Tag Archive | MILS

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”.

Advertisements

For Those In-Law Visits

“I think this is really big between the MIL and DIL.”

Avery and I were talking about the challenges of being grafted into a new family through marriage.  One frustration she shared was that, especially early on in a marriage, those in-law visits can be downright difficult!

Oftentimes when adult children return home to visit, they slide right back into their former roles and relationships with family members.

Does that happen to you?  To your spouse?

The oldest sibling immediately exhibits characteristics of “Ms. Bossy Boots” and the youngest becomes “the Baby” yet again.  The two who rarely got along while growing up find themselves arguing with one another … again … over anything or nothing.

Their spouses can be mystified by this metamorphosis.  Hard to say why it happens, but … it does.

Another thing is that the new inductees to the family are introduced to a culture possibly quite foreign to them.

“There are these habits, how they were around each other.”

She really didn’t like it.

“When your Dad comes home, everyone hides.  When your family members are done eating supper, they simply get up and leave the room without waiting for everyone else to finish.”

“There’s all this engagement and activity and the MIL, as the elder, she kind of sets the tone and the pace.  ‘I don’t want you to help.  I expect you to help.’  I think it’s really critical for a person and their partner to really talk explicitly about how to partner through that.”

“There’s this activity, this behavior, that he (her husband) doesn’t even notice, that’s really hurtful to me.  And I don’t even know how to respond because I look to him and he’s not even responding.  So, I don’t have any clues about how to ‘do it right’ and if I try to talk to him about it without a lot of intention, he replies ‘Don’t worry about it.  She’s just like that.’  It’s not helpful to the spouse who’s trying desperately not to drown in this pool of missteps.  I’m going to say the wrong thing.  I’m going to do the wrong thing.  I’m going to do the thing that no one does.  And then…. I’m done.  Not in real life, but in your own in-law way.  I’m the outsider now and I’ve sealed the deal forever as being the outsider.

“Here’s the lesson.”  Avery leaned forward as she spoke.  This was important for her to share with other DILs.

“I needed to know that when we’re together in his family’s home that he’s on my team – even if he’s also on their team.”

Couples need to be very intentional about communicating this regularly during family visits – verbally and otherwise.  This could look like the two of them going out for a long walk, hopping in the car and going for a ride, or going upstairs to the bedroom, closing the door and taking a nap together.

In-law visits.  They can be daunting.  So much so that, if you don’t find a constructive, healthy way of conducting them, you might find yourself saying – as I did one weekend – “Honey, I think I’ll skip this trip to the Lake House.  Why don’t you just take the kids and go?”

Here’s another idea from someone who’s been “in the game” for 19 years.  Suggest to your spouse that, each evening, perhaps for 15 minutes or so before bed, the visiting in-law (or outlaw as my father-in-law calls me) gets to share some of his/her observations about how things are done differently in that household.  These can and should be done without judgement.  For example:

“I noticed that your family likes to take photographs whenever we sit down all together at the dining room table.”

“All the women of the family are expected to clean up after a meal.”

“Wow, your family sure likes to get up early in the morning and get going!”

“Wine is a regular part of every supper at your parents’ house.”

“Your mom is quite the hugger!”

There is no need for explanation by the spouse.  No need to defend the practices.  The sharing could simply provide a safe place for the in-law to articulate what he or she is noticing and this could aid in the processing of those differing behaviors, assumptions and attitudes.  One way of doing things may be just as valid as another.  Different doesn’t necessarily mean wrong or bad.  But, just being able to say “Gee, I’m really uncomfortable with the way this is done” and know that one is being heard can go a long way toward releasing stress and sorting out one’s feelings.  Maybe, just maybe, it would move the couple toward recognizing,  understanding and perhaps even accepting one another’s family and upbringing.  And future visits might be more enjoyable and comfortable for everyone.

I wish someone had suggested these things to me and my husband many long years ago.  It might have prevented a lot of pent-up frustration that had plenty of time to turn into bitterness.  Now that I’m on the other side of the fence, I will take heed!

What do you all think?  Weigh in on this topic with your insights and experiences.

 

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.

2014-11-03 11.51.06
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!

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.

****
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.

I Mean Her No Harm

The simplest and silliest of experiences often trigger insights into complex concepts and relationships. Remember how John Nash was inspired to develop a new concept of governing dynamics when discussing with fellow grad students at a bar how to approach a group of women? (see “A Beautiful Mind”) Let me share with you a recent “Aha!” experience.

On a breezy Saturday morning, my husband was digging up a patch of our back lawn so as to plant some tomato seedlings. You know that you need to relocate your tomato garden from one place to another if you’ve experienced “tomato blight” or simply because tomatoes – or so I’m told – quickly exhaust the soil of its nutrients. I, too, was in the back yard, hanging laundry and thinking about how my clothesline also needed to be relocated this year as the nearby trees have filled in with more branches and leaves and little sunshine now graces that plot of land.

IMG_2978[1]

 

With laundry basket tucked under my arm, I walked toward the back porch door when, all of a sudden, I saw a blur of movement overhead. It was a robin. You see, while we were traveling for 4 weeks, Mother Robin had decided to make part of our home, her home. Carefully, and with one piece of grass or twig at a time, she had constructed her nest on top of the light fixture outside the back porch. When we returned to introduce noise & motion to the area, the die had been cast – her eggs had already been laid inside and it was too late to relocate and start all over again.

IMG_2927[1]

As we entered or exited our back porch, we did so carefully, trying not to upset her, Sometimes we forgot, however, and the door slammed and Mother Robin would swoop away when we inadvertently invade her space. This time she had perched in the nearby Flowering Crabapple tree and I saw her anxiously waiting for us to “Go away!” As I brought out a hat to my husband, I again saw something streak past. She had returned to her nest and was feeding her newly hatched chicks!  I was fascinated!  Perhaps I was even gawking in wonder as she inserted her beak into those of her babies. She eyed me warily as I stood about 10 feet away, motionless.  My husband, however, came strolling over to check out the scene and she didn’t quite like the looks of him – or so he said.  She quickly ducked back over to the Crabapple.  Perhaps if I waited a bit, standing still, making no noise?  Still, Mother Robin would not return.  Doesn’t she know that I mean her no harm?

IMG_2930[1]

That’s when it hit me.  Doesn’t she know that I mean her no harm?  All I wanted to do was to witness a special moment as she cared for her young.  All I wanted was to see their cute little faces upturned.  I was hoping to share a somewhat “sacred” practice – a mother providing so that her little ones would thrive.  Did I want to interfere?  Challenge her feeding schedule?  Tell her there was a better way to do what she was doing?  Was I critical of her menu?  Or her housekeeping?

Not a chance.  I was admiring, amazed at how the baby robins knew to keep silent when Mama flew away.  “Danger!” they must have thought.  But, I was no danger to them or her.  In my heart, I was cheering them all on, wishing them a safe place and time in which to grow. The furthest thing from my mind was to impede, disrupt or undermine Mother Robin’s efforts.

images

But, she didn’t know that.  Perhaps she saw me as she had been programmed to do – a threat, an unknown, an intruder.  Unwelcome.  She continued to look at me uneasily, wondering if I might try to unseat them from the comfort and safety of their home.

Do you perhaps see yourself in this scenario?  Either as a MIL or a DIL?  On one side or the other?

I walked away slowly and made a point of entering and exiting the house through another door.  Each time I’m checking on the progress of the tomato garden or the dampness of the clothes on the line, I peer into that corner above the porch light to see what’s going on there.  Will she become accustomed to my  presence?  How long might it take for her to trust me?  Will she ever?

IMG_2973[1]

We have only a limited amount of time to forge this pact, she and I.  Her babies will only be babies for a short time.  And I can only share and enjoy what she is willing to allow or welcome.

But, what am I talking about now?  Birds?  Or MIL & DILS?

 

Rust

Does this look like me?

Rust?  What’s rust got to do with the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship?  Possibly more than you might think.

Occasionally I surf the web, looking for suggestions, recommendations, advice – pearls of wisdom – on how to promote good in-law relations. If you’ve done the same, you’ve probably discovered that there’s not much out there. It’s way too “in vogue” – acceptable – to make snide comments about your MIL at which everyone will laugh. Did you ever notice that there are some groups of people who are fair game for public insult and degradation? Mothers-in-law seem to be among these.

Here in America, our communal dysfunction is on display for the whindexole world to enjoy.  Grown women post on Facebook, log onto blog sites, text and phone and appear on television to denigrate those grafted into their families by marriage.  What a novel idea for promoting family bonding!  What an inventive method for communicating to our sons or husband that we really, really love them!  It makes everyone’s holidays that much more enjoyable, doesn’t it?

Wrong.  Bad idea.

Rudeness, criticism,  lack of consideration and mockery are the language of the immature, the ignorant, the self-centered and those starving for the approval of others.

Mockery is a rust that corrodes all it touches. – Milan Kundera

All it touches.  Everything and everyone.

 

Do these words seem harsh to you?

Definition of rust (Merriam Webster Online Dictionary)
1
: the reddish brittle coating formed on iron especially when chemically attacked by moist air;
2
: any of numerous destructive diseases of plants produced by fungi and characterized by reddish-brown pustular lesions
Could we say that belittling someone – whether to their face or behind their back – might be called attacking them?  What about characterizing snobbery or fault-finding as fungi which could cause pustular lesions – wounds – even on a strong person (iron) to slowly form and break down their mettle (pun intended!)?

 

And neglect?  A passive approach which causes rust – verb: To deteriorate or degenerate through inactivity or neglect

Who am I really?  And what kind of stuff am I really made of?
Is rust what’s happening in my heart?  In hers?
Or is this –

rockgard-150x150

 

 

 

 

What I Learned in May

IMG_2837

Did you catch the rainbow?  They always make me smile!

 

Okay, okay!  So, I seem to be a bit “behind the eight ball” so to speak, with getting my “What I Learned In …. ” posted in a timely manner.   I could tell you I learned it in June so as not to look like I’m late announcing this.  However, truth be told, I did “learn” this in May.  So, I might as well say so.

This was definitely worth recognizing, worth writing about, because it changed my perspective on the MIL/DIL thing.  So, perhaps you’ll find it worth the time to read.  😉

*********************************************************************

This is one thing I became very much aware of in May …..

I’m HIS mother.  And he is a grown man now.  (THAT part I already knew!  Keep reading.)

I’m not HER mother.  I’m not HER friend.  I’m not HER family.  She need have nothing more to do with me than she would with an acquaintance.  My daughter-in-law did not choose me and I didn’t choose her.  They chose one another.  He is HER husband and she is HIS wife.  I have no claim on her – her time, her attention, her friendship, her love.  It may come – and I hope it will – but I have NO claim.  Nada.   Rien.  Niente.  This is at the core of the MIL/DIL relationship.

We both get to choose how much time, energy and effort we will put into the relationship, how far we let the other into our life, how often we want to spend time with one another, … whether we will choose to be friends …. family … allies ….

It may have been different years ago … in previous generations.  And it’s most likely different in other cultures.  (This we will explore in future posts!)  But, for here and for now, that’s what I see.  That’s what I hear.

That sheds some light on the subject … for me!  And in some way …. it seems to make the whole relationship a bit …. easier.  I feel more relaxed.  And that’s got to show.  This “I get it!” realization dissolves any pressure I might have been experiencing – even unknowingly so.  Fewer expectations … fewer “should”s ….. fewer “need to”s …. more time and space to see what, if anything, will come together.

Rainbows?   Perhaps.  But, there’s no rush.  I feel less inclined now to “make it happen” and much more comfortable to “wait and see”.