As relationships go, you’ll have some easy ones, some difficult ones and then some downright trying ones. My relationship with my mother-in-law has been of the trying variety. Trying in the sense that we’ve had to cross some bridges and build new ones before we got to the point where we are now. The point being that we love each other on purpose because we want to and not because we have to. Mere tolerance for each other is not tolerated. The only tolerance I have for her now is left to the fact that she’s ageing and often repeats the same story a few times (she’s not even that old). I feel too bad for reminding her every so often that I’ve heard a story before that I just sit and listen animatedly as she gets to the punchline. This was not always the case though. We’ve had our ups and downs and there were occasions that I didn’t want my kids to go near her. The latter was never exercised though, because I could never deny my kids anything and this includes their chance of spending time with their gran.
During my first few years of marriage we got along like a house on fire. Our relationship started long before marriage and in many ways it was the one she imagined she’d have with her own daughter. In fact it was exactly the kind of relationship I never had with my own mom. We would talk for hours about anything and everything. She would confide in me and I’d get seriously embarrassed by some of the info she volunteered to me. I got to know details about life events that shaped her into person she is today. Everything was perfect until we had a massive blow out a couple of years ago that had me wishing I’d married an orphan instead.
All it took was a disagreement on morals and an outsider feeding her lies. I won’t divulge in too much details but it was about an extra marital affair and her allowing it to happen by looking the other way. The whole debacle made it to “Die Son” newspaper for crying out loud! What I will say is that it made me wonder if she’d do the same for her son if he decided I wasn’t enough to satisfy his needs. Obviously the guilty party needed an ally and manipulated my mother-in-law into thinking I was the villain. Now that, I could handle. What I couldn’t deal with, was the fact that she chose to believe the worst and turned her back on me.
Disgust. Anger. Disbelief. Hurt. Those were all the emotions that surfaced. More than anything I was hurt. She’d call me to argue. I’d call her to make her see reason and we’d argue. It got to the point where I would reject her calls until I decided to block her completely. All the while Keith was in the middle. Not really in the middle because he was also upset with her actions and tried to make her see reason. Not for my sake but for her own. This scandal followed us around for months and during this time she just wouldn’t budge. I suppose at some stage she realized her folly but her stubborness and pride at the time prevented from walking away. At least that’s what we think her mind was telling her.
Then one day the dust finally settled and we were a broken family. Damage beyond repair because of all that’s been said and done. I take full responsibility for my part in it even though what I did was out of love for her. My husband made it clear that he didn’t want to pick between our marriage and her, but if it were to come to that he’d choose me. Now having your husband choose you above his family is a great feeling, but not too great when it’s his mom. Especially under those circumstances. There is just a special kind of bond between a mother and her son.
For a while I decided to put our differences aside and tolerate her for Keith and K3’s sake. This made for some pretty awkward visits and most of the times I decided against visiting her at all so Keith and the kids went without me. Until one day I put my big girl panties on and decided enough is enough. This time I did it for me, for her and for my kids. Besides, how can I teach my kids the importance of forgiveness when I couldn’t do it myself. How can I show them kindness, love, respect (and all those wonderful life lesson we’re supposed to teach our kids) when I couldn’t even practice what I preached.
After a long talk, many tears and apologies later, my mother-in-law and I made peace. That day I spoke from the heart as a woman first, then a mother, wife and daughter. I bared my soul to her that day and told her that I didn’t want her to be a part of my life only because of my marriage to her son. This was between us. Two women who happen to have a few people in common. I didn’t do this for my marriage, I did it for me. You see, I control who I allow into my life. No one is there by accident. Sure I can’t choose my family and neither can I my in-laws but I can be intentional with my relationships with them. Or I can just avoid them, but then again that’s not me. There are some relatives I hardly see but life happens and it’s not exactly the same as avoidance. As I spoke, my mother-in-law listened and didn’t interrupt me once except to say “yes” or “I’m listening”. This unnerved me a bit and I wondered if it would have the desired outcome. When I finished my unrehearsed speech I gave her the opportunity to speak freely and the rest was history. That day we had no arguments left. Only tears, apologies and forgiveness. It was our new beginning. Since then our relationship has been thriving. We have our moments when we disagree but never anything serious. The best part of all is that our relationship is built around us now and not around Keith and the kids. She’s back to telling me some things that embarrasses the heck out of me, but then again I think it’s just me being duh 🙂
Here are some of the guidelines for mother/daughter-in-law relationships:
- Respect each other as individuals first. Yes, you are bound by marriage but if you can’t respect each other as people then you’re not exactly going to fully understand each other, ever.
Don’t take each other for granted in thinking “Oh it’s just my husband’s mother” or “Oh it’s just my son’s wife”. You are both so much more than that. Get in there and get to know each other. Besides you’ll make things so much easier for the middle man. It’s really not pleasant for husbands to have to choose between the two most important women in his life.
Make time for one another. A call here and text there to just say “hi” really does go a long way.
Never use kids as pawns and don’t poison their young minds with dirt on each other. (This is something we never did but I see now how easily we could’ve fallen into that trap.)
Be open and honest in your communications. Both parties POV will be different at times and that really is ok, but remember to never leave anything open for interpretation.
Don’t be scared to disagree on a subject. I can’t guarantee that there won’t be arguments there. But arguments can be resolved fairly easily once you have the respect thing down to pat. I’ll go as far as saying that it makes your relationships stronger.
Your husband is ultimately the only person who can make a stand (within reason off course) with his mom. You really can’t move forward if he doesn’t have your back and makes his mom aware of it.
It pays to remember that not everything is said or done with the intention of hurting the other person. Viz. My mother-in-law used to love saying how fat I had gotten even though I hadn’t gained a single gram. I just wrote that one down to the fact that I think she secretly wishes to have another grandchild. This thought is obviously reinforced by the fact that she excitedly tells anyone who will listen that we are open to adopting a child/ren in future (which we are).
Make a choice to love each other and not just tolerate each other.
PS: Moms (with daughter/s-in-law reading this), as far as choices between you and us go, please understand that we really don’t want it to come down to that, but your sons have a responsibility towards their wives and our marriages depend on whether or not we can trust and rely on them for their full support. Many times it’s simple things we need their support on. The choice can be born out of you openly expressing your opinion on the fact that you feel your grandchildren should breastfed and our reluctance to do so or the fact that you don’t think that your son should be cooking. A trivial matter to you may mean a make or break the future of their marriage.
PPS: Husbands, we’re not asking you to defy your moms. We’re simply asking you to have a bit of backbone and making everyone aware of your viewpoint on certain matter so we’re all on the same page. You’ll be surprised to find that your moms will get over the fact that you stood up for your wife and admire you for it. On the other hand if you don’t it will be an elephant in the room and a contributing factor to future arguments with your wife. It helps to remember who you’ll wake up next to when you’re old and grey one day 😉
Oh you are a far better person than me. My relationship with my mother-in-law is the biggest problem in my marriage and the bigger problem is that my negative feelings detract from my peace of mind. I am so aware of it and yet there’s nothing that I can do. What I RESPECT so much is that you got it out in the open and spoke to her. I’ve so wanted to do that but never had the nerve. Now she lives in Cape Town so I don’t see much of her and the time for talk is past, we just speak the absolute minimum when together.
Thank you for your kind words Sula. I don’t know so much about being a better person though… It’s more a case of me not liking loose ends (OCD) and the effects it had on my marriage too. At some point I got tired of all our arguments being centred around my accusatory statements starting with “Your mother… !” Starting that conversation with her that day was worse than my fear of giving birth (normal birth mind you) to my firstborn.
Maybe one day you’ll have the nerve to sort it out and you’ll be able to get past your differences. Who knows maybe she’ll be the one to call a truce. We never know. What I do know is that it’s never too late.