In the past 4 days I’ve been criticised, mocked, chastised, and informed that I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m not a professional athlete being coached with tough love nor am I on the other end of a brutal wrestling match. It’s just business as usual when my mother-in-law comes to town.
This is a too-frequent ritual visitation that I start dreading the very minute we drop her off at the airport at the end of the last one. A cycle that started before we even had children and has now turned far more complicated and hard to take since they’re here. I really thought she’d said and done it all by the time I was pregnant with my first — she didn’t like how I did laundry, cooked for her son, or even managed my pregnancy.
It was easy enough to brush off the mother-in-law criticism when it was just my husband, the pets, and me. It was irritating but less severe. Now that we have two children, the opinions have exploded.
It’s everything. No topic is off limits. We live in the US south but even in high summer, I’m criticised for not putting a sweater on the baby. Because last time I checked, abstaining from shrouding a young toddler in cotton in 40-degree heat is definitely child abuse (eye roll emoji). And it’s a long-running commentary that goes on all day.
I should be driving in the right line, the dog doesn’t get taken out often enough, her opinion on how many more children we should have are daily topics.
She wants me to breastfeed but thinks it’s disgusting when I do it in public. Says it’s important to put our three-year-old in school but doesn’t like the one we chose. Wants me to take them out of the house but never approves of where to. Is happy that I stay at home with the kids but then turns and tells me I’m spending money that isn’t mine. WTF!
Hanging out with my mother-in-law is like sitting side-by-side with my anxiety as a full-fledged person, but even more obnoxious.
Every single decision I make as a mother from the moment they are awake until they go to sleep is questioned. It even goes on after they go to bed, but she thinks that’s too late so sometimes she putters off into the other room before having a chance to chastise me over that for the 8th time that visit.
One of her favourite topics is how often my children are bathed. I get that in the 80’s when she was raising her kids, a nightly bath with off-brand soap was the norm. Nowadays, and with my particular kids, every other or every third day is good. Why am I having to defend this while she slurps up my organic, made-from-scratch meal? Why can’t she just stay in her lane?
I always nod and smile, bite my tongue for the sake of my poor husband. I know he can’t take the drama of a fight between us on top of how tense it is with her around.
But damn do I just want to spew what’s on my mind, starting with, “You are aware these are not your children, right?”
Now, look. I get that she loves the kids. Can’t love be enough? Why is it so difficult for her to just enjoy her time with us and delight in the children? Why does she have to waste so much of it looking over my shoulder and telling me everything she thinks I’m doing wrong?
They are her grandchildren and therefore her concern. Yes. If I was doing a half-arsed job as a mum I could see her being worried about their well-being. But it really has nothing to do with me. This obsession with my parenting choices is all about her.
Is it a nostalgia for days gone by? Does she miss when her own kids were little? Does she have regrets, and sees herself making up for her mistakes by living through a sort of second motherhood with my own children? Or does she really just think I’m that shit as a mom?
I have no idea. I could even empathise with most of that (not the me being shit part), if she would simply open up and claim it. But no. There is no penetrating this situation. If I so much as respond with, “No, they’re fine!” it throws her into a rage. A nod and a smile is all I can really do. And three years into the game, I’m over it.
Mother-in-law, I would love to know what makes you think you know better for these children than I do.
Did it ever dawn on you that as their mum I’m not just a bump on a log of their childhood, but actually the perpetuator of their health and joy? Are you even aware that I am their mum?
Have you forgotten that I am the one who carried these babies to term, caring for my own body and thus theirs with all the proper vitamins, gentle workouts, heaps of rest and healthy food? Do you discount the fact that I breastfed them both past a year and introduced wholesome, healthful foods in a slow and gentle way under the guidance of a leading paediatrician all while reading countless articles on the topic?
Are you turning a blind eye to the fact that I care for their every need, physical and emotional? Has it dawned on you for a moment that there’s a reason they’re attached to me? That I am the person who taught the eldest her letters and numbers, the one who wakes up in the night every single time one of them has cried in their infancy (or beyond)?
You are not doing the hard work of parenting these children. You aren’t squirreling away the money for their educations, making play dates for them, doing art projects, cleaning their clothes. You aren’t staying up at night reading parenting articles to perfect the craft of their care. You. Are. Not. Their. Mother.
And to be quite frank, I don’t GAF what you did in the 80’s.
You and your husband let them sit in the backseat unbuckled and they survived just fine? Great. That doesn’t mean I should turn my two-year-old’s carseat around early because you think she’d like it better.
Will I ever tell my mother-in-law what I think of her interloping and “advice?” Probably not. At this point the hum of her criticism has become like the white noise of an office air conditioner. Most noticeable at the end of a visit, when it switches off. Nod and smile has become my survival technique because she’s just too far gone for us to ever have a healthy relationship as it pertains to the kids. There may be no fixing it, but I will say this: at least there’s a set limit on how long the visits can be.
‘Till next time, MIL.