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Wedding Plans and Fran the Cow

So, you met Fran in the last post.  She called me the other day to announce that her son and DIL were expecting a child.  What wonderful news!  Ed and Gina had waited until the dangers of the first trimester of pregnancy had passed before making any announcement to family or friends.  This seems to be quite common these days.  Fran exclaimed her frustration with the fact that during the 10 days she had recently spent with her son and DIL, they had not once leaked their secret.  10 days!  That’s a long time to keep one’s lips sealed while in the presence of interested parties.  They also did not take advantage of the opportunity to ascertain the sex of the unborn child.  This is not a common thing to do these days.  Fran is perplexed!

But, let’s scroll back a few years to the planning of Ed and Gina’s wedding.  Here’s another one of Fran’s stories as she weaves a bit of fun into a serious message and situation.

In the case of each son & DIL, Fran had nothing to do with the wedding preparations.  On this occasion, it was intentional.  I voiced my opinion that the whole “Planning the Wedding” thing was a social minefield that I had not expected.  She chose not to navigate it, but to fly over in a helicopter, so to speak.  Early on in the process, Fran looked Gina square in the eye and held her shoulders as she spoke.

“Gina, this is your day.  You need to have the wedding that you’ve always dreamed of.  I will not make any demands upon you … except for one thing.”

As Fran tells it, the expression on Gina’s face went from one of ease to wariness.  What was this soon-to-be MIL going to say next?  And did she really have to accede to this woman’s demands?

“What is it?” Gina asked.Priscilla the Cow

“I want Fran the Cow to walk you down the aisle.”

Well, Gina just burst our laughing.  Turns out that Gina’s family lives on and operates a dairy farm and they had named one of the cows after Ed’s mother after the engagement was announced.  (Cows are people, too, you know!)  So, when Gina heard Fran’s request, she knew that her future MIL was joking and was, in a way, poking fun at the stereotypical MIL who regularly demands that things be done her way or there will be trouble to pay!

Fran went on to talk a bit more about her relationship with Gina.

“You mentioned that you had thought that a relationship with your DIL would be easy.  And in my case, it really was – very easy, very natural”

“To what do you attribute that?  You’ve probably never thought about it” I suggested.

Her answer:  “Gina.  Gina is very easygoing and sweet and nice and perfect.  As a matter of fact, I always talk about her in glowing terms.  A lot of people make comments saying ‘Wow!  I’ve never heard of a MIL speaking so highly about a DIL!’  They are so surprised that I have that relationship with her.”

“In general, it seems quite … um…would you say “fashionable” to complain” I interjected.

“Exactly!  Think about all the MIL jokes” replied Fran with a wry smile.

“I’ve wondered where those all come from and I haven’t really figured it out” I mused.

“Oh, I’m sure they come from experience because … ” Fran sat back and looked at the space above my head for a moment, lost in thought.  Then, she went on to tell about her experience as a DIL.

But, that’s for another post.

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One of my “take-aways”?

Fran had taken advantage of a critical opportunity to communicate to Gina in a humorous way that she would do her best to not be the overbearing, insensitive, interfering,  MIL that is the butt of innumerable jokes and the cause for endless eye-rolling and broken relationships.  Did she learn this from her experience with her own MIL?  Yes … and no.  More on that next week.

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

Got a good story of your own to tell?  Let me know!

 

 

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The Wedding Gift

Tonight I’m visiting one of my favorite cities in America – Chicago. As I enjoy watching the Friday night activity on Milwaukee Avenue, I’m thinking back to a conversation with Fran at an Olive Garden restaurant last year. We were enjoying a bowl of soup and a salad while talking about how MILs start off in their role with an immediate handicap. The stereotypical MIL is an object of scorn and ridicule in modern-day America and it’s a challenge to avoid being labeled as one from the start.

Fran has two sons.  And she will tell you that they were both answers to much prayer. When the younger one became engaged to a lovely young woman, Fran decided on a wedding gift. She told her son that she was going to pay for their honeymoon … with one stipulation: that she go with them!

Now, Fran is a joker, a teaser. Her Christmas letters are not “brag rags” like many of the ones you might receive during the holiday season. They are hilarious! They ought to be published in the “True Life” columns of The New York Times. They are that good. So, even though her son knows this very well, his response to this offer was an unequivocal “No, you’re not”. Not surprising.

Fran approached her soon-to-be DIL separately with the same offer. Clarisse laughed nervously.

“She thought I was joking, but she wasn’t quite sure.”

“Because she didn’t yet know you well enough” I offered.

Fran nodded in agreement. “She didn’t yet know me well enough. But, she played along.”

Eventually, so did her son who occasionally would quip things like “I hope your bags are packed. We’re going to Costa Rica!”

Just before the wedding, Fran sent them both an email saying was sorry, but that she couldn’t go on the honeymoon with them after all. As it turned out, the finale of that season’s “Dancing with the Stars” was scheduled for that week and she just couldn’t bring herself to miss it!

Sounds like a good sense of humor plays a role in this mother and son as well as MIL/DIL relationship!

More of Fran’s fun approach to MILhood next week! Stay tuned.

Working It

“When Eddie and I started dating, his mother was pregnant with her 5th child.”

Emma and I met in a café to catch up on each other’s lives and to share some experiences and insights on this MIL/DIL thing. Emma has two sons, both of whom are recently married. So, she can talk about the MIL/DIL relationship as well as the DIL/MIL one. It’s quite an advantage to be able to see things from both sides of the fence.

Emma’s MIL, Gloria, was – and still is – a hairdresser. At the age of 84, she owns her own salon and works 3 – 4 days a week to pay the bills. She’s a strong, opinionated woman according to Emma and has come through a lot in her time. As a child, she grew up in a convent because her mother was an alcoholic. Then, she contracted Tuberculosis. After Emma & Eddie married, Gloria went back to school to earn her GED. This is a woman with energy and drive to spare!

Eddie was her firstborn. So, she was fiercely protective of him. Come to find out, Emma’s & Eddie’s mothers came from the same hometown. So, Gloria knew Emma’s mother who, like the rest of us, “had her positive and not so positive traits”. Gloria knew about some of these and wasn’t too keen about Emma and Eddie dating.

As an aside: This got me wondering. Isn’t it difficult to not have opinions about whom our children date? Or, at least, to conceal these from them? I had a similar challenge when my widowed father developed a relationship with a widow in his later years. Did I have any “say’ in the matter, I wondered? Of course, not. Keep my opinions to myself and mind my own business. That’s what I did and I’m glad of it now. …. Back to the story

So, Gloria decided to break up the dating couple. She told Eddie that Emma would end up just like her mother – a person who is high maintenance; a person who has lots of ailments; a hypochondriac. Follow In her mother’s footsteps. She told people that Emma would be pregnant before they made it to the altar (No doubt Emma’s fault, if so.)

And all these things trickled back through the grapevine to reach Emma’s ears.

“So, we were not on the best of terms whatsoever” Emma stated.

They got through the engagement. They got through the wedding.

“What I would do is just acquiesce to her and just give her as much control as I felt was good to keep the relationship the way it needed to be. And then she came to our apartment, our first apartment one night and I don’t remember the incident, but I pushed her, I bodily pushed her, out of the door and said “Leave now!” and shut the door behind her.

That confrontation proved to be a turning point. Their relationship improved.

“So, what changed? When you pushed her out the door? Did that change something in her?” I pondered aloud, looking for that nugget of wisdom to pass along to those DILs whose MILs are overbearing, intrusive or nosy.

“I’m thinking that it did” Emma mused. Perhaps her MIL had stood in the hallway facing a closed door and suffering a bruised ego and had decided that she had overstepped her boundaries and might need to take a step back on this one.

“She’s a very perceptive person, but again, she’s highly opinionated, as well. … and she’s street smart. … We got to know each other better, related to one another better. Then, the kids came and Gloria adored the kids. Then, she started picking up on how good I was for her son.”

Gloria wanted weekly Sunday dinners together. Her son didn’t. But, Emma convinced him that it was the “right thing to do”. She also reminds him to call his mother regularly.

“To this day, I’ll say to him “You need to call your mother because she is going to call you. And he’ll say ‘Yeah, yeah’. And 25 minutes later, she’ll call.

“Does she call at a certain time?” I queried.

No, I just have this feeling” said Emma. If we haven’t heard from her in a while, I’ll say ‘You need to call your mother. She’s not feeling well’ because she won’t call if she’s not feeling well. So, I worked with him and through him to bridge the relationship … to get him to come back because he would have walked … not for any negative reason, but that’s just the person he is. He wouldn’t have made the ties as strong as they are if I hadn’t intervened. It’s the same thing with our kids.”

Now? Emma and Gloria are best friends. Once a month on Saturday they go out for coffee or lunch – just the two of them. And Gloria is teaching Emma how to knit a baby sweater. The first great-grandchild is on the way!

That’s over 35 years of working it. Nice.

Emma summarizes “I just basically had to figure out who she was and what was important to her and work with that.”

Hmmm… Emma loves Eddie. Gloria loves Eddie. Emma finds a way to love Gloria because she is Eddie’s mother. Gloria finds a way to love Emma because she is Eddie’s wife.

And it has paid off “in spades”.

Taking Up Another’s Offense

I feel so privileged and humbled when a woman entrusts me with her MIL/DIL story. This warm, Spring afternoon was no exception. Avery traded seats with me so that I could enjoy a gorgeous view of the mountains of the Pacific Coast Range. Things were quiet at the moment in a household with two teenagers and we were taking advantage of a lull in activity to enjoy a cup of tea together on her back patio.

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Avery is the mother of one son and one daughter and has been married to Quentin for 19 years. I asked her to tell me about how she met Quentin and his family and how their relationship had changed over time, what she had been through and what advice she would give.

Here’s just a part of her story.

“In hindsight, your relationship with your MIL begins before you get married”.

Avery and Quentin met when both of their fathers were ill. They would travel most weekends from Washington, DC to New York City in her car because he didn’t have one, dropping him at Penn Station where he would take the train out to Long Island to visit his Dad. She would visit her Dad in Westchester County and then go pick up Quentin on Long Island on Sunday and they would drive back home to DC.

“And so it was this amazing kind of courtship that really involved our families and in a very tender time. I only knew Quentin’s Dad for six months before he died. So, my relationship with Quentin’s mom, with my MIL, started in the midst of this very kind of “sped-up” getting to know each other because, really, his Dad was dying.

“I was really close with his mom. His mom was a real “girly girl” and I wasn’t … and she just loved going to get her nails done and I’d never done that before. It was a very sweet, familial, loving beginning relationship. So close, even, that …….. I would often, when we visited, stay the night with her in her bed, if there were a lot of people visiting and we needed to ‘bunk up’. She and I would often be the ones ‘bunking up’. So, we were really, really close.

And then Quentin’s father passed away.

It was then that Avery heard about ” this crazy family story” about Quentin’s mom having had an affair with the same man since Quentin was five years old. Turns out that it wasn’t just a “crazy family story.” It was true and Quentin’s Mom had shared that information with her two children when they were in their early twenties before their father died.

“It was like this unspoken, spoken thing. But, the kids were grown and out of the house and I think Quentin was in law school. So, this was like something he was supposed to accept and deal with. So, along I come in the midst of all this sadness around Quentin’s Dad having cancer and dying. It didn’t come up and when it did, I was absolutely mortified. I just couldn’t believe it. It was so far out of my experience of what someone would do, let alone talk about, let alone ask the children to endure.

“And I think what happened over the next, you know, five years, ten years, is that because of my husband’s choice and reality of how he could deal with those facts … I reacted to that. So, in other words, he felt like there wasn’t much he could do but accept it. …. I wasn’t okay and so I became really angry at her for hurting him, for hurting my husband, for hurting her husband, for presuming that her behavior was … whatever. I had a lot of judgment and I got angrier and angrier.

“You know, we’d go and visit, but I just tried to endure it, and, you know. …. It was hard. It was very, very hard. When Quentin and I, as a couple, grew older and learned to do things differently in our own lives, with each other – we needed to grow and be better about taking care of ourselves, our well-being, our mental well-being – we started to change.  As a result, Quentin, probably six or seven years ago, started to finally deal with that relationship – he and his Mom – and allowed himself to at least express to me and I think also to her, tremendous sadness and misgiving about how that all happened. And what I noticed – which was a miracle – is that the minute my husband, could say what was for me the truth about what had happened, I didn’t need to do it anymore! And my ability to see her as really a part of my family – she’s my MIL, she’s family, she’s as damaged as any of the rest of us or anyone in my own family or me, … no different – no better, no worse – I could really love her again.”

Avery recognized that she had felt the need to protect her husband from someone who had hurt him deeply. When Quentin realized his pain, where it came from and how he needed to address it – and then acted on that – something changed inside Avery. Something significant.

“It allowed me to actually do something better for my husband which is love him and his family … I thought I was protecting him, being mad at her. And really, if I want to protect and love him, I need to let him take care of himself and I need to love his family. And so all of that happened and I could just feel the relationship come back together … in terms of me and my MIL. It’s okay. It’s okay.

“It’s certainly been great for me as a DIL to not be so angry with her for what I perceived that I needed to be angry with her about because of my husband and I think that’s the interesting thing about the MIL/DIL relationship is that it’s all about the spouse.”

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That’s hard-earned wisdom.

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

Is it about honesty and love and truth and forgiveness and acceptance and brokenness and family? Is it about letting go of offenses against someone other than ourselves … or perhaps, even better, not taking them up in the first place?

Challenging when “the two become one”, don’t you think? But, what Avery figured out – does she suggest providentially? – is that loving our husbands can often be expressed by leaving them the room to maneuver through life’s obstacles and trusting that they will find a way to address the issues that face them. Didn’t we marry them because we believed they were able?

For me, another “take-away” from this is that we don’t love our MILs or DILs because they deserve our love. We love them because we love our sons and our husbands.

More from Avery in a future post

Self-fulfilling Prophecies?

Ever heard of Bob Rosenthal? He is a Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Riverside. His interests include self-fulfilling prophecies, which he explored in a well-known study of the Pygmalion Effect: the effect of teachers’ expectations on students. Much of his work has focused on nonverbal communication, particularly its influence on expectations: for example, in doctor-patient or manager-employee situations.

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On my way home from meeting with my writing partner over a cup of coffee at Me and Ollie’s, I heard a broadcast of This American Life and they were talking about how expectations influence behavior. Yeah, we’ve mentioned that in this blog before.

Bob Rosenthal conducted experiments with rats. He brought a bunch of experimenters into his lab and told them that some of them were going to work with incredibly smart rats and some would work with incredibly dumb rats and that they were to see how well the rats from each set would run through a maze.

Now, the rats were all your ordinary run-of-the-mill lab rats, but he had labeled their cages “smart” or “dumb” and had told the experimenters what to expect. Guess what? The experiments ratshowed what they expected. The “smart” rats went through the maze almost twice as fast as the “dumb” rats.

Turns out that what the experimenters were thinking and feeling greatly affected how they handled the rats. The “smart” rats were handled more gently which affected how they performed.

Carol Dweck, who’s a psychologist and researcher at Stanford says that this same phenomenon holds true for people as well. Teachers expectations of students has been shown to raise or lower their IQ scores. A mother’s expectations can greatly influence the drinking behavior of her middle school son. A military trainer’s expectations of a soldier can actually influence how fast or slowly he/she runs.

And so on.

Somehow we communicate our expectations to people around us – sometimes by how far we stand from them; sometimes by our eye contact or lack thereof; how we touch or don’t touch them. Our assumptions and beliefs about people – what we exWoman Thinkingpect from them – is often a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So, there it is. Wouldn’t you guess that it applies to our MIL/DIL relationships, too? We’re not talking “control”, but influence that can tip the scales in one direction or another.

What do we expect from our DILs? Our MILs? Are we even aware that we have expectations?

What are some of mine? Yours? How might these be affecting our relationships with our MILs/DILs?
Might we want to change our thinking??

To listen to or read the entire broadcast, click here: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/play_full.php?play=544

Fascinating!

Is Your MIL an Only Child?

Here’s a “look-see” into another factor that influences “Why people are the way they are” and “Why people do the things they do”.
Kiera and I had just sat down to a fabulous “I just threw a few things together” lunch on the back deck of her home on the river. We had recently become “paddle boarding buddies” – She had the equipment and I had the availability and desire. (Woot! Woot!) Today, however, we were considering a kayak excursion because of the cool, cloudy weather. Our conversation was peppered with comments about the spiciness of the salsa and who else from our group might join us that day. When we realized that it would be just the two of us, I jumped at the opportunity to talk with her about her relationship with her MIL.

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Interesting discovery #1 – Kiera had expected her MIL to be the same as her own mother since her husband did the “scouting” thing and the “work with your hands” thing as her own mother had promoted.
Funny thing – she wasn’t! It took several years of visits to discover that it was her husband’s father – not mother – who had passed on these traits to Dan.
Here’s more of the “backstory”. When he became an adult, Dan had moved a couple of hours away from the family homestead as he wasn’t keen on the idea of every weekend being taken up with birthday parties and family gatherings of one kind or another. It turns out that Kiera’s MIL preferred that family gather around her, that she be surrounded by loved ones. She wasn’t one to venture out to be around others. Years went by before Kiera realized – and her MIL confirmed this in a conversation – that Millie only liked her own family, not people in general. She wasn’t interested in participating in community activities. She was perfectly happy to have her family dote on her.
Surprisingly, or perhaps not so, Dan is enthusiastic about – even craves – doing things for his community. Kiera had expected that to be a family trait. Not so. Dan’s experience growing up had been so insular that he now actively seeks out social involvement with people not related to him.
“What would cause someone to adopt that attitude? The attitude of “I only want my family around ….” I pondered aloud.

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“I have a theory” Kiera announced.
(Intriguing. Another analytical like myself.)

Okay, let’s hear it.
“The people that I know who are ‘only’ children want things to be about them. They need this. They demand it. And they’re not happy – ever – no matter how many times someone visits because it’s never enough.”
Kiera’s conjecture was that if one had lots of siblings, one learned that you have to share, you have to take turns – with toys, in playing games. They don’t expect much attention later on because they experience the reality that there’s only so much to go around.
But, if you don’t get much attention and affection when you’re young, do you want it even more as you get older, I asked myself?

Hmmm.
Kiera’s MIL was an only child. “She doesn’t understand that we have other things that we actually like … other than coming to visit her. … It became apparent to me that she wasn’t used to sharing and she didn’t have to share. She did not view herself as “selfish”. It’s just the way things were”
“It’s almost like a muscle that wasn’t developed on-time” I posited. That’s interesting. I mean, it fits!”
Kiera’s face widened into a big grin. “That’s my theory!”
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How much do we assume about our MILs because of what we see in our spouses? Sometimes, those speculations are “right on”. Other times, they miss the mark completely.
Who knows why people act the way they do. It may be a reaction to what they didn’t get or got too much of in earlier years. Some people turn out “just like Mom”. Others choose to go in the exact opposite direction.
What are my “take-aways” from this story?
1. Be mindful of my expectations and assumptions about people, especially my MIL/DILs.
2. People are much more complex than I expect them to be. I need to be reminded of this regularly.

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3. A lot of who we are now is because of who we were earlier in life. And we weren’t necessarily the ones who made those choices or set up those situations. We simply found ourselves smack dab in the middle of them.
Perhaps the most important thing for me to remember is that no judgement is needed here. Understanding and acceptance go a looong way toward a great MIL/DIL relationship.
And that’s what this Blog is all about!

 

 

When the Unthinkable Happens (part 2)

If you haven’t already done so, please read last week’s post “When the Unthinkable Happens” (Part 1) by clicking on that title in the right-hand column of this page

God?  God is the reason you still have some kind of healthy relationship with your MIL despite how your infant daughter, Sophie, died?

That’s what Susan had said.  God.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I wanted to know what she meant. She doesn’t blame her MIL. That would be a natural reaction to what had happened. And hate could have followed … and won the day.

When the rubber meets the road, I want to know what people really mean when they say “God helped me survive that tsunami of a life-happening” … because most people go under.  I want to know how other people have found God to be BIG ENOUGH for the most difficult, painful experiences we face.

How does she see that the “bigness” of God has anything to do with her MIL/DIL relationship?  Faced with such heart-breaking – and as one commenter put it, “gut-wrenching” – loss and the circumstances surrounding it, why does Susan believe that “God” is the reason she can love her MIL?

Here’s what she said.

“My MIL convinced herself that it was SIDS.  I found Sophie.  I know she suffocated and the autopsy results said the same.”

“She probably couldn’t live with herself if she …” I was vaguely aware that I was thinking aloud.

“Yeah, she can’t.  And so I just don’t touch it.  It’s not something I need to set the record straight on.  It’s pointless.”

They never talked about it.

“It wasn’t something that was possible to revisit immediately or even years afterwards.”

What did happen, Susan related, was that God did a work in HER heart, changing it completely.  She felt that God let her see the event from His vantage point – a bird’s-eye view… or perhaps a “God’s-eye view” … of much that was involved.

Susan went on to talk more about the aftermath.

“My face was in the dirt because of the loss of my daughter… I spent three years just keeping God at arm’s length.  ‘Who IS this God who would allow that?  Who IS this God?  I don’t know Him!’ And I was right – I didn’t.”

“During the three years of holding this God that I THOUGHT I KNEW at arm’s length, I was so wounded.  I went for weeks without talking to Him.  I felt betrayed. For months He had been telling me to read (the book of) Job (in the Bible).  Finally, I relented.  Job took me into the deepest waters I had ever been in with my God, the place where your feet don’t touch bottom.  I realized I had made this awesome God into a ‘candy man’.  The gospel as I knew it was ‘Christian’s don’t suffer’.  I had a one-dimensional God and He was revealing to me that He is multidimensional.

“Reading Job showed me WHO WAS RESPONSIBLE for Sophie’s death.  Satan was. This had nothing to do with my MIL.  She was just a player in the play, a pawn of sorts. … He (God) helped me forgive the part she played.”

Contrary to popular belief, Susan said, her MIL is not “the enemy”.  Satan is.  “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” – 1 Peter 5:8

Nope, that’s not your MIL.

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Much of what I read online these days by MILs & DILs – what they say about one another, how they complain, criticize, judge and dismiss one another – causes me to ask “Are they facing real adversity with their MIL/DIL?”  Or are most of these monologues basically petty, self-absorbed whining because we feel diminished or threatened?  Or things don’t go the way we had planned.  When we’re not getting what we want, it’s all too easy to blame someone else for the discomfort and disappointment that plagues us.  I’ve done that myself – more often than I’d like to admit.

Susan’s situation is a real-life example of caring enough about the MIL/DIL relationship to pursue it with perseverance.  She didn’t direct her confusion, pain and anger toward her MIL.  She turned to her God for answers.  She didn’t ditch her husband’s mother.  She dug in and hung on, believing that this special bond is worth the effort.  It’s a challenge to all of us to rise above the norm, examine our hearts and make truth, mercy and love our lifestyle and our home.

What I’m learning is that the MIL/DIL relationship has more to do with what’s going on inside me than it is with what’s going on around me.

MILs and DILs – Family, Friends & Allies … That’s what I’m looking for.

“I hope this will be a blessing to someone, someday” Susan adds.

It already has, Susan.  And it will.  I’m sure of it.