank you so much, I see myself in a lot of what your saying. You are teaching me as I’ve never been Military, my son just married. I love my children and your insight and knowledge will make this so much easier for me. Elaine thank you for what you do, I’ve been lost, but now finding my way. God Bless you and our military families.

  11. As a daughter-in-law whose husband is a Marine and has deployed 11 times in 13 years, I have some advice for the over bearing needy mother-in-law (which is what you are describing and advocating). For the mother-in-law that feels their children are part of their identity, this is for you. You have not lost a part of your self worth. You have not lost your identity. You have actually gained a daughter. Here’s a secret; if you want to be in the know, than include the daughter-in-law as an individual. We are not just conduits to your son. We are not just conduits to your grandchildren. Deployments are difficult for the entire family. EVERY MEMBER SERVES. Your daughter-in-law is a brave multitasking hero on the homeland. When calling to see how your son is doing, at least start the conversation with asking how she and the children are doing… When sending an email to garner information about your son, try and garner information on the entire family including the daughter-in-law. Don’t just send monthly care packages to your son, but send care packages to your daughter-in-law and the children as well. Building a true friendship with your daughter-in-law is the best way to be included in your son’s adult life, but it has to be genuine. Get to know her likes, hopes and dreams too. Chances are, they have all been put on hold for the advancement of your son’s career. Acknowledge your daughter-in-law’s sacrifices and brag about her bravery too. It takes a special woman to be married to a military personal. You are gaining a daughter and a friend if you treat her as an individual. She is not just your son’s wife. She doesn’t need to be reminded how great your son is on every post, email and conversation. She knows! Why do you think she married him. Acknowledge her feelings and respect her and the sacrifices she makes on a daily basis enabling your son to be a better military personnel. The military is NOT her identity. Ask to visit her while your son is deployed to help her with the day to day tasks that she is juggling alone. (Not just the second he returns.) She is doing double duty on the home front raising the children, holding down a job and running the household all while worrying about the safety of her husband and the moral of their children. Be helpful not a hindrance. Respect the family as a unit and understand your role has changed. It is time to let go to the yesteryears and embrace the future.

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