I grew up listening to oldies music with my parents. I would always hear Ernie K-Doe’s “Mother-in-law” on Cool 95.7. Yep, you know the song about a guy trashing his mother-in-law.
I went through relationships thinking to myself that guys just inherently dislike their mother-in-law. I got married and realized that’s not really the case. What took me by total surprise, though, is how MY mother-in-law changed not when my husband and I got married, but-dun, dun, dunnnnnnnn – when we had kids.
Lack of Boundaries
From the start, my husband and I didn’t set boundaries with her – we didn’t know we needed to. When I say from the start, I mean, as I lay stitched up in the hospital the day after having my first kid.
She didn’t leave the hospital. She invited people to my hospital room without asking if I was up for company. Our first day home with our newborn, my MIL came over and wouldn’t leave, occupying the only TV in our house the whole day. And then – yes, there’s more – she invited people to MY house to meet MY new bundle that night. I kid you not. As she and her company left nearing 8pm that night, they decided to go get dinner and never once asked if my husband or I wanted anything. As soon as they walked out the door, I turned to my husband and said, “Nope. This isn’t going to work.”
It got worse before it got better. Way worse.
There was the blatant disregard for instructions we would leave with her when she babysat. If I ask you not to put my infant on her stomach, I don’t care what you did 30 years ago raising my now-husband … but don’t put my baby on her stomach. There were the several times that my child was jerked away from me. You want to see the mama bear claws come out? Jerking my child away from me on more than one occasion is a good way to make that happen. There were the hurt feelings because we have lives outside of hanging out with my MIL. You want us to want to hang out with you? Don’t make us feel guilty about not hanging out with you WHILE WE’RE HANGING OUT WITH YOU.
All these things amongst many, many others.
The thing is, I never could have imagined my mother-in-law would be that type of person before I had kids. But, alas, it was true. She needed a lesson on how to be less selfish and how to just show up for her son and daughter-in-law.
Addressing and Deflecting
I say it got worse before it got better. Things never really got “great.” But, my husband and I did set boundaries, so for us, it has been a little more bearable. We tried to address boundaries with my mother-in-law, but we also set boundaries for my husband and I. We both collectively can only take the guilt trips so much and now with 2 kids, time is even more crunched. When the guilt trip talk starts up, we immediately make eye contact and change the topic. If that doesn’t work, one of us chimes in about how it’s time for us to be going. And we leave.
We recognize and constantly remind each other that we are doing not only our best, but we are doing what is best for our family. We cannot be concerned about what others deem is right or wrong with the way we run a house and raise a family. I imagine no grandparent ever feels like they see their grandchild enough.
I hope that at some point in my life I can experience being a grandmother. And I vow to my children that I will be empathetic to their families’ needs. I will not be selfish, except for when it comes to little toddler hugs. I will not guilt trip them because I know how hard it is to please everyone.