Most times, I don’t remember I have a mother-in-law until I overhear others start talking about theirs. It’s mostly because, more often than not, she isn’t involved in any of our family’s milestones. Okay, to be frank, she’s never been involved in our family’s anything. Her lack of communication sends a message. Loud and clear.
My ex-boyfriend’s mother was the polar opposite of my husband’s mother. I had little time between the two relationships, and the whirlwind of the extremes left my head spinning. My ex’s mom was overly involved and unwilling to accept that she didn’t have the right to call to tell me to “stop bitching” at her son after our fights. Conversely, my husband’s mom has been so uninvolved that she has chosen not to attend any event that acknowledges our growing family.
Despite the meddling of my ex’s mom, I really wanted a relationship with my soon-to-be husband’s mother when we got together. I started trying to bond with her a couple of years before we got married. She made it pretty clear she wasn’t interested. Angry messages were sent, texts were ignored, and things never really felt the same for me.
I hardly ever see my MIL. As a matter of fact, I think I’ve only met her three times in the decade my husband and I have been together. But even though we don’t really see each other, when we do, she’s always giving passive-aggressive (and unsolicited) advice. Comments about the way I choose to style my child’s hair, suggestions about how I could avoid gaining weight… Basically, everything on the mother-in-law “what not to do” list. I can’t decide if she really thinks she’s being helpful or if she is just being malicious. Either way, it hurts.
One of my earliest conclusions was that she didn’t feel I was attractive enough for her son. My husband comes from a family of jaw-droppers. Each of her children is more conventionally beautiful than the last. Deep down I wondered if she felt my “regularness” was going to contaminate their gene pool of light features and loosely curled hair. But with time, I remembered that my husband found me beautiful and whether or not she felt I was cute enough didn’t really matter.
At first, I continued to reach out, even if our conversations left me annoyed. But after a while, I said eff it and stopped calling and messaging.
My husband didn’t care because he hardly talks to his relatives either. He had a childhood so rough that I don’t even know the details of it all. Needless to say, the last thing on his mind is his mother’s approval. But I come from a pretty close-knit family and the lack of communication felt personal to me, instead of a continuation of a family trend. It was excruciating knowing the relationship I have with my partner’s mother would likely never include authentic love. I went through several years of feeling sad and thinking of ways to make myself more appealing to her.
When we found out we were expecting our first child, nearly three years ago, I had a renewed sense of optimism. My mother isn’t one to broadcast emotions, but she quickly adapted to her role as a grandparent, despite living over 800 miles away. And I thought things would change would change between my MIL and me with a baby on the way. I was married to her son and contributing to the family lineage — surely, I had solidified my place as a worthy member of the family.
I was wrong.
She remained unchanged, and I couldn’t understand how someone so vital to my family only acknowledged my existence over social media. The good news was our son passed the “cute” test. I know because she started sharing his images online.
How she can proudly post images of my child with endearing captions and get tons of comments of celebration when she doesn’t even know him, I’d wonder. Her social media friends had no idea she hasn’t even met him in person.
Her grandson’s birth, the birthdays, first words, and the holidays have continued to pass, and she seldom sends more than a Facebook “happy birthday” wall post.
At one point, I grew so agitated, I started withholding images from her. Why should I continue to send her images if she doesn’t think we’re important enough to visit for these crucial moments, I asked myself. I felt powerful, and I felt in control. But with time, I also felt guilty.
My maternal grandparents meant the world to me. But I was never particularly close to my dad’s parents. The lack of closeness I feel in that relationship still haunts me nearly 30 years later. And now, I’m growing apathetic.
I don’t want that for my children. If they decide to look past her continued absence, it’s their choice. It doesn’t matter that I never felt welcome. Part of growing as a parent is realizing that it’s not about you anymore. And in the words of my own mother, “She ain’t gotta like me.”
I can’t force her to care for me or feel anything about me at all. But that doesn’t mean I should create an intentional barrier between her and her grandchildren.
I’m frustrated at how things are right now, but my children are still young. They might not remember her not being interested in them. And if she decides to be more involved one day, that will work in everyone’s favor.
My goal is to remain respectful and courteous, so I will never be responsible for closing that door. My life’s experiences have shown me the importance of love from grandparents. Regardless of whether my husband’s mother decides to step up, they will be fine — my mom gives them all the love they need.
But just because we don’t talk doesn’t mean she won’t care for her grandchild, in time. So I’m not going to be the one to close that door. I’ll keep sending the pictures of cute moments and the videos of events that need more context, and remind her on the rare occasion we do speak that she is always welcome to see her grandchildren.
Because despite having a bad relationship with my MIL (read: nonexistent), I will try to never cut her out of my children’s lives.