Saturday, May 7, 2011

In-Laws and Outlaws

My husband and I have been together for 14 and a half years. During that time, I have had a rollercoaster ride of a relationship with his parents.  My in-law relationship is one that is built on sand and doomed to instability. After all, their only investment in me (and mine in them) is the connection we share through my husband and our children. The term “father-in-law” or “mother-in-law” or “daughter” or “son-in-law” is deceptive. It implies an intimacy or investment that may not always exist. I have always called my MIL, “Ma” or “Mom”. It’s easier that way. I have a friend who has been told to call her MIL “Mrs. X.” I find that cold and impersonal, but maybe more true to the dynamic of the relationship.

My IL’s have made a point over the years to make pronouncements about how I am not a DIL, but the daughter “they never had.” I will admit to having fallen into somewhat believing this from time to time. Due to some recent events I have become vividly aware that my position in their lives is that I am the woman their son married (and I was told years ago that none of their DIL’s are worthy of their sons in their estimation), and who gave birth to their grandchildren. That’s it.

Watching my own nuclear family growing up, I always felt like I wanted my IL relationship to mimic that of my father and my maternal grandmother. I would have dared anyone to sit in our home through a family dinner or holiday celebration and guess whose mother she was. My father always called her “Mommy” and any cards they exchanged always read “Son” or “Mother”. None of that in-law nonsense, they loved each other and that was it. It lulled me into a false sense of security.

It shouldn’t bother me that these people judge me, but it does. It irks me that they see snippets of my life with my husband and children and feel entitled draw conclusions from them. There have been many times when I felt like my home was an ant farm, open to their prying eyes and then subject to their opinions and judgments. Lots of judgments. And not just about me, but about my fellow DIL’s. They routinely absolve their sons of any involvement in anything negative and cast the blame on those whores of Babylon to whom they are married.

The problem in the in-law relationship comes from the fact that we are forced into an artificial relationship with a third party by virtue of loving someone. The IL’s aren’t always people we like, admire or with whom we would choose to be associated were it not for this tenuous bond. The trick in navigating the waters of this complex relationship is in not creating waves that disrupt the other parties (spouses and children) who sail in those waters more easily. Of course it helps if the IL’s themselves aren’t rocking the boat.

My one wish is that I am the kind of mother-in-law to my children’s spouses that I had always hoped to have myself. It’s hard to imagine now that there will come a time in their lives when I will need to be less involved, but I know it will. While I expect that their spouses will and should be the first person they turn to for support, encouragement and advice, I desperately hope I will be the second (or third behind their father). I know there will be times that I want to give my two cents’ worth in situations and I pray that I have the good sense not to infringe. But most of all, I hope that both my kids end up with spouses who love, adore and cherish them as much as their parents do one another.

Oh, and that I never get referred as the “Monster-in-law.”


  1. I am not a mom, but my husband and I both have a Mother-in-Law. I have heard horror stories of friends who have endured their MIL's (and the colorful nicknames I have also heard over the years) and in reading your post, my good friend, reminded me how lucky John and I are that we are cared for, and left alone.
    I admire you for your strength and candidness, and knowing some of the more detailed stories of what you have gone through makes you an even stronger woman in my eyes.
    Happy Mother's Day Lisa. You are a great Mom and if your IL's don't see the whole picture, they only get the 1/2 of you that you choose to share with them, and that's their loss.

  2. Just another reason I love you my friend. Thank you for the support. Always. (heart)

  3. it's a truly complex relationship
    made more so - when you then....

    it's strange really

    i miss my inlaws even tho i often wanted to kill them.

  4. Kendal, this entry should not be interpreted to mean that I don't care about them. But the genesis of that care is in the love I have for my husband and children and their deeper connection to them. My in-laws have done wonderful things for us (me) including watching my kids so we could go to San Fran last fall for my birthday weekend. But again, what they do for me, they are doing for my husband. I can't even imagine in a divorce situation what things would be like.
    if you really miss yours, i can arrange to loan you mine! ;)

  5. Right there with you, Lisa, on many counts. The other point is that the IL relationship is often very different towards SIL's than DIL's. I hope you and I have the opportunity to experience both in the future!

  6. I have SIL's and BIL's and it's pretty much the same. You know, they say you can pick your friends but you can't pick your family. IL's in general are just people you get thrown together with because you fell in love with someone. If you're lucky it works out that you fall in love with the IL's and vice versa, but sometimes it's just not meant to be. Every relationship develops cracks over time, with blood relatives, the imperative to repair those cracks is more substantial.