The Mother-in-Law I’m Going to Be

We recognize that sometimes the things we feel we can’t talk about are the things others also feel unable to discuss – this post has been published anonymously as part of a series to engage our community in those difficult conversations. Click here to read more posts from this series.

I cannot wait to be a mother-in-law, and my kids don’t even date yet. I’m already thinking about it, dreaming about the day my children come home and tell me they are getting married and our family expands. I am already planning how I’ll react and what I will do to include these new members into our family. I’ve been playing out these scenarios since my kids were born, praying for their spouses because we don’t know who they will be but God surely does. I’ve done all I can to already be invested in the lives of my yet-to-be-discovered in-law children and their first nuclear family groups.

In my head, the timeline goes something like this: I get to parent my children at home for the first 18 years of their lives. Then they head off to college or professional training of some kind, and emerge ready to move out of my house. I love my kids so much my heart might burst and I will continue to love them and be the mom long after they have moved out, I get that. But at some point, and for longer than 18 years, I will be the mom to adult children who in all likelihood, will have spouses and children of their own. So my role as mother-in-law will be one that lasts for years!
And yet, we don’t do much to prepare for that role do we? We take classes and read books on how to be a wife and a mom but I have found virtually nothing except closely guarded anecdotes about becoming a mother-in-law. Is it that our society thinks we should know how to welcome this change in family loyalty naturally? That women are innately born ready to adopt and sheppard all who enter our lives? Or does our society actually relish the role of the evil mother-in-law? I feel for all the step-mothers out there, because the Disney of 50 years ago, repeatedly utilized that role for villainy. Now we have movies and pop culture that show young brides as victims of the older, cunning, undermining women who were there before them. Candace Bergen in “Sweet Home Alabama” makes a comical run at the rejecting mother-in-law to be. But how about Jennifer Lawrence in “mother!” anyone?
My own mother-in-law could star in her very own horror film. From drunkenly declaring at the wedding reception we wouldn’t make it six months to encouraging my husband to attend family dinners without me so she could fix him up with other girls, my mother-in-law belittles me and my marriage at every turn. My children are old enough to notice that mom and grandma are rarely in the same room and pick up on the fact that they, because they are my children, are treated very differently from their cousins, the aunts’s children. My mother-in-law is an emotionally unstable human who inflicts her pain on others and why she does this is hardly the point. I don’t make excuses for her behavior anymore, nor do I accept that I must be the family target. For I have drawn my line in the sand.  Not a line that beckons “come at me” but one that says “no more.” This ridiculousness of hating the person your beloved child chooses to share a life with ends here. I will not treat others as I have been treated.

The sum total of my mother-in-law preparedness training is not based on doing everything exactly the opposite from my own experiences. However, I did learn how horrible it feels to be excluded, to be undermined, to be made to feel guilty for loving who I love. My mother-in-law has taught me many many ways to not do it. I am not a perfect daughter-in-law. And I will not be a perfect mother-in-law. But I am going to try my hardest to be a good one. If you’re reading this, knowing that one day, your beloved littles will be someone’s son or daughter-in-law, rest easy, that some of us have been praying and waiting for them to walk in that door for years. And we cannot wait to love on them as they become one of our own.

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