Navigating complicated in-law relationships can be tricky, especially if you've married into a family that doesn't "get" or approve of you. I've been married twice, and although I wouldn't call myself an expert in in-law bonding, I can say that I've learned what's OK and what should be considered off limits. For example, the hurtful things my mother-in-law actually said to my daughter, right in front of me, are definitely on the "hell no" list.
The first few interactions with my mother-in-law led me to believe that she and I would have a wonderful long-term relationship. She was incredibly kind, thoughtful enough to make sure my partner brought me flowers on every date, and seemed to love the fact that I was dating her son. But my relationship with my partner moved pretty quickly, and before too long it was clear that my partner's mother wasn't a fan. Now that I'm a mom, I know without a shadow of a doubt that her intentions were good. She was probably just worried for her only child. Maybe she had a plan for him that was vastly different than the one he had for himself. I imagine I'll feel more of the same when my own son grows up and falls in love.
Once my daughter was born it became clear that my mother-in-law may never "get" or approve of me. It's not ideal, but I've come to terms with our strained relationship. What I can't accept, however, are the moments when she says something unsettling to my daughter. When she's condescending or makes my daughter feel left out or uses my daughter to force a gap between me and her son, I have a problem. Thankfully, all she has managed to do is strengthen the bond I have with my partner, and create an example of what not to do when our children are grown and in their own relationships. So with that in mind, here's just a small sampling of the things my mother-in-law has said to my very own daughter, right in front of me.
"You're Smart Like Your Daddy"
If I had a nickel for every time my mother-in-law attributed a positive trait to her son and a negative one to me, directly to my children, I'd be living on a private island far, far away from all that damn negativity. I get that she loves her son and thinks he's the smartest, strongest, bravest, kindest, whatever, but I'm not that bad either, FYI. Maybe my daughter knows about The Collision Theory because of the book I wrote. Maybe she knows about mental health because of the organizations I've contributed to. Maybe she knows about most things because I'm the one who's with her all day having all the talks all the damn time. *mic drop*
"This Meal Is So Peppery, Isn't It?"
Tell me, dear reader: does every mother-in-law attend some super secret class that teaches them how to insult your food via a question posed to your child? Because mine has, apparently.
My mother-in-law is the only person on the planet who constantly asks my kids if they notice how much pepper is in their food, how spicy dinner is, or how, apparently, inedible my cooking can be.
"I Don't Want To Get You In Trouble"
More often than not, I'm the "bad guy." I'm the one who sets the rules and enforces the rules and dishes out consequences if the rules are broken. While my partner is at work, I'm the one who makes the decisions and sets the schedules and says "no" more often than she is able to say "yes."
So when my mother-in-law tells my daughter she doesn't want to do a thing because she "doesn't want to get her in trouble," what she is really saying is, "I would love to do that super fun thing with you, but your mom is the worst and she's no fun and I have to follow her stupid rules, just like you do." Not helpful, lady.
"You Must Get That From Your Mom"
When my daughter throws a tantrum, she learned how to by watching me. When my daughter scoffed or broke a rule, she definitely learned how to by watching me. I can't remember a single time my mother-in-law has praised or applauded me for how my children behave, but she never misses an opportunity to let me know I'm at fault when they misbehave.
For the most part, when my daughter asked to spend the night with my mother-in-law, my partner's mom happily agreed. There were countless weekend nights when she seemed genuinely happy and excited to spend time with her granddaughter. But as my daughter grew older — and specifically after my son was born — something changed. Suddenly, when my daughter asked to spend the night, my mother-in-law firmly told her no.
One particular instance, when my sweet girl started crying because she couldn't go to grandma's house, my mother-in-law coldly told her to stop with the tears. When that didn't work, my mother-in-law stormed out of our home altogether, without so much as an apology or explanation or promising my daughter they would eventually spend some one-on-one time together in the near future.
"You Always Go To Bed So Early"
Yep. Always have, always will. And you know what? That's exactly what I want to happen. Every mother has the right to do what's best for herself, her kids, and her family. In other words, you do you and I'll do me. No need to bring it up with my kids, though. Unless you're trying to convince them I'm a tyrant, that is.
"Are You Going To Get A Job?"
I always planned to stay home with my kids the moment I became a mother, and you better believe I stuck to that plan. It hasn't always been easy, and I've taken odd jobs from home and worked difficult hours to make sure my family is cared for, but I am proud to stay at home and be the person my children rely on. Still, when my mother-in-law "jokes" about my not-even-a-teenager-yet daughter having a job, I know who she is really directing that question at. I know she doesn't think my work-from-home gigs are "real" jobs. I know she doesn't think I do much of, well, anything at all.
I also know my mother-in-law is a good woman who loves her son. I wish things could be different, of course, and I wish we could be close. But I can't change our relationship or go back in time or convince her to like me. Instead, I can control how I react to her subtle jabs and passive aggressive comments. And, of course, I can make sure she talks to my children, and me, with kindness and respect.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.