parent opinion

"I was called the 'jealous, interfering' mother-in-law. Inside, I was suffering."

The mother-in-law is a figure men and women all love to hate. 

She interferes. She is jealous. She is manipulating. She feeds the kids sweets and lets them use the iPad. She wants to turn her son against you. She comes to visit unexpectedly and tries to take over. She criticises your relationship with her precious, faultless son, plus she rolls her eyes at your parenting skills.

In short, she is a nightmare.


Video via Mamamia

However, she is a wonderful tool for jokes.

The danger in using the mother-in-law for enjoyment is immense. Women know only too well how cruel our stereotyping has been over the centuries, and how difficult it has been to break the perceptions. 

Single women were desperate, married ones evolved into nags and ‘helicopter mums’; as stepmothers we were cruel and vindictive.

Women are still trying to feel proud of their sexuality and still trying to put a stop to slut-shaming. It goes on and on. 

But the mother-in-law is still fair game, and cops it worse than anyone, when in reality she often deserves it the least. 

Listen to Mamamia Out Loud, Mamamia’s podcast with what women are talking about this week. Post continues below.

Recently, my only son got his first girlfriend. Lucas and I have always had a very close relationship emotionally and intellectually. Our journey through life together was one of travel, education and fun. 

His switching of affection to a new person came as a huge shock to me - a shock and loss which I had to suffer privately.

My instincts told me to befriend the girlfriend, and this proved to be fraught with difficulty, as she too was feeling threatened by the ‘power’ I still held over her boyfriend.

Naturally, she wanted him for herself. I shared my angst with a very good friend, who I trusted with my pain, as she and I had shared similar problems throughout our marriages and parenting.

Her automatic reaction was to see my situation as an interfering jealous mother-in-law problem, and laughed it off. This cut me so deeply. 

I loved my son and still wanted the best for him. I had tried my hardest to befriend his girlfriend. I was crying each night at the feeling of loss of a person I had nurtured through every trauma of his life.

ADVERTISEMENT

There was a gaping hole opening up before me, the empty nest, and I was alone - because when seeking help, everyone referred to the comfortable stereotype and smugly smiled.

Let’s do a reality check. The mother-in-law is an older woman, often lonely. She has brought up children, putting herself last. She cares deeply, more deeply than any other human being in the world. She has loved like no other. She has given like no other, with her years of feeding, shopping, cleaning, working, wiping away tears, picking up the pieces of broken friendships, rescuing her kids from the bullies, the failures, the law. 

Then suddenly, the loss of her child to another’s affection looms ahead.

The emotional pain can be profound. Just at her most vulnerable point, suffering a loss she knows will be in place for the rest of her life, she is trivialised, yet again. Put down.

It is true that some women respond to this painful loss by trying to take control again. They can become nasty, or play passive aggressive games to seek attention. But this is because NOBODY CARES ABOUT THEIR LOSS. She's just an old lady whose time is over; get over it!

Most mothers-in-law prove that the stereotype is way off the mark. They are continuing their selfless duty by babysitting, helping out financially, nursing the sick, holding family gatherings to ensure bonding, sharing their wisdom of child rearing, acting as taxi driver for school pick-ups, being the backstops when their kids' families are in trouble, cooking meals for their busy kids’ families... again, the mother’s love is unending.

I decided to approach my normally supportive friend on her lack of support. 

I told her how much I had tried to accommodate the new woman in our lives and how I had cried at night because nothing seemed to work. 

Being a rock-solid feminist, she was appalled at herself and realised that she too had fallen into the trap of blaming the woman.                                                                                

The happy ending to my story is that my daughter-in-law has now become like a daughter to me. 

She wisely asked me out for coffee and apologised to me for being so difficult. I apologised for finding it so hard to let my son go, and after lots of tears, deliberate bonding with me teaching her to crochet, her including me in her family, and lots of movie and champagne nights, we are the best of friends. 

Though I no longer share my son’s deepest thoughts, I feel happy and even relieved sometimes that he has her to share them with.

Linda Moctezuma is an English teacher at a Sydney Intensive English Centre where she delights in educating Australia’s future generations. She has lectured at the University of NSW and taught and travelled extensively.

Feature Image: Getty/Mamamia.

00:00 / ???