Let me preface this by first saying loud and clear that my Mother in Law is a dote. I mean she is probably the easiest going woman I’ve ever meet in my whole life. I don’t think I’ve ever heard her complain in the entire time I’ve known her and she welcomed me into the family with open arms. She’s always got a smile and a hug for me and has never said a bad word to me or tried to stick her oar in about anything with relation to my marriage or baby.
I know… I am blessed.
Because as clichéd as it sounds, it seems like a lot of us have periodic trouble with the Mother in Law (MIL). Much as I hate clichés, they are always rooted in an element of truth and anecdotally, I’ve heard friends talk to me about issues they had with the partner’s mothers. Or just take a look at the myriad of online parenting forums out there and pretty soon, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve just stumbled into the script for a daytime soap opera when you read some of the goings on.
Everything from ignoring the Daughter in Law's wishes about not giving her baby a rusk in his or her bottle, to lamenting her for not looking after her husband properly, to tut-tutting at her reliance on pouches of baby food, to bemoaning her for letting the baby co-sleep, to even chastising her for sending her kids to crèche and nit-picking about everything to the eight millionth degree, leaving her in no doubt that the MIL thinks she really isn’t’ good enough for her son. I even read a headline on social media the other week about an over enthusiastic MIL who held her Daughter in Law's baby before she did in the delivery room…
‘My God!’ I sighed! 'I’d never do that!'
And then it hit me.
One day I’d be the Mother In Law!
One day my baby boy will grow up and might choose to get married and have kids of his own.
But what sort of MIL would I be? At this very moment, I can tell you that I would not want to be one of those ‘old boots’ her Daughter in Law dreads seeing; laying down the law, throwing my weight around and undermining every decision she makes. I’d never in a million years want to end up that way and I’m quite sure the dozens of MILs I’ve read about didn’t want to end up like that either.
So what happened? What occurred in the intervening years to turn her from easy going, rational woman into criticising Monster in Law?
The answer is simple. We don’t intend to.
Think about it. When you’re a teenager and you’re railing against your parents for not letting you go out to the disco (that’s probably a horribly uncool phrase these days but there you go!) and you say to yourself, ‘when I have kids I’ll let them do whatever they want’.
Fast forward twenty years, you become a parent and you suddenly see everything from you parent’s point of view and think to yourself, ‘yeah you won’t be going out until you are 30!’
In all seriousness though, I don’t think any of us set out to be in in laws from hell. In fact, I think it comes from a sense of wanting to protect our kids, no matter what age they are. If we feeling they aren’t happy or vulnerable our defensive instincts kick in and that’s not only natural, it’s a very good thing. But sometimes, it can be misplaced and backfire leading to over-protective territory from time to time.
Even now as my baby approaches his first birthday I find myself already wishing the clock would stop. I don’t want him to grow up, so I can’t imagine how I’ll feel when he does fly the nest. That said, I think as well as being protective, we all just want our children to be happy. Happy with a job they enjoy, happy in a home and happy with a partner and family. And if ultimately I see he is happy in his grown up life, then maybe that’s the time when I should let my protective defences down an octave and be a supporter, rather than a nit-picker.
P.S If I do by some chance turn into a cantankerous MIL in the future, then son, you have my full permission to read this back to me and tell me to get a hold of myself!