They look at you sideways when you’re dating their son. And let’s be honest, they should. After all, they’ve spent years being the only woman in his life and now suddenly he is enthralled with some else. With you. He’s buying flowers and writing notes, texting (way too much) and doing outrageous things to get your attention. She knew this day was coming, but probably lived in some degree of denial. Then you married him. And she was no longer your boyfriend’s mom. She became your “Mother-in-law.” Dun dun DUN!
This last weekend, my MIL took my sisters-in-law and I to go see “Wicked.” For those of you who don’t know, it is a backstory to “The Wizard of OZ.” It begins with Glinda the Good Witch being quizzed by the munchkins and people of OZ, about the death of the Wicked Witch of the West. (Which, if you aren’t familiar with “The Wizard of OZ”, she dies at the end of the movie.) They are asking why she was so wicked. So begins the tale of Elphaba. (The Wicked Witch of the West) In a nutshell, we learn that she was a child hated by her father because she was born out of an affair, she was born green and shunned and mocked everywhere she went. But she had so much heart. She saw the bad things happening in OZ, and took it upon herself to go to see The Wizard and try to make it right. Because of her talents in magic, she is requested by the Wizard and off she goes to The Emerald City. The Wizard tricks her into thinking she can help when really he just wants to use her to further his evil plot. (Bet you never thought “The Great Wizard” was bad, huh?) She realizes this and tries to rebel. But she knows too much, so the Wizard and his staff, tell the Land of Oz not to trust this horrible bad witch! All she does is lie, so never believe her! Poor Elphaba flies off into hiding trying to do good here and there with devastating results. I won’t spoil the entire story for you, go see the show or read the book. But my point here, is that everyone has a backstory. Contrary to popular belief perpetuated by media and culture, Mother-in-laws are not wicked witches out to destroy and control your life. (Or course there are always exceptions)
Let’s take a generalized look at your mother-in-law’s backstory and uncover what made her so “Wicked.” Shall we? Rewind the clock back about 9 months before your husband was born. She had just found out she was pregnant. If you’re not a mother, it’s a magical feeling and you feel almost instantly connected to that baby. Then fast forward to your husband’s birthday. She is holding him in her arms. Probably crying softly with joy and relief that he has all his fingers and toes. (Unless your husband doesn’t have all his fingers and toes, then she was probably just happy he wasn’t an ugly baby….unless he was,…then she was…well, nevermind, you get my point.) She took that little baby home and woke up in the middle of the night with him to feed him and change him. As he grew up, she taught him to say his first words. She was over the moon when he said, “Mama” and nearly died of joy when he learned to say, “I Love you.” She potty trained him and taught him his ABC’s. Then she blinked and all of the sudden there he is standing at the edge of the driveway kissing you goodnight before you leave. What happened? How did her tiny little soft warm boy grow up so fast? Oh she was there for all of it, but it went too fast. All those skinned knees she wiped up and kissed,…gone. All those snuggles at night to make the bad dreams go away….gone. She’s now standing in what appears to be a nightmare of her own watching you take over the top place in his heart. Of course he’ll always have a “place in his heart for mom.” But it won’t be the same space she’s always had. You’re kicking her out and moving in that space…and probably not giving a second thought to it. But of course she loves that boy (now a man) more than you could ever know so she is happy that he’s happy. Then one day, he comes to her and says he want to marry you. Then it hits her, hard. She may have even cried herself to sleep that night, already missing him. Then fastforward to married life now, you’re all hanging out together and your husband forgot something at home. You sigh and roll your eyes and mutter something disprespectful about his incompetance or forgetfulness under your breath. She saw and heard it. “How dare you?!” She thinks, “That’s my baby!” Then there’s the holidays, of course she knows you have your family too, but because she’s the mother-in-law, she often gets the leftover time out of preference to your family. She’s remembering all the holidays she had with her little boy, your husband and missing them. She knew it couldn’t stay that way forever, but she still misses them.
So cut her some slack. Give her a break. Try to understand her instead of just throwing her into the box labeled “The Wicked Witch that is My Mother-in-Law.” She’s not a wicked witch, you just need to remember her backstory. She was there first, and while you are there now, remember…you’re occupying the spot in your husband’s heart as #1 that she used to be in. Until you have a child of your own, you’ll never understand that fierce bond that exists between and boy and his mommy.
This is dedicated to my mother-in-law:) I love you, Lynn. Thanks for raising such a sweet and wonderful boy into a sweet and wonderful man just for me. I’m so glad we have a great relationship.
Till Next Time,