I hope all of my American readers had a good Thanksgiving weekend. (I hope the rest of you had a good weekend too!) I had a much more relaxing weekend than I had anticipated. I didn’t end up babysitting at all, and I had a good time at the houses I visited.
But there was one thing that really bothered me – my mother-in-law’s behavior. When I first saw her, she, as I expected, told me how pleased she was that I was wearing a skirt. Fine, I thought, I do like to wear dresses and skirts sometimes. She made another comment about how I was dressed like a girl and how much she loved it. Ok, still ok.
What bothered me most about her behavior was that one of the very first things she said to us – we had met up less than 10 minutes earlier, for the first time in a few months – was, as she sidled up to me, “So, Flicka Mawa, when are you and Husband going to go on a diet?” Excuse me?! I had always known she would come right out and say things about Husband’s weight, and that it bothered him. As such, it bothered me too, and I thought it was horribly rude and downright mean. In fact, I was apprehensive about seeing her this time precisely because I was worried she would say something about Husband’s weight. But this time, she really crossed the line – saying something about my weight too. How dare she think it’s ok to do that? I was so flabbergasted I was literally speechless. I just looked at Husband, who responded pleadingly and in annoyance, “Ma, let’s not do this today. It’s Thanksgiving.” This was a bad enough breach to leave me pretty annoyed, but I only got more concerned about my relationship with my mom-in-law as the day went on.
We got on the train and there was a decent buffer zone between us, so not much issue there. When we got off the train, she used my arm for support as we walked – her in pointy high heels, mind you, despite her serious back problems. When I had noticed this earlier, I had come right out and commented on it, letting her know that I didn’t think heels were important enough to risk physical pain especially for someone with her history of back trouble. Anyhow, we’re walking down by the side of the train tracks, and she decides to continue to gush to me about how I’m wearing a skirt, and how wonderful it is. As some of my readers know, I’m definitely a feminist, and so this really began to grate on me. You know what? It doesn’t matter if I wear a skirt or pants, I still look like a woman, thank you very much. I believe I started to tell her, in a playful tone, that if she said much more about it I wouldn’t want to wear skirts around her anymore. But then I got a phone call, so I excused myself and left her to walk on her own or grab someone else’s arm while I fished around in my purse. It was my brother, and his timing couldn’t have been better. Thanks, bro!
My husband’s brother’s girlfriend’s family picked us up, and they were all very friendly. Her mom drove Husband and I and my mom-in-law, and the others drove in a different car. Between driving to the first apartment and the second, I sure got to hear a lot from my mom-in-law that didn’t make me too happy. The mom driving us was telling us how she had recently become a grandma and her granddaughter was going to be at the first apartment, which made me very happy because I! LOVE! BABIES!!!!! Anyhow, my mother-in-law was telling her about how her first grandchild was a girl and it was so great after all those boys (she has 4 sons and no daughters), but that she didn’t know what to do with her, because she was a girl. As a baby? The same things you do with a boy! The implication that even as a baby you’d need to treat the two sexes differently really annoys me. Aside from, of course, slightly different care of the privates, particularly if your son is circumcised, there is no difference. My mom-in-law is, in my opinion, rather sexist, and it never bothers me more than when I am reminded of what kind of influence she could have on my children.
So of course, while I’m thinking about how I really want to minimize how much time she spends with our kids, one of the next things out of her mouth is “And by the time these two have a baby I’ll be retired and will be able to spend all my time with him,” referring to us and our first baby. Great. First of all, she doesn’t work. She’s on disability because of that back problem that I mentioned when I described her shoes. She’s been looking for a decent enough job that accommodates her back issues to risk going off disability (once you go off, you can never go back on for the same problem because you’ve shown that there are still jobs you can hold) since I’ve known Husband, which is about 3 and a half years. So I don’t know what this “by then I’ll be retired” crap is. Second of all, we’re sitting right here! She knows we can hear her. It never occurs to her that she might need to find out if we want her spending all her time taking care of our baby. Husband and I have discussed before how important it is to put up boundaries with her, because she’ll always try and push them until she can come visit us without calling first. I think Husband does an ok job of doing this, but it’s hard – she’s rather set in her ways. Often it results in her leaving for us angry or tearful phone messages because she thinks we don’t pay enough attention to her.
Honestly, once she confided in us that her dream was to move into a house with the two of us. Right, that would work. We do both love her, but we could never, ever, not in a million years live with her. It’s hard enough living in the same borough of NYC. Between all the things she unabashedly said to our courteous host about how much she’s looking forward to spending lots of time with our first child, how to raise babies her way, and how differently she thinks girls and boys need to be treated, I found myself spending most of the second car ride silently wishing I could move out of the area. All the way across the ocean wouldn’t be so bad. The Netherlands, here we come.
Question for my readers: How do you set up boundaries with your mom-in-law? Have they worked? Does she resent you for it? Did you start setting these up before you had your first child, and if so how long before?