Monday, November 10, 2008

How to Shut Down Your Daughter-in-Law - Get the last word next time she insults you

What do you do when your daughter-in-law makes a nasty comment?

Actually, as a mid-lifer you probably learned a long time ago how to deal with things like that, including the fact that you take a moment to check out your impressions v. reality.

And you also realize that, with emotional intelligence and etiquette, it still behooves you to 'pull your punches' because she's younger and all that. Or as they say, "Don't fight with an unarmed opponent." Out of respect for youth, I often hold back. That's because I have good manners. There is never any need to be any more forceful than is absolutely necessary.

That having been said, my point in writing this is because something came up on my screen, after a thunderstorm power outage (???), announcing the article "How to In-law Proof Your Home for the Holidays." I was curious. It brought back memories to me. I never had any trouble with it myself, but I remember being at some friends' house and they received a call saying "the folks" were coming over, and they flew around, hiding the liquor, for one thing, because their parents did not know they drank. I never felt like I had anything to hide from MY in-laws. Or put it this way, anything I would have needed to hide from my in-laws would have been already "hidden", because it wouldn't have been appropriate for either children or other visitors.

I also thought of an article I wrote on house-proofing your home when the grandchildren are coming. Like making sure your husband's nitro is locked away, and all those breakable L'Angeliques have been removed from the coffee table.

Glossing the article, something on the left caught my eye. A link to an article entitled How to Shut Down Your Mother-in-law , with the lead-in, "Get the last word the next time she makes a nasty comment." It was equally tempting to look at the one called "In-law invasion horror stories." However, I opted for How to Shut Down Your Mother-in-Law. Because I'm a mother-in-law, and I simply lack words for a title like that. Do we need, also, How to Shut Down Your Baby, or How to Shut Down Your Sister?

True, the bad relationships get worse, and fester at the holidays, but titles like that don't do anything to aid the situation.

It turns out that the article, by Tina B. Tessina, PhD, psychotherapist and author, and Harriette Cole, a life stylist, author, and host of PULSE, was not incendiary. It gave some good advice, some excellent advice.

It's the media ... with those titles.

So how do you "shut down" your Mother-in-Law"?

The first example was the mother-in-law saying "Hmmm...that's not the way we make stuffing."

Now, I guess if you have a mother-in-law who says something like that, you do need to have some kind of response, because I can't imagine saying that to anyone. No one makes stuffing like I do. I don't like anyone else's as much as mine, but I don't consider the world to revolve around me. Not any house I've ever been in, has the stuffing been as good as mine, or made like mine. And so what. I wouldn't think of making a comment like that, it's so obvious. Would you?

Another statement: MIL: "Oh, you're looking so ... healthy [i.e., fat]!"

Now that one - that's quite a defensive leap from "healthy" to "fat." The recommended response is "Thank you!" and why would you not say that?

In the eternal battle between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law, wrapped as they are around "the same man," a battle so old it appears in fairytales and myths ... "the quality of mercy is not strained."

I had a mother-in-law when I was young :-) and defensive. It's a competitive time in life. "MIL" walked in one day and said, pensively, "That curtain is sagging." Immediately I fast-forwarded to what an inept curtain-hanger, wife, mother I was ... in the defensiveness of youth. I think she just meant - lets leave out the [i.e., you're a lousy housekeeper] - that the drape was hung wrong.

I asked her if she could fix it, and she did.

My mother told me when I was first married-with-baby and she caught me copping an attitude re: my mother-in-law, "You have everything that old woman wants and values. You can afford to be gracious to her."

All my friends are mothers-in-law. I don't know a one of them that means ill. But if you set your mother-in-law up for a lose-lose situation, it's so easy to do, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.

Let me conclude with a poem written by a mother-in-law. I hope it will bring compassion and understanding where it is needed:


Virginia and I lie awake in the night
Unable to move;
She, because she can't
I, because I have been forbidden.
Our fate is in the hands of Catherine the Queen.

Of what does Virginia dream
I wonder ...
Of venetian blinds and ceiling fans,
And the incomparable shirt of black and white stripes she saw one day,
And of Catherine the Queen and Matthew the Magnificent
Upon whom her life depends.

And I,
Of what do I dream,
As I lie in a bed beside her crib,
A visitor for but a day,
Forbidden to pick her up when she cries in the night
Hoping that Catherine the Queen will be kind to both of us
Who are subject to her whims
And counting on her to make our dreams come true?

Of what do I dream
An old lady who used to dream of dancing with the Prince
In my golden slippers?

Now I dream only of dancing with Virginina
Her tiny breath upon my neck
Her head against my shoulder
A moment or two when she's mine, all mine ...
When it suits the fancy of the Queen.

Unobserved by the King and Queen
Who are busy with matters of State,
Such as ripe avocadoes and salmon steak for the grill
We can dance in the grocery store
With eyes only for each other
Her head flopping, my leg limping
The once having been and the yet-to-be Heads of State,
Our world quite small and whimsical
Lacking money or plans, or might or power
And in service to the King and the Queen.

Be kind, I hope,
Grant our wishes, I pray
You hold our lives in your hands;
And I lie quietly
And Virginia calls in the night

Suddenly she appears!
Her bare ballet feet silent on the floor
Her chestnut hair falling across the back of her gown
The ballerina feet and chestnut hair of Virginia
And in her regal splendor (was I ever so beautiful when young?)
She bends over
And Virginia's wish is granted.

If only she will grant me mine:
To let me dance with Virginia just once more
In my worn golden day slippers
Not with Prince Charming
Or Magnificent Matthew
Who once was mine
And now belongs to Catherine the Queen
As does Virginia.

"She's not going to give that baby to you,"
Says my younger son, the Court Jester
The one who dares to speak the truth.
Because he knows of my coup d'etat dreams;
But they are only the unimportant dreams of an old woman
Not grand or forever-after dreams
But just for a moment
Just for a memory to keep
For when she lies awake alone in the night ...

The memory of dancing with Virginia.

* * *

Would it be so hard?

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Susan said...

This was absolutely wonderful. I do think it takes a lot of patience and love ( and meditation!) to Have a really good relationship with your mother-in-law, especially if you have different political and religious views. Though, Ours were the same. I can see how difficult it could be. And also, if the relationship with the mother is an unhealthy or co-dependent one. I'm just a single mom with 2 kids and one Divorce. But, experience has brought me great wisdom in knowing Love prevails all. And a good dose of Humor. =)

Susan Dunn, M.A. said...

Glad you found it helpful.