I would love to tell you my pseudo mother-in-law and I have a wonderful relationship in which we confide in one another, support one another, and respect one another. I can't though, as that would most certainly be a lie. My partner's mother hates me, has gone so far as to call me stupid, and genuinely disagrees with everything I do or say. So to say I know how to survive mother's day with a mother-in-law that hates you, is to say I kind of know how to breath oxygen. I'm a master at navigating this toxic relationship, my friends, and I might as well share my heard-earned knowledge because holy hell being around this woman is work.
My partner and I aren't married, but we have a 2-year-old son, live together, and have been together for four years, so his mother might as well be my mother-in-law. I know my partner had high hopes for the relationship his mother and I would share, but those hopes were shattered upon our first meeting. She's contentious, very stubborn, extremely controlling, and seems to despise my presence in her son's life. She doesn't like that I'm a working mother, has criticized my choice not to have a second child yet, told me I was fat when I was four months postpartum and encouraged me not to eat a second helping of dinner, and advised me not to breastfeed because I would "psychologically damage" my son. So, yeah, we don't get along.
Every visit to her home is an exercise of my patience, an unnecessary strain on my romantic relationship with my partner, and an emotionally draining experience that requires at least a week's worth of recuperation. Thankfully, with each visit I have learned how to navigate these murky waters a little easier so I don't break down in our car in the driveway and have a good old fashioned ugly cry. So, if you're facing a mother-in-law who can't stand you this Mother's Day, take it from me and try the following tactics that are sure to help you survive the day. Oh, and godspeed.
Plan Breaks Throughout The Day
Anytime I know I'm going to be around my pseudo mother-in-law for an extended period of time, I plan strategic exit strategies throughout the day. For example, I'll blame work for an impromptu meeting that I need to take "in town" at the local coffee shop with wifi. I will make a run to "get groceries" so that I can make dinner as a "treat," providing me with at least 30-40 minutes of alone time away from the rest of the family.
Whatever it is I plan, I make sure I have at least two or three reasons to leave the house and do my own thing.
Mentally Prepare Yourself Prior To The Visit
Save one visit, I have cried each and every time I have been around my partner's mother. She just has this incredible ability to tear me down with her passive aggressive comments, all-out judgment, and subtle jabs at my parenting, my job, and who I am as an individual. It's, well, exhausting. So, every visit requires at least two or three days of mental preparation.
It might sound a little dramatic, but I promise if I mentally prepare myself for the visit, I do better when I'm actually around this woman for a significant period of time. If I remind myself that this is her just trying to control everyone around her, including me, and that it's really her insecurities boiling to the surface, I am better equipped to take her hurtful comments in stride. Well, sometimes.
Keep Conversations Light
I'm normally not one to say you shouldn't talk about politics with family members, because politics are extremely important and combating ignorance — regardless of where you find it — is vital to progressing as a person and as a nation. However, I make an exception when you're around your pseudo mother-in-law and she can't handle anyone disagreeing with her in any capacity.
Those "conversations" aren't constructive, they're a recipe for disaster. No one needs to be told they're "stupid" (which happened to me the last time my mother-in-law and I interacted) and no one needs to be screamed at (which happened the time before, when I told her that, no, I don't believe gay people go to hell). So, if you're just trying to make it through the damn day with your sanity in tact, I say forgo any conversations about anything remotely important. Keep it light, like the weather or something, and maybe not mention that global warming is going to kill us all.
Go Into That Tiny Place Inside Yourself Where The Calm Lives
Yeah, in my experience, this is necessary. Whenever I walk through her front door, a part of me kind of shuts off and I crawl into the dark place inside myself that isn't phased by, well, much of anything. It just makes it easier, dear reader. Am I "fun?" Nope. However, am I able to make it through our visit without breaking down or exploding in a fit of rage? You bet I am.
Demand That Your Partner Stick Up For You
I respect the love my mother-in-law has for her son, and the love he has for her. She was a single mother until my partner was 7, and they have a very strong bond. However, I will not allow my mother-in-law to talk down to me in any capacity, especially when my son is present, nor will I allow my partner to sit idly by as if someone being disrespectful to another human being is in any way OK.
Until recently, my relationship with my partner's mother (or lack thereof) has been a point of contention in my relationship with him. He didn't want to get involved, and I thought he absolutely should when the mother of his child was being blatantly attacked by his mother. Eventually he understood, and he has since stood up for me in front of his mother on multiple occasions. However, it was a long road to get there, and while I don't want anyone "fighting my battles for me," I believe it's important that when you're in a relationship, you present a united front as parents, partners, and human beings who are committed to one another. In other words, you shouldn't be facing your mother-in-law alone. Make sure you engage your partner, too.
Keep The Focus On Your Kid
When in doubt, just stare at your kid and encourage your mother-in-law to do the same.
Keep Yourself Busy & Clean Something
When I'm visiting my partner's mother (because, yes, she refuses to visit us) I always try to make myself busy and offer to cook or clean or do laundry or chop wood or feed some damn chickens or whatever. Not only do I appear helpful, but I am able to stay busy and, usually, away from the rest of the family. It helps limit conversations that are sure to turn toxic, and gives her time with her son and grandson.
Pick & Choose Your Battles...
I'll be the first to admit, I'm pretty stubborn. Having said that, there are moments when biting my tongue and letting things go is, really and truly, the only option. My mother-in-law is who she is, and no amount of conversation or debate is ever going to change her. The best I can do is make it through our interactions calmly.
...But Don't Be Afraid To Stand Up For Yourself
However, there are moments when I absolutely should, and do, push back. I won't be disrespected in front of my son. I won't be quiet when my mother-in-law says something that I am fundamentally against, especially when it comes to politics. I will definitely stand up for myself when she tells me I should stop breastfeeding at three months because "I'll mess up my baby," or that I don't need a second helping of dinner because I'm four months postpartum, haven't got my "body back," and, according to her, "clearly don't need it."
I understand the need and want to "keep the peace," but at what price? There's no reason anyone, whether they're related to you or not, should make you feel like you're less of a human being or you don't matter. So, when it's necessary, absolutely stand up for yourself.
Promise Yourself That, Next Year, You're Doing Whatever You Want To Do On Mother's Day
If your mother-in-law treats you horribly, disrespects you at every turn, questions your ability to parent, or just genuinely makes you feel like sh*t, don't spend time with or around her, especially on a day that's suppose to celebrate your work as a parent.
So, yes, get through this Mother's Day with someone who makes you feel like garbage, but do something for yourself next year. Seriously, spend the entire day alone. You deserve it.