I’m one of the lucky ones; I adore my husband’s mother. She is loving, and kind, and thoughtful. She doesn’t pry. She doesn’t judge. She doesn’t tell me what to do or how to do it. She spoils me, in fact.
Before you write me off and think I’m just bragging, dear daughter-in-law-to-be (or son-in-law, should that be the case) let me tell you this: As the mother of a boy, I am observing and learning much about the way I want to be as a mother-in-law—your mother-in-law. And I want to be the best one I can be.
In conversations with many of my friends, I’ve listened to the laments of daughters-in-law who struggle with mothers-in-law who have hurt their feelings with passive-aggressive (or just plain aggressive) words, or who purposely give their grandchildren something to eat that they weren’t supposed to or constantly tell them how to run their households. I’ve seen the eye rolls and heard the long sighs and the “She’s coming to visit, God help me,” refrains.
My mother and father both called each other’s mothers “Mom.” It sounded natural from both sides, even though both loved their own mothers dearly. I don’t have any expectations; you can call me Kristin. You can call me Nonna, if you have children. Just please don’t call me anything that you would call your worst enemy.
Speaking of children, I promise that I won’t ask you when you’re going to start having them. If you have one, I won’t ask you when you’ll have the second one or tell you that you “can’t possibly have just one child! Good God, woman, how can you do that to him?!” Because someone actually said that to me, and it really pissed me off.
I may spoil your kids a little bit if you’ll let me, but I won’t feed them chocolate if you tell me not to. I promise to take their allergies very seriously, and I won’t let them watch TV all day. I’ll happily babysit, in fact. If you choose to cry-it-out or not cry-it-out, breastfeed or bottle feed, offer a pacifier or no pacifier, use cloth or disposable diapers, I support your decision. Lord knows that plenty of other people will give you their opinions when you’re a parent.
See, I know how this works. In order to stay close to my son, I need to stay close to the one to whom he gives his heart and not only accept, but also embrace him or her.
And it’s not just that. I will love you as my own child if you will let me. If you’re close to your mom, I am not going to try to replace her; you don’t need two moms. You might, however, be interested in having a mother-in-law who might be a friend—a friend with whom you enjoy spending time and maybe even learning something from, if you ask. All you have to do is ask.
So I’m going to ask you right now, wherever you are, to give me a chance. Don’t believe that all mothers-in-law are like the evil stepmothers of old Disney. Don’t think that I don’t want you in our lives or that I’ll be in the way. Don’t believe that we are in a competition. If my son has fallen in love with you, then you must be very special. We are on the same team.
Unfortunately, I know a few men who have shut their mothers out at the urging of a new spouse, leaving their mothers heartbroken. I can barely speak the words as I try not to imagine what that might be like for a mother. It’s a terrifying thought.
At one time, I thought that maybe having a boy was the easier route through life, avoiding the drama we girls seem to generate as teenagers. However, I’m realizing how much more difficult it may be to let them go as they grow older, because they jump out of the nest with both feet, willing themselves to fly even before their feathers are fully formed. They feel the pressure to be men, and they propel themselves forward and away from their families—as far as they think they need to go to find themselves.
I want to tell you about my son’s childhood and what it was like to hold him and rock him to sleep at night. I want to laugh with you about the funny things he said as a preschooler and show you his baby pictures. I hope to share with you his triumphs and dreams from when he was a child and fill in the blanks on any of the stories he has told you from his mama’s perspective.
I’m not here to stand in your way. I’m here to spoil you and listen to you and help you—just the way my mother-in-law does for me.