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- Dear ‘To Stay or To Go’
- To Stay or Go?
- I’m sorry. It was me. I just didn’t know.
This advice was delivered to me by my boyfriend’s mom on a doom-filled Thanksgiving day, my first ever away from my own family.
I guess I should have seen this coming. Rewind about four months previous and I’m sitting on a beach with my boyfriend and his childhood friends. While the guys tossed a Frisbee around, his friend’s older sister leaned over on the picnic blanket and asked how I liked my guy’s mom. “She’s nice,” I replied. “Then you don’t know her yet,” she said. “Run. Run while you still have a chance.”
You’ve heard of a rocky start? Amplify your concept of a rocky start by 8 million and that’s about where things began with my mother-in-law. Yes, I said mother-in-law (MIL). My guy and I didn’t heed her advice, much to her chagrin. 17 years later we’re still proving her wrong and it’s definitely with a small amount of “So there!” Mature, I know.
It’s definitely been quite a ride with her, including:
- Unsolicited advice on my personal appearance like where I could go to get my tattoos removed (or how to use concealer to hide it!), how I should cut my hair, what clothing looked appropriate on me, and what I should wear in the workplace.
- Yet more unsolicited advice on running a house including things like it being time to mow our lawn, where that couch should go, and how much dishwasher detergent to use on each dish cycle.
- Critiques on my pregnancies/births including gems such as “Your back hurts because you were overweight before you even got pregnant,” and “The baby doesn’t have jaundice as the doctor said, it’s because you drank too much V8 when you were pregnant.”
I endured six months of living in her home where I was corrected on my cooking, my cleaning, my parenting, and even my relationships (husband, friends, family – nothing was sacred). I found myself seriously depressed and honestly didn’t know how I’d survive.
And yet, I persevered. Why? Because of that guy. He’s an only child (and doesn’t that explain a lot?!). He has no aunts or uncles, no grandparents. Just his Mom and step-dad. I can’t take that relationship away from him, I can’t.
Plus, she does have her good sides. There really isn’t anything she wouldn’t do for us. She tends our children and is an amazing grandma. She’s helped us financially (Those six months of living in her house? They were entirely financially free: no rent, no allowing us to help with groceries, etc.). And anytime I’ve ever needed anything, she’s there in an instant. I’ve often said that if I lost my right arm, my MIL would cut off her own and give it to me…but, she’d tell me exactly how to use it and if I was using it properly.
Our relationship is 90% better. I’d even go so far as to say I genuinely love her and enjoy spending time with her (in small doses). Yes, it took 17 years, but there is hope!
Here are five tips that worked for me that might help fellow mamas with MIL woes:
- Try to see things from her point of view. Have you heard of the saying, “Oh my son’s a son till he gets a wife; my daughter’s my daughter all her life”? I believe this is the exact center of my MILs fears. Recognizing she was lashing out only because she was afraid of losing her son actually made a lot of sense: I was the enemy because I was the wife who was taking her son. Over the years, I’ve tried to ensure she knows she hasn’t lost her son by including her in our lives and also making sure they have ample one-on-one time. They have frequent coffee breaks or sometimes I’ll encourage him to call her “just to chat”. It does wonders for their relationship as well as ours (she and I).
- She’s NOT going to change. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve cried to my husband, “If only she would…” or tried getting her to see things differently. News flash: she’s not. She’s not going to change. She’s going to keep on doing those things that drive you bonkers (isn’t it funny how your MIL can do all of the annoying things your own mother does; but unlike your mom, you can’t tell her that she’s annoying you?). You know what works for me? I nod. I smile. I say, “Now there’s an idea!” (notice I didn’t say “good” idea, just “an idea”). She feels better because she got to say whatever she wanted to say; I feel better because we avoided a fight and I just end up doing whatever the hell I wanted to do anyway. Realizing she is who she is and then finding your own method for dealing with the difficult behavior might be the best route for peace.
- Ask your hubby for help. If I suggest something (“Hey, let’s do an Easter breakfast instead of dinner!”) my MIL instantly shuts it down and disagrees. But if I ask my hubby to call her and say the exact same thing, she thinks it’s a wonderful idea. After all, he’s a product of her years of work, and his ideas are brilliant. I’ve asked him to help navigate countless “issues” on our behalf, and more often than not, everything goes smoothly. I even enlist his help in picking up the kids when she has them so I can avoid potential conflict AND it helps them to see each other (as in tip #1). Booyah, another win!
- Know that ultimately you’re in control. I’m the mother of her grandchildren. I’m the wife her son chose. And I can control the relationships she has with my children and spouse. Back to the infamous Thanksgiving fight all those years ago, I overheard my guy say, “Mom, if it comes down to it, I will choose my girl over you. I hope I never have to, but I will.” This relates to tip #3 in asking your hubby for help, but also know in your heart that you have power. That weapon gives me a degree of satisfaction; I’m 99% sure I’ll never use it: but knowing I have that tool in my belt is comforting.
- Embrace what you have in common. Maybe you both love reading or gardening. Maybe the common interest is your children and her grandchildren (that’s what helped us most). But ultimately, remember always that you both love the same man. Even if she still sees your husband as a child, and not someone’s spouse, know that you both love this person and you at least have that in common!
- Bonus tips: Breathe. Drink. Alright, just two more tips that have worked for me. Take a deep breath and calm yourself. And be sure there’s plenty of wine stocked in your cabinet; a tall glass of Shiraz always seems to help me after a particularly unpleasant MIL encounter. 😉
How about you all? Does anyone else have MIL struggles? If so, share the dirt! Just kidding (sort of…) Do you have advice for improving relationships with MILs? I’d love to hear from you!