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.
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.
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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.