A Wife – Or Another Mother?

Published February 2, 1979. In the year 1911, William Dillon and Harry Von Tilzer wrote the words and music to a popular song titled “I Want a Girl (Just Like the Girl That Married Dear Old Dad).”

While the song is a fitting tribute to mothers, it also describes what frequently becomes a difficult or trying situation for a new wife, who is constantly compared to her mother-in-law. This suggests that many men not only seek a wife as a marriage partner, but are actually also looking for another mother.

It has been noted that some men marry women who physically resemble their mother, and that other men who are excessively attached to their mother will not marry until after she dies. Then the son marries rather quickly, often seeking a replacement for the lost relationship.

You need not become involved, however, in deep psychoanalysis to realize the constant comparisons many men make in marriage between wives and mothers. Furthermore, these comparisons may nor may not be so subtle.

The thought-to-be-funny statement that “you don’t cook like my mother” may not be too humorous to a new bride (Once I made this insinuation in our marriage, and found how accurately my wife, Susan, could throw a green grape across the table!)

Other statements beginning with “Mother did it this way,” or “In our home we did such and such” usually irritate more than they inform.

Even though there does appear to be some change in role expectations, it is likely that these comparisons will continue for some time. If there are in-law problems, they frequently tend to be with the wife and her mother-in-law.

A mother has cooked about 20,000 meals for her son by the time he marries, so she ought to be able to do a better job than a new bride who may have a difficult time boiling water. A mother has also become aware of her son’s idiosyncrasies, his preferences, and his expectations during the twenty or so years she has lived with him, so she logically is a favored person in his life. But some women have been “smothers” rather than “mothers” to their sons and have so catered to their whims and desires that new brides have a difficult time meeting these expectations.

A few years ago, for example, while teaching at Southern Illinois University I was intrigued that many mothers would travel a considerable distance to the campus once or twice a month to clean their son’s rooms.

What further concerned me was that some of the young women in my classes were dating these pampered, “smothered” young men. Is there any wonder that the relationship between a wife and her mother-in-law is often strained if the new bride is expected to continue such catering?

No wife, particularly a recent one, should try to be, or be expected to be like her mother-in-law or anyone else for that matter. She has the right to do things her way without constant comparisons being made, and husbands should be careful to minimize their expectations.

In martial relationships husbands and wives often want the other to become like someone else, and parents are frequently held up as the model. Maybe marriage would be more meaningful if those involved would allow each other to be what they are themselves. As husbands, if you must sing Dillon and Von Tilzer’s song, “I Want a Girl” . . . perhaps you should do it when your wife isn’t home.

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