Tag Archive | MIL/DIL Conflict

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

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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 1)

Exploring MILS & DILS as “Family, Friends and Allies” led me to visit with Susan, a woman who has 33 years of experience as a DIL with “a very strong-willed woman” as her MIL.  In her words “We have journeyed along a hard road, but have successfully traversed that road to arrive where we are now finally friends.” Here is part of her story – truly “a hard road” which, by the grace of God, their relationship survived and it continues still.  Read on ….

Susan has six sons.  She brags about it on her car’s license plate.  I’m envious, although it’s highly likely I would have lost my mind if I’d had that many kids, never mind all boys.  She rattles off their names, pausing to do the math when I ask their ages. mom & baby2

“I had a daughter between Alex and David.   That’s why there is a gap ….  I wasn’t slacking off!  She died as a baby at two and a half months old.”

I think my heart skipped a beat as the shock of what she had just said registered in my mind.   She had lost her only daughter?  I told her that she didn’t need to talk about this, if she didn’t want to.  She suggested that it was pretty pertinent to our discussion about the MIL/DIL relationship.

Susan and her family had been traveling from Oklahoma to Virginia and had stopped along the way to visit her in-laws.

“We had brought a crib and had set it up in the van.  It was sturdy with wooden slats on the sides.  When we got to my in-laws’ home, we planned to  bring in the crib for our infant daughter.  My MIL said ‘No, we have a crib.’  It was really a playpen with mesh sides and a pad on the bottom.  I wanted to bring the crib in because Sophie was used to it and it was safe.

‘No, no, no.   Use my crib” her MIL had said and Susan had relented, yielding to her MIL’s wishes.

I held my breath and pressed my lips together, sensing that my heart was about to break on Susan’s behalf.  Please don’t let her say what I think she is going to say next!

“So, I used her ‘crib’ and that night Sophie got wedged between the mattress and the sides and she suffocated.”

Silence.

In the middle of a busy afternoon at a coffee shop, the two of us were caught in a moment where there was no sound … no movement …. just deep sadness & pain. I looked directly at her, stunned.  More than 20 years later, her eyes watered and she blinked back the tears.

“How do you get over that?”  I asked as much to myself as to her, wondering if one ever could.tulips

“God” she replied simply and then repeated herself.  “God. That’s the only way.”

I’m trying to imagine the extent of the anger toward the woman who had played such a role in the death of a child and I just had to ask.  “How do you forgive your MIL after something like that?  And not simply forgive, but want to continue the relationship … and even…”  I paused here, considering …  “… even love her?”  Is it possible?

Susan repeated her answer.  “God.  God is BIG!  He’s SO big!

To be continued ….

MIL/DIL Counsel: Never Heard This Before!

Recently read this interesting counsel on two-older-black-women-outdoors-14309798Tips to Improve Your Relationship with Your MIL:

“If you have the same standard for your mother-in-law as you have for your mother, then the problem will be gone.”

I’ve never heard that before!  Have you?

What do you think about that idea?  It sounds intriguing to me.  Could it work?  What would that look like and sound like?  How might it specifically play out?  About what standards are we talking here?

“Say it ain’t so” that we should take this to mean that if one has an unhealthy relationship with one’s mother that she should use this as a template with her MIL  So, should we talk about patience, kindness and respect?  Am I as considerate of my MIL at family gatherings as I am of my Mom?  Am I as willing to overlook her occasional faux pas?  What about including her in activities, outings, parties and discussions?

If I love my mother, should I also look to love my mother-in-law?  The answer, of course, is a resounding “Yes!”  And love means, in small part, to be generous in one’s thoughts about another.  Love results in a willingness to forgive and keep no record of wrongdoing, especially if it was inadvertent.Smiley Face Cupcakes Royalty Free Stock Photo, Pictures, Images And Stock Photography. Image 7823065.

Is this realistic?  Clearly, we are not proposing that we treat our MIL exactly the same as we treat the woman who wiped our snotty noses, got her hands goopy with Play Doh, made cupcakes for the classroom holiday parties, waited up at night when we were out on a date, and prayed for our spouses since the day we were born.  No, if we were blessed with a mother that nurtured and cared for us, that woman will always hold a special place of honor in our hearts.  And she will not be replaced by another.  Still, that doesn’t mean we cannot have a special place in our hearts for the woman who did all those things for the man we chose – of all the men we’d ever met – to do life with.  Perhaps, this, more than anything else is what is meant by “have the same standard”.

Are you interested in trying this on for size?  Let me know what you learn about her … and yourself. 😉