Helping Out The Over-Burdened Hostess

Umm Z recently left a comment on the article: Advice on How to Live with Your In-Laws

She asked the following question:

I wanted to ask a question regarding my mother in law, whom I have a good relationship with. You said above that you should ask for help when you need it. My MIL is elderly, late 60s, and has other daughter in laws as well. I do my best to serve her whenever possible. I don't live with her unlike her other DIL, but we (all the DILs and sons) meet together for a family meal on Sundays. this seems to be putting a burden on my dear MIL and I think it's time that we DILs put in some effort and shared the chores including making the Sunday meal. I have suggested it previously but the other DILs have said they can't cook. do you have any suggestions?


Hi, Umm Z!

Let me start by saying that the article you mentioned was not written by me – it was written by Francesca Di Meglio, for

This is a very interesting question. You seem to be her sole supporter right now so well done for noticing that someone in your family is feeling the burden, and I applaud you for trying to take steps to make her burden lighter. Try your best to continue to support her. It is really hard when all the burden of being hostess falls on to one person, and it is so sad when no-one cares to ask "How are you coping with all this work?". We need more people like you in family systems!

I have mulled over your question for a few days, and feel that there is no right or wrong answer here, it all depends what works for you and your family. A number of possible solutions come to mind:

1. I think part of the solution lies with your mother-in-law. Try talking to your mother-in-law – does she truly enjoy what she is doing? Many mothers prefer to have a lot of contact with their children and would rather be tired and exhausted as long as the family is around. If she does enjoy it, and is not feeling the burden, let things be.

2. However, if she is feeling upset that no-one helps her, and you feel that trying to enrol the other DILs hasn't helped matters, maybe you could persuade your mother-in-law to start having one dish parties. In fact, this question has reminded me of one of my pending rules – "Always try to have a one-dish party instead of a full blown dinner." If your mother-in-law requests this, then the DILs would listen, right? Or I may be wrong, as some DILs don't want to get involved at all with the cooking, but are more than happy to come and eat every weekend, which is quite disappointing.

3. Your mother-in-law may be too embarrassed to ask for help – you should try to encourage to admit it's hard for her, and request help. Remind her that life in this country is not like life back in the East where women had maids and servants to help with the cooking and cleaning, and she shouldn't feel ashamed to declare that she is "not coping". If what she was doing was so easy, then why aren't the other DILs doing it aswell? The answer to that one is that the DILs know that it is hard to cook for so many people every week, and don't want to do something they are not happy about.

4. I would encourage to get more people to side with your mother-in-law – the key persons being her sons. Try to explain to your husband what is going on, and explain that your other SILs are not being co-operative with your suggestions, and try and get your husband to talk to his siblings to reach a solution.

5. Another solution would be to gather every weekend, but not for dinner. Just tea, cakes and biscuits. This is an ideal way for families to get together regularly with no formalities. Your mother-in-law may not be comfortable with this, as she will feel she is not being a proper hostess if she doesn't serve a full dinner. Gently explain to her that it's all about the company, not the food.

6. Remember that not all the family members may share the same idea of "fun" – they may want to spend the weekend at home and not have to mingle at the mother-in-law's house every weekend – in today busy lifestyle, weekly social outings can be very tiring. If you find that this is the case, try to explain to your mother-in-law – or get your husband to explain to her that it is NOT necessary to have get togethers every week – perhaps you could make it a fortnightly/monthly thing, and every other weekend she can have just one family over? Your husband may also need to talk to your father-in-law as he maybe trying to coerce your mother-in-law to keep up with family traditions.

These are a few suggestions – let me know how they sit with you? Once again, well done for being a part of the solution, and not the problem. Your MIL will remember you for this!

With Peace and Warmest Wishes, Renee.

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