From a MIL to all you DILs: Some Advice

During my child-raising years, I led a women’s weekly Bible Study. I was blessed to do so.

It was a large group of women and, as you can imagine, many came to me with prayer requests. To my astonishment, the primary request was, “Pray for my relationship with my mother-in-law.” When I inquired as to the problem, not surprisingly, the problem was always the mother-in-law. As much as I loved every woman in that group (and I did, with great devotion), I gotta say, most of the complaints were downright petty. I wondered who the problem really was.

My mil said this, she did so-n-so with the kids, I hate her food, she hates mine, the holidays, and on and on the grievances went.

As my mom used to say, “Don’t take offense where offense is not meant, and generally speaking, it is not meant.”

Touché. And love covers a multitude of sins, people.

My own mother-in-law was the epitome of the meek-and-mild-mannered sort, so if she wanted to strangle me, I never knew it. I can be blissfully clueless, which in family matters factors greatly to my advantage. As it happens I liked my mil. Beneath that quiet exterior was a funny, smart woman, so maybe I just didn’t get what the big deal was with my Bible study ladies.

Now, I have a dil of my own, and well, I haven’t exactly nailed the mil role yet, just like I didn’t nail the mother role before the car rolled away from the hospital and the baby seat was finally secured. I am learning, but what a learning curve. We’re sorting out our roles as we go. I’ve got a history with my kids that literally started in utero. I’m creating a history with my dil that started when she was 22.

I’m their mom, but I’m her mil. Heck, just the difference between a mid-Western girl and a Southern mil is well, big-hair-huge, but we’re making it. I’m proud of us.

Sadly, the only advice I was given when I became a mil was to wear beige and shut-up. Okay. Clearly, I am not so stupid as to wear white to the wedding, but here’s my response to that sage advice: Beige looks horrible on everyone, and telling someone to shut-up is the equivalent of silencing their voice in the family. Making them invisible. Translated, it means: unwanted and excluded. Try those shoes on and see how they feel. So, this is me not being invisible. Some thoughts for the dils.

  1. I went from being mom-in-charge to being mom-not-in-charge. That’s like 0-60-0. Try putting the brakes on that. It ain’t easy. And, yes, I know that letting go of my children is a process that should’be started around age 3, but it took me until age 18 to know that. Sorry. So, cut the mils some slack when they don’t shut-up, yet probably should.
  2. This one is from my dil: Let the mil spoil the grandchildren. In her words: “Kids should have happy memories with grandparents without parents butting in. We may not agree with it, but it is their time with the kids, and the kids will remember it.” (Yes, I’m allowed to spoil three adorable, little girls, and who doesn’t want to do that?)
  3. Have some empathy. When I met my dil I was going through a divorce. She met me at my worst, without knowledge of what my best looked like. While your mil may not be going through a divorce, she is quickly becoming an empty-nester, which is huge. I know you dils already know this because I know you’re amazed at how quickly the children are growing up, and you’re counting down the days until they’re gone.
  4. Your mil is going to get it wrong. Let her. Oh, give the woman a break. We all need room to mess up without fear of judgment. Don’t we? Some of what she does may be stupid, but you can choose to let it go. You haven’t met the the situation where you don’t have a choice. Choose to ignore some of her antics, be it martyrdom, passive aggressive comments, or just plain-old foot-in-the-mouth, and let the awkward go.
  5. And, yes, unfortunately, your mil wants the family at her house for Christmas. Find me a mil who doesn’t. She wants the Over-the-River-and-Through-the-Woods-to-Grandmother’s-House-We-G0 experience. For heaven’s sake, give it to her one Christmas, or two–it doesn’t have to be all of them. It will be a hassle, a long road trip with whiny kids, and you’ll want to kill yourself before its over, but your mil will be forever grateful, with a heart full of memories and gratitude that no road trip can measure.
  6. Ask her for advice. Seriously, do you think she got this far in life without gathering some wisdom along the way? You may even decide to take it.
  7. Do something with her minus the kids and husband. A little bonding never hurt.

I’ll share my heart with you here. The older I get the more invisible I feel. Recently, at work, my boss was talking to me and he said, “We’ve just aged out of the work force, we need these younger people.” I felt so defeated. I still need to work, but if my contribution isn’t needed anymore, then what? Unfortunately, being a mil, the same message is given, wear beige and shut-up. You’re no longer needed. It feels as though a giant eraser is slowly and silently removing my presence here. As I watch my children create families of their own, I am proud of them, but I wonder where I fit into that picture, or if I do. Is it really my job to wear beige and shut-up? All of this is so very new to me, and I imagine your mil too. And, it comes at a time when everything is changing, not just children marrying. Widowhood or divorced. Empty-nester. The work force slowly pushing you out. Calculating how long you can live based on how much money you have in retirement (yes, there is an actual calculation for that). Wondering what would happen if you ran out of money before years. Aging and health scares. Dying parents, dear friends or siblings. The eraser just keeps removing. In the midst of that, squeals of grandchildren happy to see you is pretty awesome. Being welcomed to their home by their mom is just as awesome.

A final thought: If Endora from Bewitched, or the chick from The Good Wife, Jackie Florrick, is your mil, then ignore all the above and plot away. But, aside from the downright crazy mils (and that is a thing), most mils actually do like their dils. My dil is a better mother than I ever was. She’s a strong, beautiful, independent woman that keeps the grandchildren connected to family, and loves my son. I am on her side. I want her marriage to succeed, and her family to prosper, no matter who cooks pot roast what way, or eats vegan. I’d bet my last dollar your mil would say the same. Maybe, she just wants to feel included and sometimes needed. Whatever the issue, consider flying the white flag of truce and letting go of projections and stereotypes. Remember karma is also a thing, and one day you’ll be her.

Okay, lecture over. Next one will be for the mils on playing nice with the dils. How’s that? Look for great thoughts from my dil to be included.

(Header picture: My favorite wedding day of picture of dil, son and granddaughter.)

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