My mother and father-in-law are staying with us at the moment, coming to the end of a 6 week annual visit. Now, I know what you’re thinking, as I have seen the look on the face of every person I inform of my husband’s parents staying with us for such a long time, and IT’S OK, REALLY IT’S OK! I love them. They are wonderful. They are the perfect balance between too much and not enough. People I know seem to be divided into either of two groups; those that complain and those that praise their in-laws. Other than the polar opposites there isn’t much in between. I am sitting firmly on the praising side of the fence, from the first time I met my in-laws over ten years ago I could tell that they were kind, loving, very connected to the world, fantastic listeners and never judgemental. My opinion of them has only ever risen, and I know I am one very lucky little daughter-in-law.
We’ve all heard the horror stories from our friends of the mother-in-law who is overbearing and thinks she knows it all, who leaves the younger mother feeling downtrodden and angry. There are the birthday party stories of the Monster-In-Law (MIL) bossing everyone around with my friend crying in the pantry, the MIL who chased her toddler around the house screaming with a potty in hand, and the MIL who just sits and watches you struggle without ever offering to help. Somehow this negative imagery stays in our collective memories and the general idea is that people tend to dread their partner’s parents. Is it just all hype or are some people really that bad? Whether it’s their inability to listen and adhere to your rules for your children, or their talents in rubbing you up the wrong way by telling you what you are doing wrong all the time, the menacing monster-in-law may be a mysterious creature to me, but there have been sightings since the dawn of time. My theory is that those MILs just can’t let go of the reins of mothering themselves, and can’t see the signs that they need to take a step back. If you have one of these, all I can suggest is to try and diplomatically tell her how you feel, or just learn from the experience and don’t become one of their kind.
My mother-in-law is the antithesis of the traditional stereotype. Not only is she always helpful around the house or wherever we are, she is amazingly patient with the kids. And you know what she does? Sometimes she asks me to show her how to do things, and I feel like the most important person in the world. I always ask her advice on things, and when they are visiting I no longer have to be the sole rememberer of milk and bread. Not only that, but I haven’t swept the floor or done a load of washing for 5 weeks. Plus, the weekend mornings have been a blessing as Daddy and I have become the second favourite choice of grown-up to jump on before sunrise. I don’t want them to leave! In the mornings my youngest has breakfast as usual with me, and then goes into the granny flat to eat Pops’ toast. Not long after that it’s Pop’s bikkies for morning tea, and perhaps later a walk with him to the shop to find some doughnuts for after dinner dessert. Yep, the kids love Pops! He and Nan are an endless supply of book-reading, train track-building, adventure-making and of course kisses and cuddles. Bath time in song and out to jump in muddy puddles on rainy days really can’t be beat.
For my husband and I, they are so easy to have with us and cups of tea are on tap. Treats to lunches and dinners (and the rest), and babysitting too giving us the rare opportunities to go out as we please knowing that they will have the kids bathed, fed and tucked up in the land of nod by the time we get home to a tidy house. They remember that they are the adults and don’t get offended when the kids say those things that kids say, and the thing I love the most is that my in-laws really and truly enjoy the company of my children. I am blessed with them and my own mum, step-mum and dad, and I try to show them how grateful I am for all the help they give me and the kids. But I’m not here to make you feel more miserable about your own ‘out-laws’, although I may have already succeeded. Sorry.
The way I see it if you have a mother-in-law (or mother!) that is just too… much, then you only have two choices: fess up or shut up. I think often a MIL acts the way she does because she doesn’t actually realise how much she hurts, annoys and offends. It couldn’t do any harm to one day pluck up the courage and let her know how much she upsets you and why (have examples ready to discuss in your head). If you have already done this and it had no effect then time to manipulate. Instead of being the victim of a senseless crime, arrange the evidence in your favour. By that I mean if she always points out how badly you iron shirts, then remove all ironed shirts from view. If the problem is that she won’t follow your schedule then write one up on a kid-friendly chart and have the kids cross off list items as they go. Take charge, all the while remembering that they themselves have feelings that should be taken into consideration – one day you may lose your little boy to a beautiful little girl and you will have to watch him love her. And those of us lucky enough to have nothing to worry about need to remember that not having your morning coffee made just so is a small price to pay for the priceless good relationship you have.
Emma Eastman 2014