parent opinion

'My mother-in-law is staying with us. Here are 7 ways we're avoiding a disaster.'

The first time I met my mother-in-law I was staying at her house for two weeks. When the in-laws live in a different country, the visits are full on. Instead of meeting for dinner and then going home to process, she saw me in my PJs less than 24 hours after introductions. 

We hit it off pretty well that first time. We went shopping and discovered we both have an interest in UK celebrity gossip. She wasn’t my mother-in-law at that point but I felt assured if that was to happen, I’d be dodging the mother-in-law horror story we’re all familiar with. She’s truly a lovely person and has been very good to me since that first meeting. But when I became a mother myself and the mother-in-law became a grandma, dynamics changed. 

Watch the Mamamia Confessions: The worst thing I said to my mother-in-law. Post continues after video.

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I’ve learned over the years while we may share the same opinion on Met Gala fashion, we are quite different. Motherhood is not my zone of genius and I’ve struggled with it. She can’t relate. I am very career driven while she thrives as a caregiver. Self care was not a hot topic when she was raising children and I’m not sure ever tried it. I love strong coffee, she drinks tea. 

I am well aware of the faults and failings of her only son while she thinks he’s the reason the sun shines. We still live in different countries so the visits are infrequent but intense. The pandemic caused a break in travel so last year we made the visit for three weeks, and now, it’s our turn to host.  


I’ve heard that ‘disappointment happens in the space between expectations and reality.’ As we prepare for an upcoming visit, I’m reminding myself of some lessons learned over previous trips. 

House guests and family visits can be exhausting but there’s memory making to be done. And maybe even a bit of fun to be had. Here’s how I’m setting my kids, my husband and myself up for success in our upcoming visit with my mother-in-law.

1. Empowering her son. 

Even though I’m generally the family project manager, my mother-in-law is my husband’s family and ultimately it’s his job to entertain and impress. My husband is super capable of planning activities but doesn’t always get the opportunity. His mother’s visit is his time to shine. 

2. Managing expectations.

The first time my mother-in-law visited after my son was born I thought she would blow through the door and start cooking. I’d heard stories of long naps while the mother-in-law tidied the house, settled the baby and got dinner on the table while freezing the leftovers for later. Spoiler: We ate a lot of takeout that week. 

Listen to Stephanie Trethewey discuss wanting to find "a village" on This Glorious Mess. Post continues below. 

3. Encouraging time with her son. 

If it wasn’t for my husband, she wouldn’t have grandkids. He’s the OG ‘best boy’ but now his kids steal the spotlight. It’s important that my mother-in-law and her son get some uninterrupted conversation and time to catch up properly. I also want my kids to see their Dad shine his shoes and take his mother out somewhere nice, I like that precedent.

4. Reminding her it's a holiday.

We live in a pretty great city, where people choose to visit and explore even without family ties. So as fun as the daycare run and tagging along to the grocery store is, I want my mother-in-law to enjoy her time away. She still has caregiving responsibilities at home and deserves a break. I’m encouraging a bit of research into events or sights she’d like to see and am happy to facilitate some tourist activities. 


5. Taking advantage.

This one’s for me. I want to be a good host and ensure the visit goes smoothly but while my husband has company and someone to help read bedtime stories, I may as well get in a few extra dinners with friends or a jog instead of cleaning up after dinner. Sure this will perpetuate the vision of the undomestic goddess but at this point, I’d rather the night out. 

6 Maintaining our routine. 

Entertaining my kids for two weeks would be the most exhausting job ever, especially for someone not accustomed to their pendulum swings of big feelings. During the visit, we’ll keep the extracurricular activities, practices and playdates. The kids thrive on routine and their own social outlets. Expecting Nana to take the place of friends and sports for two weeks is setting everyone up to fail, so we’ll keep the kids busy.  

7. Not apologising. 

My house isn’t the tidiest. I leave breakfast dishes in the sink while I’m working from home. My kids’ snacks aren’t homemade and I’m certainly not darning any socks. This is me. My husband picked me (from a wide selection he says) and he thinks I’m great. 

Though I am not maternally inclined, a good cook or much of a housekeeper, I have other things going for me that I’m incredibly proud of. I’m also a great mum to my kids, raising them to be passionate, authentic humans. The non-traditional gender roles in my home and my modern way of parenting aren’t for everyone and I’m not sorry about it. 

Watching my husband and mother-in-law together, the way her eyes light up every time he speaks, I can’t help but wonder how I’ll adjust when my son and daughter find partners that fill the most-important-person role. I like to think I’ll be cool about it, but I know better. 

Feature image: Supplied/Mamamia.

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