Saturday, March 13, 2010

Insufferable Mother-in-law

Just reading a parenthood debate in the New York Times where one of the bloggers used the term "insufferable mother-in-law" with reference to unwanted advice.

But why do those terms go together so often? Why is a MIL automatically insufferable?

I remember mine, a formidable woman whom I found interesting and admirable, but who definitely wasn't much given to dispensing warmth. And it did annoy me when my husband at the time spent time alone with her without me. I decided immediately when my son got engaged that I would be different. I would be warm, giving, kind, supportive. I would offer no unsolicited advice.

Of course, it’s done no good at all. The operative issues, whatever they are, seem far too strong.

I have, however, passed through to the other side of the mirror. Granny’s desire for alone time with her son, had nothing to do with a desire to “shut me out,” even if that’s what it accomplished. She just wanted to re-establish her emotional connection with him, the kind of emotional connection that society rewards when it’s between mothers and daughters and snickers over when sons are involved. Mothers are not seen as potentially damaging to daughters, for some weird reason. Only sons.

So it’s the MIL who gets the rap, when the DIL’s are blogging, and I have a question for them: When unwanted advice is handed out in your family, who’s the source? How often is the voice suggesting improvement coming from between your mother’s lips?
Now, really, compared to that waterfall, how often has your MIL suggested something? Anything?

And yet, she’s a person, too. I know that may seem an odd thing to feel compelled to add, but my own experience to date indicates that the existence of an MIL appears as a distortion in the field of reality for many DIL’s. For them, the MIL is mainly a bundle of the DIL’s responses, whatever they may be, with the MIL herself invisible behind them.

The truth is that your MIL has feelings, interests, even passions of her own. She’s been around a while on the planet and has accumulated a variety of experience with responses to it that are sometimes humorous, sometimes stupid, sometimes verging suspiciously close to wise. But mainly she is here and real. Erasing her because of a personal insecurity, or even from a sense of superiority, is cruel. She will be gone soon enough.

Besides, the two of you should be on the same side, really. She loves her son and so do you. You will love your children and she will, too. A stronger possible bond than these two things, I cannot imagine.


Suzanne said...

Ah yes, that two way street that is too often roadblocked closed. Your words brought up some memories and made me rethink a few of them. Thanks..and it is good to see you back.

Anonymous said...

I was happily surprised to find you are posting blogs again. I went to you new site: bookcracker but was unable to post a comment. None of the options under "select a profile" seemed to work for me. I do not have a blog of my own. All I have is an email address. Any suggestions? Anyway, I'm glad you're back and I will continue to read your blogs even if I can't post comments.
- Jonny

Babette Fraser Hale said...

Sometimes I have trouble finding a way to post comments on blogs. But it's easy to get a Blogger account or Google account and use that account information just to post. A chicken and egg thing that I don't completely understand. I usually write the comment, then highlight and copy it, then try to get the site to accept my account and repast the comment when it does. If that is any use at all!

Barbara said...

I had one of those insufferable mother in laws. We did finally reach detente when she was at the end of her life and I was still there. She did dispense advice, I took some, and some I ignored. Unfortunately there are still things for which I have not forgiven her, and that's my failing.

I did keep a hands off approach to my daughter in law, and that seems to have worked well. Only if I was asked, did I suggest the way I'd do something. She was welcome to accept or decline the advice.

I am glad to see you back here, have missed your observations.

Charming's Mama said...

I love and appreciate my MIL. My own mother has been gone for 13 year now and I really miss her so I am glad to have a good relationship with my MIL. I suppose I am the "exception not the rule".