For most of us, the winter holiday season means stress. But for me, it means my contentious relationship with my mother-in-law is made even worse. Between family drama, underhanded compliments, and a healthy dose of passive aggression, there are so many ways your mother-in-law will undermine you over the holidays, and let me tell you, it can make what's supposed to be "the most wonderful time of the year" anything but wonderful.
I want to believe she means well. I know she wants what's best for her son and grandchildren. But, more often than not, the things she says and does make me feel like sh*t, regardless of her intentions. And honestly, I am not sure her intentions are pure. I don't have a great relationship with my mother-in-law all year long, and during the holiday, there are so many more opportunities for me to do things the "wrong" way, or at least not the way she would do them.
I am bracing myself for her criticism or low-key shaming remarks. My house will never be clean enough, my cooking will never be up to par, my parenting choices will never be perfect, and she will always find a way to let me know how she feels about it. So yeah, there are so many ways my mother-in-law will undermine me this holiday season, and honestly, I'm preparing myself the worst of the worst.
Two months ago I received a text letting me know when my in-laws would be arriving to stay at our home. There was no question about our plans or whether or not their visit would work for us, and honestly, I felt like I couldn't say no.
So, even though we have a baby that's not sleeping through the night, have converted our guest room into a nursery, and haven't made plans with my side of the family yet, my partner and I have to plan to have house guests for a week. If we tell her the truth, though, it won't likely be better. She will likely dis-invite herself, telling everyone that she doesn't feel welcome or doesn't want to be a burden. We can't win.
I think that comments about about my parenting choices are second nature for my mother-in-law. She will compare my kids to hers. She will say things like "that's an interesting approach," raise an eyebrow, or even ask me directly why I don't parent differently. Worse, she often does this in front of my kids, which makes me feel like crap and completely undermines my role as a parent.
Most of the time I don't say anything when she asks me why the baby isn't wearing socks, picks him up when he is napping, or comments about me not breastfeeding. It's not worth it, especially during the holidays.
My mother-in-law has a special way of complimenting me without actually complimenting me. When she says things like, "It's so awesome that you don't worry about what people think of your home," she really means that I am a terrible housekeeper. When she says I'm "brave" for having brightly colored hair, she really means I would have to be brave to leave the house looking the way I do. The word "interesting" or "different" really means "bad." And when she says these things to me in front of everyone at holiday gatherings, it makes me feel so small.
My home will never be clean enough for my mother-in-law. And when she's at our home, she has no boundaries. She will open every door and look in ever corner, which means no stashed clutter or basket of unfolded clothes will escape her gaze. She will make underhanded comments, offer housekeeping advice, and even offer to help, which generally means re-organizing my cabinets or refrigerator. Ugh.
My mother-in-law finds little ways to undermine me that, on the surface, look like she's just being a grandma. When she tells my kids "yes" to another cookie or candy cane after I've told them no, it makes me feel like Scrooge. Worse, she will say, "I think it's OK, but you should ask your mom," when I am standing right there, so if I say "no" I look like the bad guy.
When I try to set boundaries for my kids, she will say things like, "Can't they stay up just a little later?" or, "I don't think some more dessert would hurt." It really sucks, especially because she doesn't have to deal with their tantrums later.
It seems like I can't get through a single holiday visit without my mother-in-law bringing up my husband's exes (yes, plural). The funny part is that she didn't get along with them when they were together, but now, it seems, they can do no wrong. Last year she even invited my husband's ex-wife to Thanksgiving. I am not joking, you guys. I have no idea why she thought that would be a good idea.
There's nothing like hearing about your spouse as a kid to make you feel like you just aren't good enough. According to my mother-in-law's revisionist memories of my husband's childhood, my spouse met every milestone eons before our kids, and she met every parenting challenge with grace and skill. That is not how my spouse remembers things, though, and I can't help but feel like she brings these things up to make me feel like crap.
I am an awesome cook, my friends, and I absolutely love cooking holiday meals. My mother-in-law always finds a way to undermine my cooking ability, though. It seems like she has a new set of dietary requirements every visit that I would be happy to accommodate if she'd let me try, but no. Instead, she will make a big deal out of having to bring food for her husband and herself or insist we go out to eat. It really sucks.
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