Family: Can’t Live With ‘Em, Can’t Legally Kill ‘Em

While we were in sunny south Georgia on our mini-vacation, we spent some time with Gruff’s mother.

It’s terribly cliché to have a beef with one’s mother-in-law. I know. But I can’t help it. There was a time (a few years ago) when I would have trotted out all my evidence against her – the instances when she slighted me during the holidays, hurt my feelings at a time when I needed comfort and sympathy, the times she let us down by breaking promise after promise. I’ve been working on forgiving her, though, and I have learned that making that recital of past injuries just doesn’t help me move closer to forgiveness. It moves me closer to bitterness, to anger, and to (let’s just say it) sin in my heart. So I won’t go there today.

I’ll just say that our history together isn’t so rosy and sweet as the memories I have with my other in-laws.

There’s also all kinds of crap from Gruff’s childhood that makes his relationship with her tenuous at best. You know that whole mother-bear-defending-her-cub thing? It turns out that I do a pretty good impression of a she-bear when I see my husband hurting, and I take on a lot of his hurt and disappointment too.

For some reason, though, we continue to extend our hand to her – we try to arrange visits, we send emails and pictures and video clips so that she’s still connected to us and to her grandson. On this visit, we called about a week ahead of time to ask if she’d be able to take a day off work to hang out with us. (We were asking for low-key. Spend some time at her condo, let Smooch run around and be his charming little self, have dinner together. That’s it.) She decided that she couldn’t take a day off just for us – but she’d fit us in on the afternoon of a day already scheduled off work. She just had to run up to the big city for a meeting in the morning, so we could come over between 1:00 and 2:00. It was less time than we wanted with her, but she’s hard to argue with, so we agreed.

At 1:00 on the appointed day, we loaded into the car and drove to her place. We called her on the way, and she answered her cell phone and told us the meeting was “out for lunch” and she’d be home soon.

Two hours later, Gruff’s youngest sister came home from high school with a pack of friends – the children of the woman my mother-in-law had carpooled with to the meeting. Her three kids told us that the meeting was supposed to run until 4:00. She didn’t answer her phone on any of our repeated calls. Smooch was getting antsy; no nap plus being in an unfamiliar, non-kid-friendly house were starting to equal unhappy two-year-old. We were both feeling angry, hurt, and put out.

She finally called at 4:30 to say that they were on their way home – and she arrived at 5:30. We were tired, worn out from wrangling a toddler away from her breakables and knick-knacks, and upset that she’d either outright lied to us or had at least manipulated the truth. When we spoke to her at 1:00, she’d surely known the agenda for the rest of the meeting. She could have given us a heads up that the plan had changed and asked us if we still wanted to spend the day at her house (now, alone) or just meet her for dinner. Because she didn’t say anything, we felt we had wasted a day sitting alone (we could have stayed at my father-in-law’s house with one or both of them home for company!). We were hungry – we’re early birds who usually eat dinner around 5:30 and put Smooch to bed around 7:00 – but she said we couldn’t go to the restaurant she’d chosen until 6:30 because we were waiting for Gruff’s other sister to get off work.

By the time we got to the restaurant, we were just done. You know what I mean – when you are physically present, but you’ve really checked out. You don’t want to be there anymore. You want to get in your car and go home. You want to comfort your tired baby, and vent to your sympathetic spouse, and leave the whole mess behind.

All things considered, Smooch was an angel. He showed off his repertoire of signs to his aunts, played with his cars and his Magnadoodle at the table, and grinned and chattered to everyone for the first 30 minutes. Then as we got nearer to his bedtime, a switch just flipped off. He actually folded his arms and put his head down on the table to rest – he wouldn’t eat – he wanted to be held or hugged for the remainder of the meal (and I can’t blame him, since he’s usually snuggling in footie pajamas by then!). Gruff and both choked down our dinners in record time and beat a hasty retreat.

I try not to complain too much to Gruff. After all, she’s his mother – and you know how that goes. Even if you know your parents are a little nuts, you don’t want anyone else to speak badly of them. But on this night, I didn’t have to say a word. He was hurt and angry and feeling everything I was feeling.

My mother-in-law sometimes complains that she doesn’t get to see us enough – that she doesn’t get to see Smooch enough – that we spend more time with her ex-husband and his new wife than we do with her. I used to feel a little guilty about that, but this visit has given me the courage to say: rightly so. Yes, we do spend more time with the other in-laws. We do that because they love and care for all three of us. They make us feel welcome and special. They do not lie to us or manipulate us. When – if – she ever changes, and begins to treat us with respect and thoughtfulness, then I’ll be happy to change our schedules to accommodate more time with her.

At this point in my life, I’d love to have a good relationship withmy mother-in-law – but it’s more important to me that I have a great relationship with my husband and my son. That means protecting them from being hurt time & time again, and right now that means limiting our time and contact with her.

I know this isn’t a terribly cohesive or well-written post, and I apologize to anyone who’s now thinking, “Well, that was a total time-suck! Why did I read this blather?” I may even pull this post – I’m not certain it should be front-and-center for all the Interwebs to peruse. But I really needed to get it off my chest, and if you can’t use your own blog for that, well, what the heck are you blogging for anyway?


5 Responses to Family: Can’t Live With ‘Em, Can’t Legally Kill ‘Em

  1. Mrs. Chicken says:

    I have issues with my MIL, of course. I think everyone does.

    But what you’ve described above could have been written about my FIL. Divorced for 30 years, he STILL makes rude and mean remarks about Mr. C’s mother, hurting him terribly. My FIL tried to make my THREE YEAR OLD feel guilty for coming up for her birthday, when none of us wanted him there in the first place. He said “I drove seven hours to be here and you won’t play with me?”

    Who does that?

    Whew. Sorry to vent here. Your post touched a nerve. We have this in common, Fizz, and you are right to put your son and husband first.

    The worst part is, she will always be Gruff’s mom. No matter how hurt he gets, he’ll keep going back for me.

  2. Waiting Amy says:

    I understand this too. I have had issues with the ILs off and on. They are generally very well meaning and love us very much. But often tend to try and pack way too much into visits and it just isn’t relaxing. It can be overwhelming. Who wants to do all that traveling only to be fried and frustrated?

    I also have some similar protective feelings about my husband and other family members. It can be hard to walk that fine line.

  3. Heather says:

    Yeah. In-laws can be real gems can’t they? I have issues with mine which I generally just stew in silence about. Your MIL was just plain rude. But you knew that already.

  4. Family is complicated. In laws are even more complicated.
    I can sympathize!

  5. madmommamonk says:

    I love my in–laws. It’s my mother that can be toxic at times. Oh my word, I am so sorry you had to endure that. I think there may be some manipulation issues going on with your MIL. I recognize them because while my situation with my own madre is completely different, there is still manipulation.

    I’ve tried and tried many times to change this, usually getting hurt in the process. Someone once said to me, “why do you keep extending your hand to the snake that continues to bite it?”. Deep stuff, I know. Biblically, I would like to still honor her while not necessarily getting too close. The question is, can this be done? Hmmm…

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