Even under the best of circumstances, the holiday season is stressful. With so many expectations, obligations, and family members to appease, the holidays can run the gamut from "lively" to "literally hell on Earth that you annually anticipate with a deep sense of dread." For many an unfortunate soul, this can be summed up in a single person: your mother-in-law. But some of us hit the in-law jackpot. No matter your experience, I thought it might be useful to talk about some things a great mother-in-law will do to make your holiday easier, either as a game plan to help change your mother-in-law's wicked ways, or as a way to sigh in the smug satisfaction that goes along with knowing that your partner's mom is awesome.
So, not to brag or anything, but I have a really wonderful mother-in-law. She's sweet, she's thoughtful, and she loves my ass. For a while I thought she might be overstating that love to get on my good side, but she apparently went to the dentist a while ago and gabbed on about me while under the influence of nitrous oxide. This is one of my favorite stories because it's validating and also pretty hilarious.
A few things you learn about my mother-in-law pretty quickly: she's passionate about helping people, endearingly clumsy, and extremely generous. She takes genuine joy in gift-giving so, Christmas is her favorite time of year. Even on the years we don't see each other during the holidays (which is sadly too many since we live on opposites sides of the country), she makes the season merry and bright. Her Christmas spirit is infectious, the cookies she sends are delicious, and she does the following things that just make my life a whole lot easier.
They Ask For Lists
I know a lot of people, especially grandparents, have this romantic idea of going out and intuitively choosing The Perfect Gift for a loved one. The gift is thoughtful, wholesome, well-made, and personal. The gift has not only entertainment value but sentimental value. But let me let you in on a hard truth I've observed: the number of people who want to do this is much higher than the number of people who are actually able to deliver such a gift. It's nice to want to do something extra special for people, but isn't it even nicer to get them something you know they want?
A word of advice? Children have no sentiment, so sentimental presents are wasted on them.
Look, it would be rude for anyone to say, "No! Don't get me that get me this!" But it is a whole lot easier just to coordinate what's going on so everyone knows what's going on.
They Coordinate Gifts For The Kids With You
I have had so many moms weep bitter, angry, defeated tears to me over this apparently very common scenario. Scene: Child declares desire for particular toy, parents act fast and move heaven and Earth to get it, then mother-in-law comes over and gives the child the same gift.
What?! NO! Parents always get first dibs on buying their child the favorite gift of the holiday. As the people who deal with our children's crap (literally their poop) on a daily basis, we have earned this opportunity if we want to take it. A great mother-in-law will work with you to make sure there are no duplicate gifts and that you get to give the presents you want to give first and foremost.
That's not to say that mother-in-laws can't give great presents or even the greatest present (in fact, I'm certain that both my kids' favorite gifts this year are going to come from my in-laws), but the fact remains that parents should have the power to say, "Actually that's what we were going to get them, but thank you!"
They Are Not A Diva About Who Will Be Where & When
Holidays can be stressful when you're dealing with multiple families, especially if those families live all over the place. I have family members all over the place, and while I love them all there comes a time when decisions have to be made about where the holiday is going to be spent. It's often impossible to see everyone on the same day.
Here's where my mother-in-law gets tremendous credit: even though Christmas is her absolute favorite day of the year, she has never once put pressure on us to spend the day with her. She understands that it's just not always going to work out that way. All great mother-in-laws are similarly understanding.
They Respect Your Traditions & Beliefs
For example, if you're a "no Santa" kind of family, your mother-in-law doesn't run over with an armful of presents saying, "Look at what Santa left at my house for you! He must have brought them to me because I believe in him." If you celebrate Hanukkah and specifically don't do Christmas, she doesn't demand you put up a tree and sing carols about baby Jesus. She doesn't scoff at your kinara on Kwanzaa.
The same goes for smaller traditions. If you're hosting Christmas dinner and you always make, say, vegetarian lasagna because that's what your family has always done, your mother-in-law doesn't come over and insist on ham because "that's just what people eat on Christmas." If your family goes to midnight mass, she doesn't insist on a Christmas Eve service at 6:00 p.m. for reasons unknown. A good mother-in-law understands that you and your partner have your own set of traditions and beliefs that may be different from her own.
They Know The Limits Of Spoiling The Grandbabies
I feel like everyone's mother-in-law is extra in some way or another, but a great one knows that there's a limit. Spoiling is OK, but if going too overboard is something you're concerned with, she respects that and restrains herself. I have to give my MIL credit here, because I think if it were up to her she would just move my kids into a toy store to save the effort of bringing all the toys to my house. Instead, she knows I don't want to raised spoiled, entitled garbage people and she pumps the brakes on her grandmotherly gift-giving instincts.
They Do Not Show Favoritism
Because favoritism is never OK, and that is perhaps especially true on gift-giving holidays. I'm not saying that each child must be given gifts that are equal down to exact dollar amount or anything, but don't give one child a gaming system and another, like, a box of Cracker Jacks and some Silly Putty. A great mother-in-law will try to give gifts that make all her grandchildren equally happy. (Including cousins!)
They Do Not Foist Themselves Upon You
A good daughter-in-law doesn't completely shun her mother-in-law, but a good mother-in-law doesn't roll up to your house at 6:00 a.m. on Christmas morning so she can see your kids open presents. She doesn't come over all eight nights for Hanukkah. As in all matters, a great mother-in-law respects your boundaries during the holidays.
They Help You In Your Preparations
Sometimes, many hands make light work and your mother-in-law is a welcome helper in getting a holiday meal together or cleaning up afterwards. Maybe she even watches the kids while you and your partner get some last-minute shopping done or go to an after-hours holiday function for work. And sometimes your mother-in-law knows that you have a particular way of doing things in your house so she happily just sits back and lets you do your thing.
I will emphasize, however, that this sort of cooperation takes honest communication on your end, too. Don't expect her to read your mind! To be honest, a good mother-in-law relationship requires the same kind of communication skills and honesty necessary in any good relationship.
They At Least Pretend To Like What You Got Them
Like I said, honesty is important, but so are the little social niceties that keep all of us from hating one another.
They Get You A Bitchin' Present
Truly, the greatest gift a coupled woman can ask for is a good mother-in-law, but the second greatest gift a couples woman can ask for is something really nice given to her by said good mother-in-law. Because we're human, damnit!
I would like to thank mine in advance: that broad gives great presents. Love ya, lady!
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