How to Be a Bad Mother-in-Law

My recent trip to San Francisco to visit my son had me thinking about motherhood and mother-in-law-hood. Actually, something else had me thinking of mother-in-law-hood, and it was something that happened a week before. I related the entire thing to my Internet Boyfriend/Friend, because I was quite upset. It’s nice to have friends to bounce stuff off of. He was very comforting, in that he provided some calm insights.

A couple of weeks ago, I started cleaning out my office here at the office. It’s where I do my work that is not associated with our business, but instead with business I started doing out of my home several years ago. I don’t make much money from that business, but it involves using the computer to design things. When I had my office at home, it was rather messy. When we moved to our current home, my husband said it was too nice of a place for me to have a home office which tended to be messy. (At the time, the nature of design was somewhat cut and paste. That’s why it could be very messy. Nowadays, everything is digital. No mess.) My husband decided to give me office space in our building, which is how I got a private office.

Anyway, I started throwing things away, and at a bottom of a box of very old cell phones, I found an envelope I had not seen before. It was addressed to Mr. Demonic, and in it was a copy of a letter I had written to his mother back in 1998.

My mother-in-law wasn’t a bad person, but she didn’t like me. My own mother died not long after I got married, and I needed a mother figure. She was exceptionally nice to both my children, her only grandchildren. The purpose of my letter was to express my opinion, as I am apt to do. Perhaps I should not have written it at all, except at the time I was up to my eyeballs in personal crap, and my children were very young (8 and 11). Life was coming at me from a hundred directions. It was a very stressful time.

My mother-in-law used to send my children gifts for the major holidays. She lived in another Tundra city about 700 miles away. She would wrap up the gifts and send them individually. My children, being small and extremely competitive, often wondered why one package would arrive, and the other would take sometimes days to get here. They, being of small minds, thought she was doing this on purpose. If I saw any small packages coming, I would secrete one if the other hadn’t arrived.

One day she called and my daughter answered the phone. They had a long conversation, which I didn’t mind. When my daughter hung up, she asked me where her package was. (?) I didn’t feign ignorance, because I knew nothing of a package. My son’s package hadn’t even arrived yet. Then she said, “Grandma said you have my package and won’t give it to me.” Then she went on to tell me I missed her aunt’s birthday and she was sad.

I was not amused. After all, why didn’t my mother-in-law say your father has the package and won’t give it to you? Why didn’t her father (Mr. Demonic) remember his own sister’s birthday? At the time, I could barely remember six hours into the past. I felt that I was being made the bad guy, when I was the one who regularly sent cards and photos and did all the Christmas shopping for both sides of the family.

In my anger and frustration, I penned a note to my mother-in-law. It began “I love you like a mother, but…” Because I did love her like a mother, and I couldn’t believe that she would try to make me look evil in front of my own daughter. In the note, I explained that I had no idea what my sister-in-law’s birthday was. I said that I was so busy, I had not yet sent my own two sisters their birthday cards (one being two months before, and the other a month before) and that they were still sitting on my desk. I said that side of the family didn’t send me birthday cards, nor would I expect them to. Then I admonished her to speak with her son about such things, especially about parenting if she didn’t like the way I did mine. I also told her that it was ME-the Mother and Wife- who made the plans to visit them. Mr. Demonic did not like going “home” as he didn’t see it as his home anymore.

Though I was angry, I thought my note was reasonable and concise. I didn’t refer to her in any hostile tones, I certainly didn’t call her names (and I wanted to), and closed by asking her to be considerate of my feelings.

She rarely spoke to me after that. And obviously sent a copy to Mr. D, who never once mentioned it to me. Perhaps wisely.

Though I was hurt, I got over it. Eventually, my mother-in-law passed away, and then my sister-in-law.

Seeing the note recently as I did jolted me into the same panic-stricken mode of ten years ago. It’s funny how many things lie just below the surface.

After I discussed this with MIB, I felt much better. I couldn’t change the way my mother-in-law was, and probably was looking for her love and approval when I should not have expected her to provide it. After all, I took away her baby. In the end, the only person I could change is myself.

That’s why I’m not going to be a bad mother-in-law.


7 Responses

  1. Remember that one can only be a good Mother-In-Law if the daughter-in-law is good, too. And vice versa.

    My MIL said some very hurtful things to me. She also did and said some of the most thoughtful things anyone has ever said to me. She is still alive though I haven’t seen her since my FIL’s funeral in 1993 (I think that’s when it was; I forget). I’ve been the former daughter-in-law since 1992 so we don’t see each other much.

    I miss her. I always admired her. Yes, her words hurt but we all say hurtful things once in a while, even if we don’t mean to.

    I think you’ll be a great mother-in-law!

  2. It’s hard. Shortly after our daughter was born, my wife and I moved two states away from the mothers-in-law and only had minimum contact with them.

    We’ve striven not to be the mother-in-law and father-in-law from hell. My daughter and her partner have held up their end of the bargain pretty well.

    By and large, we have had better luck with friends we chose to treat as relatives (artificial aunts for our daughter and our granddaughter) rather than the related aunts.

    It’s a hard row to hoe.

  3. You reminded me of the MIL I almost acquired when I was engaged in my early twenties … my fiancee and I had set a date, and our two sets of parents had never met. My mother decided to have my fiancee’s parents over for dinner, and called her to invite them over.

    “No, we don’t really want to meet you, ” my future MIL said. “Your son is more than we want to deal with, frankly. We don’t need to make things more complicated.”

    I guess if we’d gotten married, they wouldn’t have met until the wedding.

  4. I’ve had it both ways. One MIL informed me if I didn’t want my ex to hit me I shouldn’t make him angry.

    The one I have now is the best. We’ve had our differences, but love always finds a way.

  5. Thanks for all of your responses. It’s hard to be that other woman… LOL…

    David, you are so lucky you didn’t marry into that family. If the parents were that horrid, I can imagine the woman had some baggage as well.

  6. My mother in law was perfect. She played golf, cooked great, told funny stories and knew both Brit and American Lit.

    And most of all she let me marry her daughter.

    Dr. B

  7. I’d say it is a very hard role to play well – because you have to guess just how much involvement your daughter-in-law wants right from the start, and you may not know her very well.

    My family and my sister-in-law’s family are so different, so her expectation of ‘Mother’ is so different from mine or my brother’s experience based on our Mum. I have no idea how my sister-in-law puts up with my Mum as her MIL: I can barely tolerate her myself!

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