In my view, the problem with mothers-in-law is that written and unwritten etiquette prevents us from having natural or open responses in times of conflict. Most of us don’t like conflict, particularly when it involves someone who we generally have very regular contact with. Well I certainly don’t. We also do not want negative emotions to sour the relationship which we have with our spouses. Conflict is by no means unique to in-law relationships, but when our natural instinct to argue or be honest is suppressed, this can lead to unhealthy undercurrents. The fact is that people will on occasion annoy one another. Sometimes they fight and part ways, sometimes they have an honest open discussion and move on in a positive direction. Parting ways is not an option when you are married to the offspring of your antagonist, in most cases this results in simmering negative emotions.
This week, this dynamic was highlighted to me when my ex mother-in-law made me really angry. The fact that she is an ex mother-in-law altered the whole interaction. We spoke on the phone and she said something which was out of line. I put down the phone, seethed for a few minutes and then sent her an e-mail. In my e-mail I told her that what she had said had made me angry, I also said “If you are going to criticise my parenting, please do not call me”. My message was blunt but expressed exactly what I was feeling. I was able to do this because I am not married to her son and have no concerns about repercussions in my own home. I was able to do it because if my message led to a parting of ways there would be no significant impact on my personal life. The following day I received an apology from her and the matter is forgotten, I was pleased about this as I have long considered her a friend, and our relationship has generally been good.
I love and respect my parents dearly, but there have been and are times when we disagree, or misunderstand one another, on those occasions I am able to challenge them, to argue. Our relationship is such that we can be open with one another. We may even say hurtful things, but we express what we are feeling, we clear the air. The same applies to my husband, we are not always in harmony and agreement but we can
argue communicate and sort things out. On the contrary when I disagree with my in-laws, I keep quiet, I keep the peace. Misunderstandings are not talked through, there is a wall. The wall is etiquette, the wall is fear of consequences.
I am determined that one day, if and when I am a mother-in-law, I must speak to my children’s spouses up front and tell them to please be open and honest when they feel that I have crossed a line or when I have said or done something that they are not happy with.
If you are reading this, please tell me in the comments section below, how do you resolve in-law conflict or misunderstandings? I would love to find a way to have a more real, more honest and more constructive relationship with my in-laws.