Talking To My MIL Reminds Me That The ‘Mommy Wars’ Aren’t New And Never Stop
I love my mother in law. That’s apparently a pretty rare sentiment because when I tell people that, they usually look at me like they’re waiting for me to drop a punchline or say something like “…PSYCH!!”, because apparently a lot of mothers in law are totally awfulsauce.
Mine’s not. I’m not bragging or anything. I mean, someone’s got to have shitty in-laws and it just so happens that my husband drew the short straw. I talk to my MIL at least once a week, sometimes more, and we usually gab for about an hour before one or both of us realizes that there’s other stuff we should be doing. Yes, it’s a charmed life.
When I was a new mom, my MIL was a source of real comfort and commiseration, especially when I ended up staying at home with my child in a strange place. She would often relay her own stories of feeling overwhelmed, bored, isolated, angry, stressed, lonely, and frustrated. It felt good knowing that someone else had been through what I was going through, even if it was decades ago. I couldn’t talk to my own mom about this stuff because with her it was a race to the bottom to see who could win gold in the Shitty Life Olympics. I never won the gold. Usually, I never even placed.
It was this juxtaposition that first caused me to realize, moms have probably been warring from time immemorial. I don’t know why this surprised me, considering my MIL parented in the 90’s, and ’90s parents practically invented helicopter parenting and the judgy backhanded compliment.
My mother worked, my MIL mostly stayed at home. You could hear the vitriol in my mom’s voice when she talked about the charmed life my MIL led, and if I told her that being at home wasn’t, in fact, all that and a bag of chips, I got shut down for not knowing how good I had it, lazy bon-bon eater that I was.
Now that my MIL is older, she still gets flak from people, because with your kids out of the house, what do you do exactly if you aren’t watching soaps? Well, a lot. I’ll admit that when my daughter went to school it got easier, but it didn’t get leisurely. All of the stuff that I didn’t have time to do (read: chores, errands, suckiness) was suddenly feasible with a wide open schedule.
I had to wonder, would people really think she still lives a life of luxury and languor if they knew that a lot of her days are spent scrubbing and painting and dusting? She isn’t idle, no mom is really idle, and that includes working ones, stay at home ones, new moms, seasoned moms, grandmoms, and empty nesters.
Like most depressing stories about how awful we can all be to each other, I hope that people will largely be over it by the time my kid has flounced off to college, but I doubt it. As long as there is insecurity and guilt there will be projection, flowing in both directions (and yes, SAHM guilt about career decisions and money is a thing that is real and also really sucks).
I have to say that I typically refuse to participate in most passive aggressive “mommy wars” bullshit, but I’d also like to add that while my mother in law handles it like she handles everything, (with the kind of grace and poise that would make Kate Middleton look like a Liverpool fishmongering hobo) if anyone tries it with me once I’ve earned my bon bon time I’m gonna handle it Eleanor Abernathy style: