I was sitting on the beach one day with my ex-mother-in-law, my sister-in-law, and all of our kids. I could barely keep up with the conversation because my three toddlers were running around and splashing in the water. I told them I needed a break and to stay out of the water for a bit so I could visit and be engaged in the conversation.
“I just need ten minutes,” I said. “Come sit down and have a snack so mommy can visit.” It was then I heard it: another condescending comment from my mother-in-law. “A daughter is a daughter for life. A son is only a son until he takes a wife.” She was talking to her daughter, not including me yet but making sure I heard. Here I was married to her only son. She went on to say, “My daughters look out for me, check in on me, my son doesn’t do that.”
This was my mother-in-law’s way. She made passive-aggressive comments until I couldn’t keep quiet, then, when I spoke up, she acted flustered, insisted she meant no harm, and cried.
I heard lots of these comments while my ex-husband and I were married. When he’d do his part in taking care of the kids that we agreed to have together, she’d mention how she completely took care of her children. “Daddy never even changed one diaper! That was my job! He worked outside of the home and the kids were my responsibility.”
There was the time I struggled with nursing and she came to visit. As she sat on the sofa waiting to be served her dinner — a dinner she never got, because I wasn’t about to cook for her two days after giving birth — she said: “What’s the problem? Eating and sleeping was never an issue with me and my kids.”
My third child was born two weeks before Thanksgiving. I had third-degree tearing that required an hour of stitches, so our yearly five-hour trip to visit her for Thanksgiving was out, although she was invited to stay with us. She refused, and my ex-husband made the mistake of putting her on speakerphone. “Why can’t you come?” she sobbed. “What’s wrong with her? Why can’t she just sit in the car? It’s not like she has to drive.”
My then-husband was often caught in the middle. I wanted him to put an end to it and tell her to knock it off, which wasn’t something he could do because he felt “really bad about talking to his mother that way.” But ignoring her comments wasn’t something I could do, and that combination did have an impact on our marriage. We both could have handled it better (especially my ex), and I don’t blame her for the problems we had in our marriage, but she didn’t help. Like, at all.
She did however teach me how not to be when my kids are partnered and have children of their own:
I will keep my mouth shut about how they want to raise their kids
I get to be a grandmother and that’s it. I had three kids of my own and I got to raise them how I wanted to. It is not my place to make comments about how my grandkids are raised unless I think something is wrong, or I am asked. Besides, if my kids end up with partners who are anything like me, they won’t give a shit how I used to do things, so it would be a waste of my breath.
I will not make passive-aggressive comments
This is a wimpy way to address something that is bothering you. The person you are directing your words towards knows what you’re doing, and it doesn’t make them feel good. My mother-in-law could have had a private talk with her son and told him she’d like to spend more time with him, or that she needed some help.
Instead, she decided to make a passive-aggressive comment to me about it. Same deal with the comment about how she never needed her husband to “help” with the kids. All she achieved was to make me mad and to make my husband feel bad and caught in the middle. Nothing changed, except I liked her even less.
I will not make them feel bad for doing what’s best for them
I’m not living their life. If not coming to a holiday or skipping a family tradition or not wanting visitors after they have a baby makes their life easier, that’s what I want for my kids. I am there to help, not guilt them into letting me hang around or do something they will later resent me for (like traveling to come to see me with a newborn and two toddlers in tow when their vagina isn’t prepared for it.)
I’ve been told isn’t easy watching your kids start their own families and pull away from you, and I understand that. But I am not going to make the wedge between us bigger by making them feel guilty about that new life, or thinking it’s okay to make comments about how they function as a family. The goal is to stay close with your kids, not push them away by being a jerk to their partner.