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Mother-in-law cliches


I was boring my two year old this afternoon and he let me know it with dark scowls and a refusal to play. Or read. Or have anything to do with me.

Apologies to my frozen friends in the North, but down here in the Southern Hemisphere we are having a great summer. It was a gorgeous evening to play outdoors. Or to be shunned outdoors, as is the case today.

Our neighbour’s son popped his head over the fence and before I knew it, Mr 2 was scaling the gate and the two of them were playing ball on the drive. Never one to miss an opportunity, I grabbed my gardening shears and started pruning the climbing vine that climbs all over the front fence.

It reminded me of my mother-in-law.

Just to set the scene here, let me make it clear that I’m not a gardener. I pull weeds, hack back over-grown stuff and plant something pretty now and then. I certainly have no idea about correct pruning methods. My mother-in-law is an avid gardener.

She once pulled me aside, saying that there was something she needed to talk to me about. This was uttered in low, solemn tones and I remember thinking, shit, what have I done?

We stepped aside to discuss the issue.

“I’m sorry, but I have to say something.”

Cue all sorts of terrible imaginings.

“It’s the way you’ve pruned that plant. It’s wrong.”

For a moment I thought I’d misheard. Or been transported into a weird alternate dimension. But no, I’m just so crap at pruning that I needed an intervention.

My reaction involved a fair amount of “oh ffs!” and the like (internally, of course, since I like to think I’m civil in the face of adversity). Points to me, under the circumstances, as I endured a lecture on pruning and refrained from mentioning that I was just following my mother’s technique (they don’t get on. I try not to provide ammunition to either).

So I was pruning today (all wrong – I can’t remember a thing she told me), and I thought about mother-in-law and some of the crazy stuff that she’s done. I bet that pretty much every second married woman you ask will have a bat-shit crazy in-law story to share. Why is that?

Mine was lovely. Kind, generous, welcoming. Then we got married. Things got weird. When we had kids…well, let’s just say it’s awkward these days.

So what goes wrong? Why do all these mother-in-laws suddenly turn into the nightmare cliche? Is it some sort of club we’re unaware of? It’s not just the unwanted or ill-timed advice, the snide comments on your parenting/ relationship/ housework (lack of, naturally), but it’s that slice of the irrational and inexplicable that makes you wonder what the hell is going on that you missed. At one point, I genuinely thought I was losing my mind. Thank you for that, mother-in-law.

The only explanation I can think of is jealousy. It’s an emotion that is often irrational and causes irrational behaviours. A sense of being replaced, of not being needed anymore… there’s a saying: A daughter will be your daughter all of her life, but a son is only a son til he gets a wife (or husband). I’m paraphrasing, because I’m too lazy to Google some old saying that’s problematic in many ways for modern, independent men and women. In this context, however, might there be a kernel of truth?

Will I, in the distant future, be grieving the handing-over of my son to the person he chooses to spend his life with and consequently becoming critical and disapproving?

I bloody hope not.

Maybe I’m reading too much into it. Maybe the truth is that these cliche mother-in-laws simply have a great time playing with our minds and causing mischief.

Something to think about next time you’re pruning.

If you have a great mother-in-law….well, take a minute to appreciate her. And perhaps share the nice things she does in the comments below so I can copy her Greatness when my turn comes!

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