Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Perfect Mother-in-Law

This is the entry promised in a previous post, which is the introduction to this:

The Perfect Mother-in-Law

When A and I got married in 1961 I acquired Grandy as my mother-in-law. But she lived in Australia and I lived, firstly in England, and then in Canada. In fact, when she and I first met, I had been married for two years and my son had been born. So I was very much a daughter-in-law but also very much an unknown quantity. Of course, she welcomed me, most lovingly, to her family and we tentatively established a rapport.

After a few weeks I returned to Canada and once again it was a long-distance relationship. So despite the fact that she and I missed out on a close relationship, A and I never argued about our mothers-in-law. "We went to your mother for last Christmas, so we should go to mine for this one!"

All the mother-in-law jokes had no significance for me. My mother-in-law didn't tell me what to do, what to wear, what to say. Instead she wrote cheery, newsy letters and sent cards at the appropriate times and was generally for me a person about whom I learned in the stories told to me by A.

So I learned to know, not first hand, but through these stories, the amazing woman who had been mother to four children during the Great Depression and had given welcome to many strangers and less fortunate people who somehow arrived on her doorstep during those terrible times. She was a loving wife to her husband, cared for him in sickness and in health and, after his death, showed us all what a really strong, resilient woman she was.

In the early years of our marriage we did not come often to Australia. All our spare money went into getting a house and taking care of our family. But as the years went by we were able to travel and came more often to Sydney. So I developed a more personal relationship with Grandy and she even became more adventurous and travelled twice to Canada, once in the dead of winter, to spend Christmas with us. It was very cold and snowy that year and I think she wondered what kind of winter wasteland she had come to visit. We also came to Australia to join the family in the celebration of the 90th birthday, the 95th and now, at last, the incredible milestone of the 100th.

I think that now, after 39 years, we do have a personal relationship, although be it, an intermittent one. Those mother-in-law jokes still have no meaning for me, and I am sure that, if we had lived down the street from Grandy for all those years, I would be able to say the very same thing.

I once said to A, of my mother, with whom I had a difficult relationship, "I'm not sure that she really loved me." He replied to me, "I know my mother loves me!" I think in retrospect that is the nicest tribute you can say about your mother. Grandy truly loves all her family and every member knows it, even the in-laws.

This was supposed to be a very tongue-in-cheek look at a long distance relationship between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law and the fact that the distance makes it perfect. In fact, now I am not so sure that the losses do not outweigh the gains.

jmb, the "perfect" daughter-in-law

August 10, 2000

Daughter-in-Law by Chance
Friends by Choice

Grandy is lovingly remembered by four children, twelve grandchildren, eighteen great grandchildren and two great, great grandchildren.


mhr said...

I didn't stay married long enough to ponder about daughter-in-law / mother-in-law relationships!
I think your relationship to your mother-in-law must be on the exception side, though, from personal observations.

"But I understand that relationship; I understand how the mother-in-law, daughter-in-law relationship has so many conflicts because it's so forced."
Wanda Sykes

Sarabeth said...

Count yourself lucky that you can admire your MIL. Mine is so very different from me, so meek, that I must turn off all my normal reactions when I am around here. I find that any action of hers bothers me.

An example is who she watches everything that she eats. I do the same thing, but the way she does it is annoying. The dislike I feel for her is irrational, and I know it.

However, on the flip side of all that is my desire for her to be happy. To that end, we pay for her Netflix subscription. I choose the movies for her as she doesn't use a computer. Recently I went on an internet shopping trip to find the complete series of All Creatures Great and Small on DVD at the best price.

Marriage brings all kinds of personalities together. You have to deal with the people your husband brings to the family because of that "for better for worse" bit.

I don't write about my relationship with my MIL on my blog in case my husband's family ever reads it.

jmb said...

Hi mhr,
I think that the MIL/DIL relationship is fraught with danger, and the quote from Wanda Sykes is so true. Add to it the fact that no woman is ever "good" enough to be the wife of a mother's son. But the fact that my MIL didn't meet me for two years and that we saw each other so seldom and for short periods of time enabled us deal with each other relatively easily.
I, too, am a long distance MIL. This means that I see my SIL no more than twice a year but have longer contact time each visit. But I aim to be an accepting MIL, even though we are of different cultures.
I hope if you marry again, you will be able to achieve a good relationship with your MIL.

Hi Sarabeth,
I see you are treading the minefield of the MIL/DIL relationship. You want to like her but feel guilty, I'm sure, that you don't. So you make every effort to "do" things to make her happy. So in a way your relationship is forced. I hope it gets easier for you, you have a long way to go. It's probably also more difficult for you since she's a widow. But you have to take care that it never interferes in your relationship with husband, because the son will always defend the mother against the wife, even if secretly he agrees.
This I certainly have seen amongst my friends, although for the most part my friends are transplants from other countries, like me and didn't have nearby MILs.
Do you sometimes wonder how she views your relationship?

Thanks to both of you for stopping by and relating your experiences.


mhr said...

Hi again jmb!
Long distance relationships certainly smoothen out any potential asperities that might arise through daily contacts. It's often the small "unimportant" details that spoil a MIL/DIL "close range" relationship. When you only see people for a short period of time, at distant intervals, less time and importance are given to details, I would think.
It's very unlikely I marry again, though, so I think MIL won't ever be an issue for me :)

Sarabeth said...

Although she would not use these words, she probably thinks I can be a bossy b!tch. But, part of why I dislike her is that she is naive and sees everything with such simplicity.

As for my husband taking her side, he doesn't. But, that is another story.

jmb said...

I see in my comment to you that what I said could be taken the wrong way. When I said "you have a long way to go", I meant you are young and will be married for a long time, not that you have a long way to go to develop a better relation. I hope you took it the way I meant it.
jmb (trying to extract her foot from her mouth)

Sarabeth said...

JMB--I understood your meaning! Really. I did.

jmb said...

Thank you.

Becky said...

There is a great book that really helped mend the relationship between me and my mother-in-law. The book is titled, "The Mother-in-Law Manual" by Susan Lieberman.

Although this book is typically for mothers-in-law I read it any way- and I am glad that I did. I feel so much more tenderness and sympathy for my mother-in-law now. Since reading this book I am better able to understand her and thus have more patience for her- we get along a lot better now.