real life

Mother-in-laws. Discuss.

A few times I’ve had to do media interviews about mother-in-laws. This is challenging territory for any man or woman but particularly challenging when you’re on national television or radio. I always make it clear that I personally have a very good relationship with my mother-in-law because I do.

But I’m well aware that many don’t and it’s can certainly be a fraught and complex relationships to navigate. I think this is because no matter what our relationship is like with our own mother, it’s a familiar one. We KNOW the potential dysfunction because we’ve had decades to get used to it. With a mother-in-law, it’s different. It’s a very intense relationship given that you are both extremely close to the same person (your spouse). But you don’t necessarily have a history with EACH OTHER. Nor understanding of your individual foilbles. Cue: trouble.

As  Kelly* writes….

“I don’t know any women who have a completely fulfilling and equal relationship with their mother-in-law.  Most women seem to start conversations with, “ My mother-in-law means well, but….”

I know from many, many, many conversations with my friends over the years that, all things considered, my relationship with my own MIL could be classed as ‘good’. There’s no nastiness and no meddling as to how we raise our two girls (at least to my face). She is the woman who raised my husband to be the loving, thoughtful and smart (trying to focus JUST on the positives here) man that he is.  She is a loving and generous grandparent to my two daughters (again, focusing just on the positives).  And yet, it’s still THE most difficult relationship in my life.

There’s certainly an underlying tension that runs through all of our interactions.  I’m always polite and almost never openly disagree with the many silly things that come out of her mouth, even when I’m itching to.  I’m not comfortable with conflict and, for the sake of my husband and kids, don’t want to open a can of worms by challenging her.  Those worms have a habit of being awfully tricky to get back into their can.  So I restrict myself to internal scoffing and eye-rolling.

There’s a huge dose of competition in our relationship.  An element that isn’t in the relationship I have with my father-in-law.  At it’s most base, it’s a quest to be the alpha-female in my husband’s life.  “I gave birth to him” versus “He choose me!”.  Just for the record neither my mother-in-law or myself have ever said that, although I have been told “Nobody knows my children as well as me”.  The competition is particularly apparent around ‘special days’, with my mother-in-law as eager to preserve the traditions that her family have developed over time as I am to carve out new traditions for my own family.  A peace – of sorts – has been reached by me shutting my mouth and exerting myself in little ways.  But, for the life of me, I will NEVER understand why the Christmas present giving must wait until AFTER lunch AND the washing up has been done.  Give them their presents early and the 7 grand-daughters will be amused for the rest of the day, for crying out loud!.

It’s hugely difficult to assimilate into a ‘new’ family. There’s years of traditions, in-jokes, tensions and habits that I can’t even begin to fathom.  Subconsciously, I probably expect my in-laws to behave as my own family would. And they don’t.  Which in many ways is a blessing!

All I can say is, thankfully I have girls, so I never have to be some poor girl’s mother-in-law. That is, unless they bat for the other team. Which is totally fine.

Do others find the relationship difficult? I know there’s plenty of horror stories out there, but does anyone have a truly functional MIL/DIL relationship?”

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