Archive | September 2015

Sharing Her Mother’s Heart

When Isabel heard about my foray into the murky waters in plumbing the depths of the MIL/DIL relationship, right away she wanted to share her story. And it might be an all-too-common one, even though each person who lives it might believe she is the only one to endure such misunderstanding and heartache. Still, she has great hope that there will be a happier ending. Let’s listen to Isabel tell about being a MIL.

When her son, Andrew, was in middle school, Isabel drove him to soccer practice and often stayed to watch. On one of those occasions, they bumped into another mom and her unruly daughter, there for the same reason.

“I wonder if my son will marry a girl like that” Isabel pondered.

Don’t you know that years later, that’s exactly whom he married! Small world indeed.

The girl’s name was Adrienne. At the end of the school year, she and her family moved to Greece to rejoin his family and learn the family business. Many years later, they returned to the States, and subsequently Adrienne transferred to the same school that Andrew was attending. Both of them ended up at the same party one night and instantly connected.

They never looked back.

“It’s good” Isabel says, after celebrating more than 15 years of their marriage.

But, she wasn’t always sure that this is how it would go. When Andrew & Adrienne first started dating, Isabel felt the need to write to her son, cautioning him against moving too fast in the relationship, to think things through carefully. She “shared her heart”.

“He wasn’t happy.”

Know what Andrew heard? He heard that his mother didn’t like Adrienne.

Is that what Isabel really said? Or was her motivation to help her son make this “second-most-important choice in life” a really good one? Was she saying “Think over what you want in life and don’t rush into this lifetime commitment”?

In any case, Isabel became his enemy and Adrienne, his comfort. Andrew never confessed to telling Adrienne about their conversation, but Isabel believes that he did . And that, Isabel says, has cost them years of heartache.

Andrew and Adrienne became engaged to marry, and Isabel wanted to encourage them. She took Adrienne aside, sharing with her the same message she had shared with her own daughter upon her engagement. Isabel now says that this was a mistake.

From her own many years of experience, Isabel knew that marriage is challenging. She, no doubt, had experienced those times when one is not quite sure that one has made the best choice deciding to marry this person … or to marry at all. She voiced this, trying to prepare Adrienne for the inevitable, to help steel her soon-to-be-DIL against the passing discontents and disappointments that all married couples must overcome.

“She didn’t hear me. She didn’t hear me. Know what she heard?”

A long time later, Isabel found out.

How often do our very best intentions result in exactly the opposite results from those we are hoping for? I know the answer to this – too often!

In the meantime, Isabel and her husband, Gustav, welcomed Adrienne into the family, and shared with her and Andrew everything they offered their own daughter and son-in-law. Andrew and Adrienne reacted coolly and remained distant, often declining invitations to share time with Isabel and Gustav at the family vacation home on the ocean. Grandkids came along, but time with them was limited. Hopes of sharing with them the thrills of sailing, kayaking and hiking went largely unfulfilled.

So much lost time and opportunities.

One evening, as Adrienne, Andrew, Isabel and Gustav sat together enjoying cups of freshly brewed coffee, conversation lagged between them yet again. And then, the proverbial “dam” broke. Isabel could stand the conflict no longer.

“What is this between us?” she cried.

She had wondered if her daughter, who also had a strong personality, was at odds with Adrienne. Had this caused the rift? Had her husband done or said something so offensive that it would haunt the family for years?

“I was God-smacked when I learned it was me” she exclaimed.

According to Adrienne, long, long ago Isabel had said that Adrienne was less than a desirable partner for Andrew, that she had hoped for someone with a better upbringing, with a higher social standing.

What?!

“I was undone. … I cannot say that I said I was sorry. … I was incredulous that she would accuse me of that. …. And I couldn’t own it, because it wasn’t true!”

It wasn’t true.

“All those summer holidays and long weekends that we had together as families, that I thought were so good, were horrible for them. We have lost years!” Tears ran down her cheeks even as she remembered the pain of that realization.

**********************
How could Adrienne have heard what was not said?

Have you ever told yourself something often enough and for a long enough time that you actually believe it is true? Probably most of us do so unawares. We actually convince ourselves of falsehoods – about ourselves and others.

Examine your own self-talk about your MIL/DIL. Is it truthful? Is it helpful or hurtful?

What thoughts about your MIL/DIL keep playing over and over in your head? Are they facts or interpretations?

Does shame and guilt over past choices overshadow your every conversation and interaction with your MIL/DIL?

What are your “take-aways” from this story?

BTW, there’s more to this story.

Hope.

That’s one reason I keep writing!

When Her Questions Feel Like the Inquisition

It was the Summer of 2014 and we sat together on the back deck of a large house overlooking a beautiful lake. Sally had married in 1980 and her MIL had passed away a few years ago. Being on the MIL side of things these days, I was initially surprised to hear that as a young DIL, Sally had not welcomed her MIL’s interest. Well, at least not the way it had been expressed.

See if you recognize yourself on either side of this scenario.

“I felt, when we first got married, that she kind of wanted to treat me like a daughter and I didn’t want to be absorbed into this family that I really didn’t know. And the little that I did know, I wasn’t crazy about.”

Hmmm. How many of us MILs have heard ourselves say to our DILs something like “I’m so happy to have you as a daughter!” or “Now, I have a daughter!.” or “I love you like a daughter!” In fact, in a previous post, Fran said that exact thing to her DIL. In each case,the motivation was very likely to welcome the DIL into the family wholeheartedly and express delight in the woman whom our son chose. From personal experience, these best intentions are not always received very well – which is exactly what Sally was talking about. Too close – too quickly.

“My MIL was a very emotional, clingy, manipulative woman” she confessed. When they arrived at her in-law’s home for a visit, her MIL would be in tears, so happy that they were there. Then, she would ask “When are you leaving? Oh, can’t you stay longer? When are we going to see you again?” More tears.

Then, there would be “20 questions”. Sally says that there were times when she felt “emotionally raped” because of all the questions. Her interpretation was that her MIL wanted to be a significant part of their lives. So, she would move closer – figuratively. As a result, she as the DIL would “retreat” a bit, feeling that her personal space had been infringed upon. Which caused the MIL to push in further, asking more and more questions. Which … well, you get it. A vicious cycle. Sally admitted that she hadn’t had, at that point, the skill set to deal with this.

“I’m sure she was just trying to make conversation, but …”

Here’s one example of how it would go: Her MIL would phone and ask to speak to her son.

“He’s out.”
“Well, where is he?”
“At a meeting.”
“What type of meeting is he at? What is he doing at that meeting?”

Her MIL would keep pushing and pushing for more specifics. She wouldn’t accept a general answer. Now, Sally had been raised to answer every question put to her, whether it was appropriate or not. Finally, she would feel cornered and admit that her husband was at a therapy session.

Does the word “boundaries” come to mind as you peak into Sally’s world?

Another scenario:

“What do you want to do?”
“Well, what is there to do?”
“Well, we’ll do anything you want to do.”

They rarely did anything together except have these conversations.

“What do you want for dinner?”
“Well, what are you going to have?”
“Well, we can have anything you want. I can make tuna salad, but you can have anything. You don’t have to have tuna salad.”
“Let’s have tuna salad.”
“We can go out to dinner if you want.”

I can picture a MIL so wanting a good relationship with her DIL that she would try to be very accommodating. And that might appear to some people as fawning or being wishy-washy.

Is it?

This is GinnyLiz thinking aloud: When do accommodations and questions become negative and destructive and barriers to a good MIL/DIL relationship? Where is the handbook on this stuff?

I can see, being a MIL, that some MILs would ask lots of questions thinking “I want to know about you so that we can find things in common so that we can talk. I want to know about your life and where you came from.” And when they confide in their DILs, they might be saying “I want to tell you about me, who I am, where I come from and what occupies my interests.”

Why would DILs not understand this and embrace it?

What’s your take on this? Can you shed any light on this subject?

Step-MIL?

Ever met a step-MIL?  I have. We found one another at a regional Junior Round Square Conference in Auckland last year.  Without sounding like an ad for this organization, I recommend that you check it out, especially if you have children or grandchildren.

Round Square is a worldwide network of innovative schools in 40 countries across five continents. Their approach guides students into becoming well-rounded, informed, responsible, principled and confident global citizens.

Jody and I sat down during one lunch break in the very noisy school cafeteria.  When she heard about my MIL/DIL project, she wanted to be a part of it.   It was such a treat to listen to her British accent as she shared her story.

Jody had married a man who had, earlier in his life, fathered a child out-of-wedlock. His name was not even entered on the baby’s birth certificate. Nevertheless, for four years, Chester was very active and involved as a parent to this little boy … until the day when his girlfriend took the child and moved to a different country.  Now, that’s what you call “walking out” on someone!

For the next 14 years, Chester was not allowed to visit his son, Andrew. He had no legal rights and the mother had said pretty definitively “No. But, we’ll show you photos.”

Andrew grew up, the spitting image of his father. When he became engaged to marry, he invited his father and his father’s wife to the wedding.  And so Chester was welcomed back into his son’s life.  And Jody became a MIL.  Or “Step-MIL”, as the case may be.  Is there a formal term for this?

Jody enjoyed a healthy relationship with her “step-DIL”, Suzanne,  right from the start.

I wondered why.

Perhaps there was no inherent tension between the two because there had been no relationship between Jody and Andrew.  There were no expectations, no stereotypical roles into which Jody and Suzanne would neatly fit.  Perhaps there was no competition, as Jody hadn’t been “the most important woman” in Andrew’s life and so she couldn’t feel “displaced” and Suzanne couldn’t feel threatened.  You don’t hear or read about caricatures of step-mothers-in-law, so maybe it’s less likely that Suzanne would buttonhole Jody. As Jody got to know Suzanne and Andrew, they got to know her – not who she was, but who she is.

I can imagine that this might have opened up plenty of room for both women to move around; to interact with more freedom and to paint the picture of their relationship with whatever colors and shapes they might choose. Nothing inherited. No baggage.  Just being who they are.  Perhaps they more easily found ways to be friends.

What a marvelous opportunity!  Is this one that perhaps “regular” MILs and DILs and sons might take a lesson from?

This is Ginny Liz thinking aloud.

What if MILs made it clear – in word, attitude and deed – that they recognized and enthusiastically endorsed the fact that the DILs are now the most important women in their sons’ lives?

What if DILs consistently checked their attitude for oversensitivity toward their MILs?

What if SONs let both women know, on a regular basis, that they are loved and very special?

What if we all sought to know one another for who we really are, not who we guess the other to be?

In a way, I envy Jody. I wonder if I will ever see her again as we live on opposite sides of the globe. If so, I’d love to hear how things are going between the two of them – Step MIL and DIL.

Anyone else out there a Step-MIL or Step-DIL? What’s your story? Is it easier to be family, friends and allies?

And for those of you who aren’t, what else do you see that I missed?