On Thanksgiving Day, before the turkey has even hit the table, I will probably have consumed six glasses of wine, wondering how the hell I will not only make it through the day, but an entire weekend with the in-laws without any mother-in-law (MIL) drama.
I know that I’m just one of the 99.8% of women that have MIL drama. Remember Monster-in-law where Jane Fonda’s character, Viola, manipulates and terrorizes her soon-to-be daughter -in-law? I WISH my MIL was that easy!
Ok, ok, I’m exaggerating. In all fairness, my MIL is really nothing like Viola. But she has reduced me to tears more than once. Like when my husband and I were planning our wedding and she pushed for ours to be a backyard barbeque affair in order to make a statement about how she thinks Jewish weddings have become—and I quote—“too ostentatious”.
To clarify: this was not a cute little “outdoor wedding” idea. This was a Frank Hill, don ‘ur BBQ apron, get out the fiddle and fire up the grill, heee haaw we gonna have us a hoo down—kind of BBQ.
The first Thanksgiving I spent with my MIL was especially dreadful–she spent the ENTIRE day giving me the silent treatment because she thought I wanted to spend all her unborn grandchildren’s inheritance on throwing an elaborate wedding. That Thanksgiving I learned a valuable lesson: it is far, far, far better to be judged for a perceived alcohol problem–drowning your ire in wine—than it is to tell your future mother-in-law where she can stick the BBQ fork.
But, I am happy to report that despite its rocky start, I have been able to forge a good relationship with my MIL. (And we did wind up with a respectable wedding that was far from showy.) It took time, tears, and many, many, many conversations to get to arrive at the place we are now: two women with different views of the world but have learned to respect each other’s boundaries and views. And when we do conflict, we both try to understand—if not agree with—each other’s viewpoint.
It helps that we genuinely wanted to have a good relationship. That is key– we didn’t want to become a negative stereotype of women involved in some sort of clichéd power-struggle for the son/husband’s love and attention. And it also helps that I produced the first—and only grandchild. But what really helped is that my husband has always had my back and has stood up to his mother when it was necessary. I have friends whose would never dare to confront Mommy—it’s an ugly position to be in and I don’t think you can have a decent MIL relationship without it.
That’s not to say that we don’t sometimes still sulk or clash over things said or done. It’s a relationship that needs constant tending to, and I am very careful about what I say, avoiding potential conversational landmines that could cause drama. And, yes, sometimes I can’t help but step right on one and later regretted it.
But no matter how tense things become with my MIL at times, I take some sick and twisted comfort that my MIL stories pale in comparison to some of my friend’s stores—friends who will undoubtedly call me on Thanksgiving Day to vent their own rage at their MILs. I’m pretty sure that I will seriously utter at least once to one of my friends: “Don’t do it—she’s not worth the jail time.”
One of my favorite MIL stories belongs to my friend Stephanie. My stories pale in comparison to hers which include tales of her in-laws staying for weeks on end (yes, in her house) with no known departure date, and her MIL screaming the night before her wedding “I loved him first!”
But spending time with the family is one of the joys of the holidays- right? HA! For me, Thanksgiving is only the start of the season of family drama—next month, we head to my side of the family—a family so rife with dysfunction that it makes the Jackson family look like the happiest family on earth.
Oy. I’m going to need a lot of wine.