I read a good article in May 2014 Real Simple: Mother-in-Law & Order and realized it explained some things in my own life about relationships in general (even though the focus is on mother-in-laws). Some observations and thoughts from the article:
1 – When did it get started? “Mother-in-law issues go back to Year One (or a few decades later), when the Roman satirist Juvenal wrote, ‘Give up all hope of peace so long as your mothering-in-law is alive.'” I wonder if some feelings are affected by the assumption we will not get along?
2 – Why Mother-in-law? Why does it not cross gender lines? “Women spend more time than men analyzing and worrying about relationships.” Good point. “In contrast, men don’t often ruminate, and when conflict arises, they tend to shrug it off rather than address it.” I think I need to learn from the men in my life.
3 – Differing expectations? Expectations of female bonding can create conflict. My mother-in-law called frequently when I first got married and had no idea I hated talking on the phone. We finally figured it out. We also have “superwoman” expectations we put on ourselves and others. When you get married, there is the clash of two cultures (unconscious ways of doing life).
4 – Different dynamics? Mother-in-law relationships catch husbands in the middle. Or, could it be that husbands help create issues by encouraging wives or mothers to meet expectations? I’ve seen situations where the husband hides behind a skirt (“My wife doesn’t want to…”) instead of manning-up to his own feelings.
5 – Humor or Hate? Culture has a huge effect on how we view relationships. I HATE mother-in-law jokes! They are not funny and are discrimination. If you think your mother-in-law will be a problem, she probably will. But if you are determined to believe the best and accept unconditionally, it works much better.
6 – Borders? Comments can feel intrusive and critical (Why do you brown your meat first?). If we’re defensive, we’ll accept comments from that angle. On the other hand, I know I’ve asked my daughter questions about how she does things because I sincerely want to learn from her. Ask a question back to explore your differences. If a question feels prying, a response like, “It’s a personal choice” usually gives a signal to back off.
7 – Tattling? Tattling to someone (usually a husband or family member) so that they will take your side is not good. Talking to others to get insight and perspective can be good. There is a fine line between the two, so check motives and be sensitive about how it will affect the person caught in the middle.
8 – Commitments? I remember when my mother asked me to call her every Sunday night and I just bristled. It felt as if personal freedom was being taken away rather than given, and if I failed, I would be judged (my over-active sense of responsibility). Commitments, just like expectations, need to be negotiated so that they understood and work for everyone.
I’ve been fortunate in my mother-in-law relationships, and the article helped me normalize and understand where some of my feelings (even prejudice) comes from. I’d love to learn from you if you want to leave a comment.