Saturday, 15 September 2007

The mother-in-law of all battles.....

Today I have a piece in the Telegraph about the problems that some women have with their mothers-in-law. Many people will be able to empathise!
Here is the link:

Or you can read on here....

The mother-in-law of all battles
Last Updated: 12:01am BST 15/09/2007

Dare to marry another woman's son? That's just asking for trouble, says Sarah Ebner

When Tania Harper's mother-in-law came to visit her, she brought with her two bibs, presents for Tania's baby son, Paul. One bib announced: "I love my Daddy." The other proclaimed: "I love my cat." Mummy, it was clear, did not merit a mention.

"It's absolutely typical," fumes Tania. "She's made it clear that I am surplus to requirements. When we see her friends, she tells them: 'This is my little boy.' Or: 'This is my son's little boy.' I feel like the invisible woman."

Tania's experiences will be familiar to millions of women. For want of a better name, we can call it "mother-in-law syndrome". It's what happens to so many innocent souls when they marry another woman's son.

"By the way I love Paul, I can already appreciate that there's something very special between boys and their mothers," says Tania. "Maybe mothers-in-law are so awful because we've stolen their sons."

Mums-in-law don't always get a great press, but it's often men who moan about them. Les Dawson and Bernard Manning weren't the only comedians to profit from mother-in-law jokes. But research suggests that men actually get off lightly. It's daughters-in-law who suffer.

"Studies show that the mother-in-law, daughter-in-law relationship is the trickiest," says Terri Apter, a psychologist who's writing a book about the subject.

"Men simply aren't as involved," she adds. "They can take a low profile."

Apter says that daughters-in-law feel judged and pressured by their mothers-in-law. She's also found that even modern mothers-in-law disregard feminist sympathies when it comes to their boys.

"They want what's best for their son. If that means suppressing their daughter-in-law's career, they think that's okay."

Lorraine Gibb can echo that: "When I met my mother-in-law, I quickly discovered we had nothing in common except that we both loved her son. Now what really irritates me is the way she discounts anything which contradicts her view that I am an ambitious career woman who doesn't put her darling boy first. This is despite the fact that I do all the cooking, organise the household and, having produced two children, gave up my high-flying job to work part-time. She still seems to think that I could look after her beloved child better."

When you marry, you often don't realise that you're not just marrying the man you love, but also his mother. Many in-laws are paragons of virtue and a joy to know. This article, however, isn't about them.

"I went out of my way to be nice to her," says Gillian Campbell of her mother-in-law. "But she just never made the effort with me. She doesn't ask me anything about myself and always expects me to run around after her. She visited four days after I gave birth and still expected me to make her a cup of tea. She told me it would 'do me good' to get up and about. I'd had a caesarean."

But Gillian knew from her wedding day what she was in for. "My sister went in to see that everything was ready in the church and saw Ian's mum. She introduced herself, saying: 'Gillian looks lovely. Isn't it a wonderful day?' Ian's mum - who was dressed all in black - just looked at her and said: 'Well, I think it's a very sad day.'

"My sister rushed out to tell me not to get married because my mother-in-law-to-be was so awful."

Problems with in-laws can veer from the foolish ("She hates the fact that I'm from London," says Celia Sharman, whose husband is from Nottingham) to the ridiculous ("She couldn't believe that I had a daughter when she'd always wanted one," says Lorraine Gibb). One woman even put a private detective on t her potential daughter-in-law. Amazingly, the couple went on to marry. Less surprisingly, they have now divorced.

Gillian Campbell admits she was so innocent when she got engaged that she didn't think it mattered what her mother-in-law was like. "But she made it obvious that Ian could have done so much better. She's always thought I wasn't good enough."

It's strange how all the women I spoke to, bar one, had mothers-in-law who didn't have daughters of their own. The one who did have a daughter (Celia Sharman's) didn't get on with her. Also, none of the mothers had sisters and none had got on with their mothers. This may be entirely anecdotal but it does suggest difficulty relating to other women.

But perhaps the real problem with mothers-in-law is the very name. It sounds like your own mother, someone you love, who's brought you up and knows you. Mothers-in-law, however, are thrust upon you.

"My mother-in-law has only ever bought me one present," says Tania Harper. "She arrived at our house smiling, and I was really touched, because she'd never got me anything before. Then she opened her bag and got out a T-shirt. It said: 'My mother-in-law went to Crete and all she bought me was this lousy T-shirt.' I was stunned. Then she said: 'You are going to wear it, aren't you?' "

Names have been changed.


Be realistic. High expectations are bound to be dashed. Why should you expect a close and fulfilling relationship when you haven't chosen each other?

Remember she is not your mother, which means she isn't, necessarily, on your side. Watch who you complain about her to. Sympathetic female friends are probably better than husbands. You don't want your marriage affected.

Damage limitation may be the wisest option. It could be that a slightly cooler relationship is the best you can do.

Don't think that children will make you bond with your mother-in-law. They just offer lots more opportunities for conflict.


Prof. Joni said...

So here's an idea for Part 2. Not only is your MIL worse if she has no daughters, but your husband is more work. I tease my sister in law that she should thank me for civilising my brother. When I met my husband, I had to tell him (and his two brothers) to use anti-perspirant!

Magnolia said...

Well said.