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.
“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.
That’s one reason I keep writing!