GUEST BLOG POST — by Sally Shields, "The In-Law Expert"
I got married in December 1999 when I was 32, and the first thing my new MIL (mother-in-law) said to me was, “The only thing I want is grandchildren! I’m the ONLY person in Ohio without grandchildren!” Well, if THAT didn’t put the pressure on, I don’t know what did! But, of course, I have a stubborn nature, and the declaration just made me want to wait even longer before procreating. I told both my MIL (as well as my very own mother who was being a little less obvious) in no uncertain terms, “Don’t bother me until I’m 38!” After-all, I was in the midst of a great career as a jazz pianist, traveling the world, and having a wonderful time with my bass player husband!
But, soon after, 9/11 came along… it was a three-prong blow… my manager was going through a divorce and got fired by the representing agency. At the same time, the jazz division of the record label I was recording for folded, and the last recording of the 3-CD deal? Defunct. The world in NYC was in shambles, and moving forward as a self-promoting artist seemed both trivial and trite. All signs were pointing towards a change. It was 2001, and I was 34. I thought to myself, “What is the most meaningful thing I can do at this point?” I decided that getting pregnant was a good move, and as a side benefit, I could win points with my MIL! And yes, it was the greatest decision I could have made.
But shortly after my daughter’s birth in 2002, the problems started to occur. Big problems, big misunderstandings. Big hurtful fights that ended in tears, with my MIL storming out of the house, thinking that I didn’t care about her, or the baby clothes she bought, or anything she had to say. You see, even though I just had a C-section, was suffering from post-partum depression and sleep depravation, I had unwittingly failed to open the bag of infant onsies and cute baby gear that was still sitting unopened in the corner of the room, and my MIL took it as a big DIS. My dear MIL assumed that I knew these things that were so obvious to her… dressing the newborn immediately with her gifts, being concerned about cats smothering a new baby (we had 2), when to put oatmeal in the bottle ( I breast-fed), the importance of a sleeping schedule in a crib (I slept with my baby on demand), and a world of other things she was putting her two cents in about, that left us both in tears, and feeling like enemies on a battlefield!
I was left scratching my head, thinking, where is the manual for this?!!! So I started to jot down all the troublesome incidents that would pop into my head in regards to my MIL, and came up with a rule and a solution to deal with each and every one. When I put a few of these rules into practice (and saw that they actually worked), I thought maybe I could help save others years of needless contention!
By the time I had my son at age 39, I developed a few tricks up my sleeve. I’d like to share some questions I’ve received from readers of my book, The Daughter-in-Law Rules, and the answers may prove helpful:
A: If your twinkle toes has yet to shed her umbilical cord, your mother-in-law may nonetheless put in an application for a new addition by way of a statement such as, “I can’t wait until she has a little brother or sister to play with!” Say how eager you are to have another. Smile coyly and mention that you’re already working on it. She will be hard-pressed not to picture you and her son having relations (don’t think of a pink elephant, okay?) and she will most likely not ask you again… at least for the next couple of months, that is!
Q: My MIL complains that she doesn’t get as much time with my kids as my own mother. Well, that might be true, but what can I do? She lives 7 hours away!
A: As soon as your kid is able to carry on a “conversation,” dial up your MIL and let the two yak away. Do this every few days. When it’s time to hang up, if you are busy, quickly say how much the little one misses her and that you can’t wait to see her as well. She’ll be very happy to stay connected with your little ones, even if it’s through the phone.
Q: I spend hours taking home videos and even learned to send digital pictures to my MIL over the Internet. But she complained that she’s the only person in Ohio that doesn’t get professional shots to hand out to her friends at Bingo. I just can’t win!
A: Spring for professional shots of your child. Make lots of copies (especially ones with the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, or a Hanukkah Dreidel, and send your MIL several wallet sizes to use like trading cards with her Bingo buds. Mom truly enjoys seeing your bloom in bunny ears with a blue background, holding a giant carrot. And so will you! You may even get bamboozled into buying every image in the book, complete with Sepia hues, flower borders and glam shots with soft-focus feature. So be extra-prepared to whip out your credit card and make sure your package includes the CD-ROM so that you can replicate all of the above on your printer at home as well!
A: Pick out some recent drawings or finger paintings, and dispatch them to your MIL. However, do not present her with anything that includes traces of your creative input or she may refuse it immediately. For example, if your child’s compositions end up resembling things such as puppies or frogs, you may feel compelled to color them in, embellish, and label them as such. Instead, provide Mom with the scribbles alone. These are the ones that will invariably end up framed at her house. “Ahhh, now that’s TALENT!” she’ll proclaim proudly.
Q: When I’m visiting my MIL, all she wants to do is feed my child JUNK. I can’t stand it. But if I say anything, we end up in a big fight, or giving each other the silent treatment. HELP!
A: If you notice your MIL bestowing Wonder Bread with butter on your little bottomless pit a few times a day, just remember that your husband eventually grew up and seems to be in relatively good health. Although you may feel frustrated and be compelled to suggest, “I would prefer if you didn’t feed her that stuff at every meal, okay?” better to let your MIL indulge your child’s requests for the nutritionally devoid foodstuffs. Otherwise, your kid will soon come crying, “Grammy said that you said that I can’t have white bread with butter ANYMORE!” forcing you to relent sheepishly, “Well, she can have it at least once a day, I guess the stuff won’t kill her!” Don’t make a federal issue out of it, as your pipsqueak will eventually be back to eating apples and whole wheat bagels upon Mom’s departure!
The bottom line is to really and truly learn to appreciate your MIL. After all, she did give birth to your husband, and you are forever thankful to her for that! We can all grow much closer to our MIL’s through our children!
I leave you with this wish: that you may develop a respectful and loving relationship with your MIL and learn to appreciate her for who she is, where she came from and what she is to become. Take heed to one of the great spiritual laws of success: The quickest way to get what you want is to help others get what they want. Be a loving, kind, generous, open-hearted, sensitive person, and the world will reflect that back to you—even in the form of your mother-in-law—and she may just surprise you and turn out to be an ally and a friend. Mine certainly did!
Please visit Sally “The In-Law Expert” Shields, a later mom, speaker and author of The Daughter-in-Law Rules on the web at www.TheDILRules.com for contest giveaways, free bonus gifts,The DIL Rules newsletter, free music … and more!