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?