In Praise of Mothers-in-law
Warning: To those with mothers-in-law from hell, stop reading here. I have a mother-in-law that turns the stereotype on its head. She is non-judgmental, supportive and has never once made me feel that I “stole” her son from her. Sorry, no mother-in-law jokes in this post.
When my husband and I started dating back in1984, I’m not sure that his mother took me too seriously. I was a giggly 15-year old girl who travelled in a pack of other like-minded teens. I’m not sure when I started taking my boyfriend’s parents too seriously either. They were sort of shadowy figures who lent us the car and occasionally fed us as we passed through the door.
At some point I realized that his parents didn’t subject me to the same kind of probing interview that was common in my own home. They accepted everyone who came in the door and did not question the depths or status of the relationships. They accepted that I was a part of their life and always treated me respectfully and kindly.
I know that lots of people have trouble with their in-laws, I hear the stories all the time. The competition over who is the favourite, the clashes over the kids’ upbringing, the snubs and the behind-the-back whispering. My relationship with my mother-in law is judgment-free, and I have her to thank for that because I am not necessarily wired that way.
Relationships with the in-laws often change when you have kids, they can strengthen and deepen or they can become more fraught with tension. For some people they take a surprisingly positive turn as the joy of having a common little person to love brings people together but in other cases (and you know who you are) the constant advice and budding in can take the relationship to a dark place.
Problems often arise when the older generation thinks that when you choose to do things differently, it is a condemnation of how they raised their kids. I am not sure that my mother-in-law agrees with all of our parenting choices – because she doesn’t tell me what she thinks, unless I ask. And because she doesn’t pass judgment, I have the room to ask.
When I had my first child and couldn’t breast-feed, she made no comment. When I had my second child, I struggled with breastfeeding and used a complicated system to ensure that it worked. Many family members thought I was completely insane, my MIL only asked what she could do to help.
She has changed countless diapers; in fact she would rush to change a diaper, so we would not have to. As the kids have grown older she has played thousands of rounds of Candyland, put together Lego sets, played Wii and has even immersed herself in the foreign language of Pokémon.
Then there are Tuesdays. Tuesdays are her day. Ever since my oldest son was six months old, she has come to our house Tuesday afternoon to play with the kids. That makes Tuesdays my day too, the day when I know the kids are well-taken care of and I can do other things with my afternoon. Not every MIL has the freedom to make such a commitment, but it is a very welcome gift from one that can.
The benefits of the weekly visits are an acknowledgment that with kids it’s not just quality time, it is also quantity time. My kids are so comfortable with her that they pay her the ultimate compliment: they test her boundaries and push her buttons.
I don’t want to sugarcoat the relationship; there are tensions and aggravations and things that remain unsaid – but that’s family, nothing is perfect. I just hope that I will be able to accept my children’s partners and their parenting choices as non-judgmentally as she has.
How is your relationship with your in-laws? Any good or bad stories to tell?