I had decided not to write about my relationship with my mother-in-law here. It is a story that is too long, too convoluted, too reminiscent of a really bad soap opera.
But then I was talking with the play-group gals the other day and realized that bad blood between girls and their MILs is an epidemic- not my little personal problem.
I certainly didn't bring up the topic, having realized long ago that bad-mouthing my MIL was not OK, no matter how "justified" I felt. But one of the other girls brought up her mother-in-law's recent visit, and a I noticed a collective tightening of jaw muscles and small sighs (and a few eye rolls.)
I had to ask, "Does anyone here have a good relationship with your mother-in-law?"
There was silence. Finally one brave soul said, "Actually, yes. I hate to even admit it because I know that most people don't, but I'm very lucky. I just adore my MIL. She is so sweet, and such a help with the kids."
So, 1 out of 9 had something nice to say. And these AREN'T nasty women. They are a sweet, church-going group who are not catty in the least. Really lovely women.
I have to ask: Why?
Really, I want to know why this happens. I don't think any MILs start out on their sons' wedding days with a wicked chuckle, "Now, my pretty, you're in for it!"
And I don't think any of us daughters-in-law start out thinking, "He's mine now, lady. You're history."
But it happens. I know that my case has special circumstances- bipolar disorder (no, not me) is a serious and difficult mental illness- especially when the person who has it won't treat it.
But as we talked, the other moms and I made some interesting, and sad, revelations about our mothers-in-law. We didn't bitch. We didn't bash. We shared our stories, and our thoughts, and tried to puzzle out how this relationship, that should be so special, has turned so sour.
Ann talked about her husband's own strained relationship with his mom, and how she had spent years trying to mend it, even forging birthday and Mother's Day cards that he refused to sign. She told about the most recent incident when her MIL brought her sister-in-law a HUGE floral arrangement on Easter and quite pointedly gave her nothing. She said she's fed up.
Katherine said that her MIL is not so overt, but is full of thinly veiled criticisms poured on with syrup on top, "Oh, dear, that roast is SUCH an improvement over the one you made last time. You're starting to get the hang of the kitchen now!" or "Will is doing SO much better now that he goes to school. That teacher is really helping him thrive."
Lori told about the time her MIL came to "help" her after she gave birth to her twins. She said the help was not so helpful, and in the end she cooked every meal while her MIL said things like, "Dear, don't you worry about a thing- I'll watch these two (babies sleeping) so you can tidy up/ cook/ run some laundry." Lori was only 2 weeks post-delivery!!
Kendra shared that her MIL was always critical and stand-offish until finally after a disagreement about where a holiday would be spent she screamed, "You stole my son! You stole my son from me!"
And I? I told one of my earliest MIL memories. It was the first time my MIL visited our new house- we were so proud of it- and totally rearranged our furniture, and our kitchen cabinets, while we slept. No regard for the fact that this was OUR home, and OUR belongings, and OUR arrangement. She acted like she had done us the biggest favor in the world. "I just thought it looked so much better like this." Being passive-aggressive, I didn't say a word until 10 years later, though it crushed my little newly-wed feelings at the time.
We tried to identify the root of these issues. One seemed clear- often our MILs felt that we had somehow damaged their relationships with their sons. We examined that notion. A few of us felt that accusation had some truth, if you ponder the way we, as wives, do have a tendency to alter family traditions and holidays, exert our own influence over our husbands, etc. But on the whole, we all said that the mother-son relationships were damaged before our marriages. My husband told me on our first date that he had come to the South to get away from his family- especially his mom. Kendra said that from day one her husband never wanted to talk to his mom on the phone, and she always had to cover. Lori said her husband constantly rolled his eyes behind his mom's back, told her that his mom drove him nuts, dreaded visits, etc.
So part of the relational break-down seems to be occurring before the marriage even starts. I guess the wives are an easy and convenient place to lay blame.
I think a big part of this happens because we moms need to have a major shift in how we relate to our sons as our sons become men, and this is surely hard to do. Young men/men need to feel respected, not mother-henned. That's not to say that they don't still appreciate some "mothering" in the form of a home-cooked meal or a listening ear, but they don't seem to appreciate nagging, or bossing, or being fussed at. I don't look forward to making this transition with Brother, but I am determined to pull it off. I shudder to think that he would dread my phone call or visit the way my husband dreads his mother.
I have also already written a letter to him and his wife-to-be that I will present to them on the eve of their wedding. It basically says that as his mother, I emphatically believe that the most important woman in his life is his wife, and that her needs and wishes must come before mine. That applies to where to live, where to spend holidays, how to raise children, which recipe to use for spaghetti sauce, etc. It was hard to write now, and he's only 22 months old. I know it will be hard to read 20+ years from now, but I am determined to give them that freedom, rooted in Scripture, and get myself out of the way of their happiness. That is not to say that I will tell him I'm out of his life- on the contrary. My hope is that in establishing myself as #2, I will create a sense of easiness for him and my future daughter-in-law that will make them want to be in my company.
So, I'm curious. What do you think? Why does this important relationship between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law (or mother and son) so often go sour?