Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Dear Mother-In-Law

I'm sure being a mother in law is hard. One day I hope to be one, and of course both my mom and my husband's mom fill this role in different forms.

I was blessed to enter into marriage with a great relationship with my mother. We had our fights when I was in college, for sure! After college as I developed my independence, my mom came to respect my decisions even when she didn't agree with them, and I also learned to appreciate and seek her advice. We became good friends. I text her weekly and even though she has a busy work schedule, a husband of her own, and a plethora of grandchildren, I usually manage to see her once a month! 

Having a mother in law, however, is new experience for me. I kind of made the mistake of thinking she would be like my mother, who is blunt, very talkative, and very introspective (like myself, sort of). I pictured someone I could have long talks about doctrine with, or the bible, like I do with my mom. Of course my mother in law isn't like my mom, and I shouldn't think that in the least bit!

My mother in law is very black and white on matters of the bible. Questions are met with incredulous looks and stern lectures. She is also very conservative. I didn't know until recently that she thought the hat I wear (the kitty one, in pink) was, in fact, devils horns. Nor did I know she took great offense that I would wear such a garment! She also holds very complementarian views on marriage-- her ideas of what a wife should and should not do and the roles of men and women are fixed. I remember one time when I announced to her our weekend plans to redo the upstairs loft into a studio for me and remake it into a space where I could knit and sew and spread out. I was so excited, talking about what I was going to do and all my plans. To my surprise, she was upset and told me that I should never make my husband move his stuff and that I wasn't submitting to my husband correctly. She automatically assumed I'd demanded that my husband move his things-- when I told her it had originally been my husband's idea, I was met with skepticism and told that I must have tricked him into it. I think she thought I was kicking him out of what she considered his space. A good wife would work around her husband, and never request something like her own space in his house, I was told.

Needless to say, we got off to a rocky start probably due to unmet expectations on both sides. She and her husband didn't come to our wedding. She told me point blank that they didn't think we should get married, that she thought I was immodest. We got married anyway, a decision I don't regret, but one that caused a lot of hurt feelings across both our families.

our wedding day!
In the second year of our marriage my mother in law lost her husband to cancer. So in two years I'm sure it feels like she has lost both her only son to me, and her husband as well. I didn't understand her pain at the time, all I saw was how she was treating me and labeling me without, I felt, getting to know me at all.

She's said some very mean and hurtful things to me in the past that I have struggled with a lot, not knowing how to respond.

I know that everything is not her fault, of course. I'm obviously not the woman she pictured for her son, and I'm sure I have made mistakes in our relationship as well. I speak my mind without thought, and I don't understand the world she was raised in. She is 14 years older then my mom, and was raised in a different era altogether. I'm also very strong willed and argumentative, two traits that I feel she thinks are very unfeminine. 

It's very frustrating, navigating this rocky relationship and a delicate topic, of course. One that not only involves complex family dynamics and everyone's personal emotions and expectations, but also both mine and her different upbringings. I just hope and pray God is teaching both me and my mother in law in His ways and directing both our paths--and that we are both listening to Him and that we can eventually grow to respect each other.

We do have a good relationship now. It's a rocky one, but I think both of us don't quite understand each other yet. One post that was super helpful to me was this one, written about how to better your relationship with your mother in law. It has some great advice, and also pointed out a lot of things I had never thought of before!


Rachel G said...

In-law relationships can be really tough! I have always been so grateful that my Mom and Angel have such a good relationship. My mom had a very rocky in-law experience herself, and determined many many years ago that she would love her future children-in-law and make them fully welcome members of the family. Angel has a ton of respect for my mom and is known to ask for advice in her areas of expertise, and on her side, she considers him one of her kids, even though he's only 14 years younger than her, and she'll do anything for Angel! He makes any sort of request or has any favorite dinner, you know it's happening. haha! It hasn't been as smooth of a ride for me. My mother-in-law is a very nice lady, but I know I wasn't exactly what any of them envisioned for Angel, and because he's moved so far away with me they see me as the reason he 'left' his family. I have a lot of respect for my mil, she's accomplished a lot while not having an easy start in life at all--she's easy to get along with, but perhaps not feel super close to, due to language/culture/distance barriers.

Brita Long said...

I am so grateful to have a good relationship with my MIL. She's a feminist who totally supports my decision to keep my last name, for example. She likes to read my blog, and she understands why Dan and I left Ohio for Georgia.

I honestly think you're a saint for putting up with so much from your own MIL. I think holding black and white views on the Bible is arrogant, because you're basically saying that you yourself know how to interpret the translation of a translation of a translation of an ancient text better than anybody else.

Ghost said...

I have so much respect for you that you were able to articulate in this post just how horrible you felt your MIL was treating you, and yet still manage to be respectful and acknowledge her humanity. With that kind if insight, I just know you'll be a great mother yourself!

Sonya said...

re:" I'm also very strong willed and argumentative, two traits that I feel she thinks are very unfeminine." ... All of the women I knew that had this belief system were actually super strong willed and argumentative themselves. It is certainly very strong willed and argumentative in itself to think, insinuate and say that half if the population (women) should not have strong opinions or have less value, etc. Or not coming to someone's wedding over disagrements, again, very strongwilled and argumentative!!! In reality, you are very likely much much much less argumentative than she is. And most studies of women who try to live like this show that their wills do not weaken or disappear , but that they get their "will" done through passive agressive behavior. This kind of crap makes me sad and angry too. Anyway, just wanted to point out the major hypocrisy that is there 99% of the time. I think behind it is major fear of the unknown and wanting to avoid shame, guilt, deprivation, etc...and especially the ambivalence that is part of any well-lived life. They do have major strength in terms of determination. Usually majorly lacking in courage, though.

The relationship you DO have control over is when you are the mother in law with your son's wife, and 10x more so, the relationship you have with your son. And in that, I am 1000% sure that you will be awesome!!!!!!