As if the holidays aren’t stressful enough, your in-laws decide to spend a few days extra with you. This is not the time to tidy up the attic. You can’t just stuff them away. Do not put them in the basement either. Remember, holidays are about family, although they do seem to bring out the absolute worst in people. I know this because I watch the Hallmark channel and not a single episode resembles our family.
Fathers-in-law seem to be more agreeable. They have learned to go with the flow. If the flow is calm, they can emotionally float down the lazy river. If times are tense, they can surf the currents. Oh to be a father-in-law!
Mother-in-laws have the ability to create a fast moving whirlpool of emotions within seconds with a single statement. “That’s not how I make my award winning stuffing,” she might say, while smirking. Fathers-in-law can sense that the lazy river is turning into a cesspool. This is when they usually decide to check the football score. It’s a universal thing.
Your mother-in-law can be a great friend or a miserable foe. Now that mine is gone, we get along famously. Ten years into our marriage, I realized I just didn’t understand her. When we first met, I thought she was very snooty. She gasped when I plucked a small, ripe strawberry from my dessert glass. When I popped it in my mouth, she almost fell off her chair. Her face said, “Son, this girl has no manners!”
What I learned later was that she was poor growing up and her dad raised her. He sent her to etiquette class so she would know how to be a proper lady. She did act like the queen on many occasions. I was more like Cinderella.
She wanted to be close with me. She told me so. A week after our honeymoon, she came over to help me garden. Pitchfork in hand, she told me, “We will be friends. We will be close. My mother-in-law was horrible. You and I will be close,” she repeated. She scared me. I like to keep peace and this looked like a demanding friendship. I smiled at her and nodded.
I later realized that in her mind, she was losing him to a woman she didn’t think was a perfect fit for her, or her son. She wrote him a letter telling him so before we were married. I never saw it. Scott burned it.
She needed a higher class woman to maintain her need for proper family. Money was very important. I didn’t have money, but I did have two sons, ages three and six. The three year old had just learned the word “damn” and used it as often. It did not make a great first impression on the queen.
I also learned that she never felt pretty growing up. She thought she was the ugly duckling. She was a very attractive woman, but this belief burned deep. I learned that she needed attention to feel good about herself. Once I understood her, we got closer. Compliments filled up that empty space in her soul.
I am not Mary Poppins and it was not always a nice relationship. In retrospect, I couldn’t be myself around her. I always had to step it up. My house was never clean enough. Five kids, a huge dog and running our business from our dining room equals some mess. Get over it! Take the white gloves off now! (There’s a little spark of the real Anne coming through)
Like children, I believe Mother-in-laws should come with a mandatory manual, Mother-In-Law 101. It would make great reading on the honeymoon!!
Chapter one: How to make me happy.
Chapter two: Things you should never say or do in my presence.
Chapter three: I’m still his mother.
Chapter four: He can always come home to me.
Chapter five: How to get my family recipes, even though you are an in-law (yes she told me that). My father- in-law got me her family macaroni and cheese recipe.
Chapter six: We both love the same man. Accept it. Let’s have lunch.
Chapter seven: I will love you.
Chapter eight: You will love me.
Chapter nine: You aren’t so bad after all
Chapter ten: You will miss me when I’m gone.
I just realized I am a mother-in-law now. If my son-in-laws ever write a manual on me, I will lock them in my basement. I’ll feed them gourmet meals and make sure they have cable channels. I will bring them freshly, fluffed towels and expensive shaving cream. Naturally, I’ll give them my official manual.
After all, I want them to love me.