Tuesday, 23 February 2010

A Thorny Issue?

Apparantly my M-i-L is scared of me.

This was the bombshell Husband dropped on me today, casually, as if it were something I should know but no big deal really. He then amended his statement, to something more like; well, not scared of you exactly, but she worries about what you think.


Scared of me.

Is this a good or a bad thing, I wonder? I mean, I don't go through life with the aim of being the Dragon Lady. I like to imagine that I'm kind, approachable, and have an open face; hell, otherwise why is it always me who gets stopped and asked for directions by every tourist and crazy in town? I'm good with kids; I talk to rather than at them, my son's friends are happy to come over on playdates, and I appreciate children as individuals rather than an as encumbrances (unless, of course, I need the loo and they just won't let go of my leg to let me go to the bathroom, which happens more than I might like).

OK. Perhaps I can be a bit brusque at times. I don't always suffer fools gladly, and I'm self-aware enough to admit that in fact, if we're being completely honest, if you catch me at the wrong moment I occassionally resemble a cactus, but I usually soften up pretty quickly with the liberal application of wine. Or chocolate. Or wine and chocolate.

So, spikey, yes, I'll admit to that. But scary? I hope not.

The shocking thing though? If she chooses to think that about me, I can live with it.

To put this in context; I realised when I first met her that my mother-in-law is a warm, open, loving and wonderful mother to her children. Who wants to know EVERYTHING about them. The first things, great. I can only hope to be able to deliver the same benefits to my boys. That last, though, that is the sticking point. I come from a very private family where words were carefully considered, and where talking too much about your feelings was, for a long time, something that needed to be diluted with humour, just in case you hurt someone else. Or, preferably, something you didn't do at all. 'Just suck it up and get on with it' could have been our family motto.

There were reasons for this, (none of them sinister, all of them private), and the result is that for a long time, neither of my siblings or I took too well to sharing our deepest thoughts. We do it now, of course we do (hellooo! I'm blogging!), but on our terms, not someone elses'. So I have to admit that whilst I like and admire my mother in law, I always held my distance and kept my defences up.

And when the Boys arrived, I did nothing to change the status quo. If anything, I enforced my spikey persona still more when they were first born. I suppose that the reason behind this was that I worried she would try and take over. Her delight in her grandsons (her first) was total and I felt that lines had to be drawn so she knew that what Husband and I (oh, alright, I, if I'm honest) wanted in terms of how they were treated was not just some easily disregardable fancy but very important to us. And I suppose the feminist in me felt that all this adoration of the Boys simply because they were boys was a bit of a slight to the grand-daughters she already had.

But you know, looking back on it now, it seems petty, silly. There was never any question in my mind that she had anything but my sons' best interests at heart, it's just that her interpretation of what they were was slightly different to my own. You know; softer. Less Anxious New Mother. More laid-back, and seen it all before. More like that of... well, a Grandmother.

So nowadays, having had that realisation, I am much more laid-back. I don't over-react in the same way, at least I hope not, and we have reached an understanding that seems to work very well; she thinks I'm a bit overly strict but respects that, and I think she spoils them - a little - but generally let her get on with it.

But 'scary'? Well, if 'scary' means that when I'm not around she doesn't let the Boys watch television in the morning or give them that 3rd and 4th chocolate biscuit in a row when they look at her with those big beseeching eyes because she doesn't want to upset me, I guess I will just have to live with that.

How about you? How do you deal with your mother in law?


  1. "scary"'s a funny word isn't it? Doesn't it just mean "respects your opinion"? But somehow it sounds so derogatory. I'm sure she thinks you're amazing though. How many women would move half way round the world into a large freezer for her adored son?

    Anyway, my mother-in-law? I think she's amazing. I'm not quite so sure what she thinks about me. At their 40th anniversary party last summer she gushed about C (B's sil no 1) and K (sil no 2), and then she said "and Plan B. Well, what can I say? Every family needs a Plan B".

    What does that mean????? Am assured it's a good thing. But I wonder...

  2. Minefield! Mine's good, though - but because she lives so far away, we could have been more comfortable with each other by now if we'd seen each other more often.

    (I can be prickly, too. I think it's the curse of the young mother.)

  3. Having met you I can't imagine you being scary or prickly! Intelligent. Outspoken. Forthright...yes. I think my MIL has been intimidated by me - and she certainly respects my (and my ex's) views on how we want to raise the boys, although it is different to her experience. And as she is only 13 years older than me we have far more in common than I ever expected outside of the parenting realm. So now it appears more like respect than intimidation. And even though I think I am relatively strict with the boys, my own father and his wife think I am a lightweight and are far more strict. There would be no offerings of a 3rd or 4th biscuits in their house for sure! That's an army upbringing for you I guess. xx

  4. I don't talk to my MIL. She started treating my nieces horrible, was snotty to my son, only talks about and cares about herself and Hubby told her she could never come to our house after a traumatic incident at her home involving our nieces. So...for now, I don't deal with her at all.

  5. This has left me wanting to retitle my blog "Not sinister, just private". Sorry, not poking fun at your family. Just loved that phrase.

    I loved this post, because you have chosen your words so carefully. I bet you pored over it for ages (or did it just flow?)

    Sounds to me like you do a good job of getting on with your m-i-l. I read a lot of mutual respect in the post. I think I'm a bit more scary with my in-laws than with other people. Perhaps it's to do with drawing boundaries. It's like saying "This is MY home, and this is what we do here", but without actually saying it. You don't really have to say that to other people, because it's obvious, but you're staking out your territory when family is involved.

    You're sure "scary" isn't Dutch for something else quite different. Like "chocolate-addicted" or something?

  6. Loved Plan B's comment about moving half way round the world into a large freezer.

  7. Umm, a bit of an odd thing to say - I doubt she's actually frightened of you, probably more just respectful of you and knows you aren't a push over. Whether she thinks that's a good thing or not...well...

  8. My MIL is no longer living so I don't actually have to worry about getting along with her but while she was alive we both did our best to maintain a good relationship despite the fact that we couldn't be more different people and had a major language barrier. Oh, and my FIL is one of the ghastliest men I've ever met and did his level best to make everyone around him miserable, particularly his poor, downtrodden wife. I used to send her pictures of the kids and letters and although she did not always respond I think they improved her (very impoverished) quality of life. I feel very sorry for Husband, though because HIS MIL is, shall we say, a test of loyalty. Fortunately she lives on the other side of the planet from us and he is a true diplomat.

  9. Can't comment on the M-i-L side of things. But also get described as 'scary'. I was rather shocked the first time this happened, and it does seem to be increasing. One friend (having been prodded heavily in the ribs by his girlfriend) diluted that to 'forthright' which I can live with, but 'scary'?

  10. I'm sure my MIL is scared of me.

    What I find interesting is that now I have children I can see how some mil's can be annoying -- their little baby boy has left and grown up to live with someone else. That must be hard.

  11. My MIL is all right, she had my husband very late so she seems very old to me in comparison to my mother.

    She very wisely sussed out early on that as her son isn't that fussed about when he sees his parents, I am the conduit to her grandchildren.

    My friend has an MIL from hell, who attempted to plan a 45th birthday celebration for her son (friend's husband) that involved my friend looking after all her grandchildren while MIL, her two sons and other DIL went out for the day. Oh, and my friend was also meant to have dinner ready for them when they came back. And she was to keep this secret from her husband as it was a big surprise. Yeah, that didn't happen.

  12. You sound like you have a mutually respectful relationship with your MIL and it sounds like you deserve it because you've both worked hard at it. My relationship with mine is totally dysfunctional. I don't think people would believe it. It upsets me no end. This for starters - she refuses to call my son by his name (it's Sonny). She says it's not a 'real' name. I spend a lot of visits trying to get her to say it accidentally. It passes the time even if that's a bit juvenile!

  13. I am blessed with a MIL who is a sweet non-interfering undemanding mother-of-5 who dotes on her grandchildren but does not smother them. I love her to bits, have never had a disagreement with her and she is by far the easiest guest ever when she comes to stay. Very lucky.

    I am only scary (apparently) to former colleagues who branded me as such behind my back.

    They seem to confuse being scary with being efficient. No wonder I am no longer there.

    Great post.

    LCM x

  14. Well at least your not scared of her! My MIL is sadly no longer with us but I wish we did get along better and find some common ground when she was alive.

  15. I used to be a bit scared of my first m-i-l. I didn't know my second as she died before the Farmer and I got together. But I do know that my mum is a bit "wary" of my sister in law. She's a police woman (the sil) and although is really kind and loving, she is also a bit intimidating.

    CJ xx

  16. I try not to deal with my MIL and the feeling is mutual. One thing I have learned though is that I don't EVER want to be like her - I will bend over backwards, if I am lucky enough to become a MIL myself, and I hope that like my adored Gran both my Dils will be fighting over who should look after me in my old age....:)
    As for scary no of course not, no really you're not...honest!

  17. My mother in law is a softie and doesn't really get involved unless we ask her to. She babysits but has never done any of the day to day stuff. I don't know whether that's my fault.

    I lost my mum when I was little so just got on with it when my babies were born and the husband and I managed fine between us.

    I do often wish she'd just bob round for a cup of tea and chat without it feeling like an appointment has to be made.

  18. My MIL sadly died before we had children; I miss her almost as much as I miss my own mother and would have loved to have had her help with the boys. We always got on very well when she was alive, having spent many holidays together since I first met my husband as a student, although I know the dynamics can change once you have your own family.

    My FIL on the other hand is a difficult character and probably does find me a little scary - seeing as we have had some humdingers of rows in our time....but this has grown into a kind of mutual respect, I think. It sounds as if your MIL respects you too - and she can see that you have sound judgement when it comes to the boys.

  19. My MIL only has eyes for her 3 sons and of course their children. Myself and my 2 sister-in-laws might as well not exist, which was something I only realised at my boyfriend's brother's wedding where she only took photos of 'her boys' with their children. How insulting must that have been for the bride?

    Mind you, my FIL is worse. We had both sets of parents down for a weekend and he said across the table to me, "I don't think you should bother having another child: you haven't coped very well with the first one". I was about 5 months pregnant at the time and we didn't talk to them for months afterwards. All I can say is, I won't be moving them into my house to care for them in their dotage!

    Loved your post btw!

  20. God, I wish my MIL was scared of me.

  21. Generally, my husband does a good job of keeping his parents under control. I do a less good job with mine. But, my m-i-l and her sister once gave me 4 month old firstborn wine and I have never forgiven them.

  22. i recognise this, but not with the mil, who i sort of got on with, despite that she was gracious and upper, and i am gutter.

    but dig told me i had the same scary impact on some folks which came as a bit of a surprise to me. he thought this was normal wisdom, like butter goes on toast.

    (and last night i dreamed of you, pm, thanks to all my anxiety about moving kids across borders. but why were you distracted and carrying that frying pan?)

  23. MIL's. Tricky one. Mine is a nightmare. I've tried so hard for so long and am struggling at the moment.

    The miles between us make it easier but I am worried this may be the year I politely challenge her rude and disturbing behaviour when she is left alone with me. The whole thing bores me tears and I envy anyone who can manage a good relationship with their MIL. What is it with some women and their sons?

    All my friends know they have permission to batter me in later years if I ever behave like this to my own son's wife/girlfriend.


  24. I'm short on time (and battery) so can't reply to everyone individually right now but I just wanted to say that it's interesting the most comments I've had in ages have been on the subject of mother-in-laws... There's clearly a LOT of material out there! Thanks everyone for taking the time to comment, and I will reply eventually, I promise.

  25. I think the realization you came to is something that you come to after a bit on your own -as long as your MIL is not an evil person.

    Mine has always helped out and alwyas been supportive. Sure we don't see eye to eye on everything but I don't know a single person I see eye to eye with at all.

    Good post.


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