We were all warned growing up.
Beware the mother-in-law.
I can’t remember where and when it started. Snippets from adult conversations. Books, movies, TV shows. Definitely Everybody Loves Raymond. I was in high school when I watched Jennifer Lopez’s and Jane Fonda’s Monster-in-law. It was a joke at first, and slowly we watched friends get married. And then we saw the real life examples. Mommy groups on the internet have posts abound of it. There is even a popular forum called “Overbearing mother-in-laws.”
Even if we didn’t completely understand the full scope of it, the intent was clear. You are marrying the baby boy of an emotional and irrational female. Expect fights and hardships. Pick your armor carefully and be ready to be sent off in battle. You will be needing to guard not only yourself, but your future children. Your husband may join you, but more than likely, will be off on the sidelines trying to stay on neutral ground, watching both sides without wanting to commit to supportive chants.
So I tried to be prepared. However, nothing could have prepared me for the wonderful woman that is the mother of my husband.
They say the apple doesn’t far fall from the tree, and the goodness in my husband is equally apparent in his mother. On one of our first dates something that stuck out to me was my husband’s almost innocent way of always expecting the best in people and having an open mind to everyone he came across. I see that also in his mother, and I was lucky that when we met she had a completely open mind to accepting me as her son’s girlfriend. It didn’t hurt that we later found out our parents knew each other when we were younger, even though we grew up in completely different areas and met each other through online dating. When our own parents put the pieces together, there was an automatic trust towards our new significant other — after all, our parents knew each other and their integrity. In my first conversation with my future mother-in-law, we learned that my birthday was also the birthday of her beloved mother who had passed away a few years prior. All in all, my boyfriend and his family felt like fate to me. That I was meant to meet him and be part of this wonderful family unit. It was serendipitous.
When I would tell others about how dearly I loved my boyfriend’s mom, they would say, “Wait. Just wait. The honeymoon will end.” So I waited. But it never came. And while I write this I can think maybe only a handful of times we may have disagreed with one another, the way it was handled always stands out in my memory more. Always with grace, compassion, forgiveness, understanding. I was always given the benefit of the doubt and there was never an assumption of ill will. Over the years she has become a treasured friend, someone I look forward to seeing. I have in turn always tried to balance out family schedules, trying to be sure that I don’t unconsciously favor my family for holidays. While my parents-in-law have been wonderful in our relationship, they have also taught me so much in regards to their relationship with my child.
They have taught me to allow your child’s spirit to flourish — and never be the one who tries to diminish it.
Things have changed quite a bit in parenting over the years. But sometimes I think we still can have this unreasonable expectation for little babies to be little adults, and act accordingly or as we see fit. I don’t hear my mother-in-law say no often to my daughter, although it definitely does happen. Instead, she redirects and allows my child to be, well, a child. She also gives a new meaning to the word playmate. She is committed to being on the floor with my daughter, engaging her in whatever game or toys her heart desires. In return, my daughter has complete admiration for her, as well as trust and security, and much to my dismay, will even prefer my mother-in-law to me at times. But I can’t be upset. It warms my heart that my in-laws bestow so much love and attention on her, cementing a life-long relationship that I know my daughter will come to need, depend on and be a better person because of it.
As I share my experiences, I know that not everyone has been as lucky as me. Some mother-in-laws don’t approach their daughters-in-law with openness, understanding and good will. Because of that, I do not take our relationship and close friendship for granted.
But for Mother’s Day this year, I want to wish an extra special day to all the mother-in-laws out there who are doing it all, for children and children-in-law. For making sure our children have special relationships and memories that only a grandparent can provide. We so appreciate your impact in our babies’ lives.