The cracks in our relationship started when I was pregnant with my first son. Before that, I’d worked my ass off to make my MIL love me as much as her other daughters-in-law. But I was fighting an uphill battle — they all live in the same town and we don’t (not coincidentally, she’s a major reason we don’t). But I did not let this stop me. I sent cards on pertinent holidays, and if my husband sent them instead, I made damn sure my signature was attached. I subscribed to the endless, annoying, unnecessary family text message thread. I cleared the table. I loaded the dishwasher in the configuration she had directed, which she always found a reason to rearrange in a faux-cheerful voice.
Still, I persevered.
But then, when I was pregnant with my son, I had to stay at her house for several days without my husband. I was suffering from crippling prenatal depression that led to me weeping for hours on end, staying up until 4 a.m. reading and sleeping until 3 p.m. I was also barfing pretty much constantly. She showed zero sympathy. Oh, sure, they fed me. My father-in-law, bless him to the moon and back, took me on a tour of their historic city and out for a lovely Italian dinner. But when I sat on the back steps and cried into my phone for my husband to come home now, they ignored me — then pretended it had never happened. No hugs. No pats. No “it’s okay”s. Then when I found the first stretch mark on my boob, my first stretch mark ever (believe me, not the last), and raced upstairs on the edge of tears, my MIL frostily told me to get over it. “Everyone has them,” she snapped.
And in that moment, something inside me snapped as well. I was done.
I stopped doing things just to please her. I kept up the social contract of politeness, but I didn’t go out of my way. She wanted to go to the museum with her grandkids? Well, I wanted to stop at Starbucks beforehand — and damn if I wouldn’t. In fact, I didn’t want to go to the museum at all, so pardon me if I stayed home with Dad (my name for my FIL) and read some juicy novel. Nope, I didn’t want to eat at her beloved restaurant. We could go somewhere more upscale with better food, thanks — because if I’m not cooking, it best be worth my money.
I also gave up on the annual beach vacay. Before that, I’d expressed nothing but unbridled enthusiasm at spending two weeks in a smallish beach house with the entire extended family, wedged into a corner of the smallest room with the crappiest air conditioning. When I was knocked up, we graduated to a slightly larger room with slightly better air conditioning, which at least meant I didn’t sweat through the sheets at night.
But as my number of kids increased, my enthusiasm waned drastically. Just because my MIL wanted it and had been going to this vacation spot since she was born, didn’t mean I had to drag my family hundreds of miles to do the same thing. She did not understand this. But she did not need to.
So I dug my heels in. The first year, we didn’t go at all. Since then, we’ve gone for less than two weeks. We don’t always eat at the exact restaurant she wants to, because I don’t eat seafood. Moreover, I began to insist that our spring break was our spring break, and we would be going on a trip with our own nuclear family — not a vacay with the in-laws, thanks. It was clear who was making these decisions. My MIL knew it. She thought I was keeping her away from her precious boy. Nope. I was keeping her away from me.
These days, we deal. We dance around each other. She once told me to take off my Obama shirt — which I’d just tossed on, unthinkingly, after a shower — because she’s a Republican. I changed, seething the whole time and setting our relationship back to frosty. My Christmas presents have definitely decreased in quality and quantity. Hers have gone to pics of the kids and kid-decorated ornaments. That’s the beauty of kids: you can throw them in between any miserable familial relationship and, if both people are fundamentally decent, they cover a multitude of sins. My MIL is fundamentally decent. I hesitate to speculate on her character beyond that; after all, she did raise my husband, and he’s one of the best men I’ve ever met.
Maybe it’s because she didn’t like my hair or my dogs or my taste in books. Maybe I grew up too poor (she had maids and a nanny). Or maybe, most likely, she’s just oblivious, wrapped up in her own self, and doesn’t notice the way she affects other people. But, I certainly fucking notice, because her behavior and its affects fall on me and my family. And I am done with it.
I asked my husband to tell her not to get the kids giant-ass Christmas presents this year. She did anyway. I hid them as soon as they lost their shine and donated them once a month had passed.
Because I am so done. I realized I’ll never stack up to the sugar-sweet daughters-in-law who live in town with her, whose children she watches every week (and won’t stop comparing to mine), who join her for dinners at the local country club and take her advice on choosing everything from china to schools. I’ll always be putting a foot wrong, wanting something different, and unwilling to compromise what I want for me and my kids for the sake of what she sees as hers.
Because I’m learning that, unlike her kids and their other spouses, I was never hers to begin with. And by now, I’ve become okay with that.