Tag Archive | listening

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!

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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?

Be Careful Not to Take Offense Easily

On a cold January morning, Cherie and I planned to meet at a Dunkin Donuts, but the place was packed! and there wasn’t even room to park.  So, we ventured a couple of miles further to check out a small place at the corner of N. Lowell and Windham Depot Roads.  I had passed the place numerous times on my way to visit friend and to attend a small group which gathers weekly at Nellie’s home.

We were delightfully surprised that no other patrons were present and we could have the place to ourselves to talk at length.  We settled in at a table as far from the front as possible and grabbed two mugs of hot coffee and cocoa (with whipped cream on top!)

Even as we began our conversation about in-law relationships, I could tell that Cherie had wisdom to share that she had learned over the years.  She is analytical and had prepared in advance some thoughts to convey.

When asked what makes for a great MIL/DIL relationship, one of the first things she related was the following:  “Be careful not to take offense at first words because I have found myself a couple of times doing that not knowing where Meagan was coming from.  And I found it was a lot better …  It took me a while to ask her ‘Do you remember when you said such and such?  Did you mean …. ?”   And she said ‘Oh, no.  I didn’t mean that at all.  This is what I meant.’  It clears the air.   If there’s a misunderstanding, clear it up”. 

Before much time goes by? 

“Absolutely.  And that goes for any relationship.”

Our conversation took a turn at that point when  Cherie mentioned that her DIL said about her relationship with her husband “We have disagreements, but we never have arguments.  John actually listens to me and my opinion and how I feel about something.”

Maybe that’s the difference between discussing and arguing? – whether both parties actually listen to one another.  (Bonus thought!)

Great insights, Cherie.  Going to put those on my mirror.  Be careful not to take offense easily.  Make a point of clearing up any misunderstandings  as soon as possible.  Listen – really listen.