It’s a fair question. In-laws sometimes get a bad rap for being more like serial killers. The movie Meet the Parents comes to mind. When was the last time a husband told his buddies at work “Dude, I’m so stoked – my mother-in-law is coming to stay with us for a whole month!” And have you ever heard a woman say “Sure, I can go out for girls’ night – my mother-in-law is coming to town but I don’t need to clean the house because she’s really understanding and nonjudgmental.”
We just don’t hear that. Usually it’s the opposite. I know that personally, my house is never cleaner than when my in-laws are inbound. However, this is an expectation that I place on myself, imagining that my mother-in-law is going to be going over every surface with a white glove. I struck out big time in this area. My mother-in-law knows how busy I am and how chaotic our life is. Having raised four kids herself, she understands that children are actually more like mini-tornadoes, reeking destruction and making any effort expended on housework superfluous at times. At the same time, I feel that pressure to have my house in tip-top shape when she walks in the door. And the funny part is, I don’t feel the need to keep the house clean with my in-laws there, just to have it pristine when they walk in.
My husband has told me time again that his house was not perfectly clean growing up, that he had hot dogs and macaroni and cheese for many a dinner, and that his saintly mother wielded the wooden spoon once or twice and even swore. Yet I still find myself up against my perception of her: an angelic woman who always serves well-rounded meals and never raised her voice to her children, whom she spent their entire lives cherishing. When comparing myself to this unrealistic ideal, I will always be found wanting.
So, how do we get around this in-law problem? In Creating Healthy Ties with In-Laws and Extended Families, we are given a few pointers for developing a healthy mother/daughter-in-law relationships.
- Communicate openly
- Accept differences
- Use empathy
- Push for relational connection
- Disclose information about themselves
Mothers-in-Law SHOULD NOT:
- Give advice (unsolicited)
- Pin-down children-in-law as to specific reasons they are missing a family event
- Take over discipline of grandchildren
- Try to control everyone and everything including children’s beliefs
- Communicate unclearly or indirectly
The Mother-in-Law list was actually more of a no-no list for in-laws in general, but I feel that it works specifically for the mother/daughters-in-law relationship. So, how is your relationship with your Mother-in-law? If it is strained, have a candid conversation. If you have a skewed ideal of her as a mom, try calling her up when you're about to lose it with your kids and see what she says. You may just find out she's human!