When her eldest son, Matt, started planning his marriage, author Fanny Blake considered what it took to succeed in the trickiest of roles…being a mother-in-law.
Navigating the role of mother-in-law
When my eldest son got married to the most gorgeous girl, I realised I was a mother-in-law, along with that dreaded butt of jokes and loathing: bossy, inquisitive, interfering, and prone to overstaying her welcome. I fondly believed, of course, that none of those qualities were mine.
I love my daughter-in-law, Lisa. She’s been part of our family for 10 years, and we couldn’t be more delighted they’re married. I’m bursting to be involved in their lives, but learnt early that I must take a step back, especially when it came to their wedding. After all, this was their party, not mine. This was underlined when, after celebrating their engagement, my son said they planned to get married in 18 months’ time.“How can you wait that long?” I nipped in, without thinking. “If it was me, I’d get married as soon as possible.” He looked at me. After a short pause, he said, “Yeah. But we’re not you, Mom.” Point taken.
Fanny’s experience as a daughter-in-law
Thinking about this new relationship led me to recall my own mothers-in-law (yes, two who have both now sadly passed away), and what I learnt from them about how to behave. I first married in my 20s to someone I met at university, and got off to what I felt was a great start with my mother-in-law.
In fact, we got on so well that I dropped my guard and, two years in, hoping for advice, I rashly confessed to her that the marriage was in trouble.
Yes, foolish indeed. I was young, naive, and hadn’t thought about how she might feel. Her love and loyalty was naturally for her son, and it was not surprising that a door slammed in my face, leaving me on the outside.
After the marriage ended, I didn’t see her again for years, but I wrote to her when her husband died. By then, both her son and I had remarried, so she and I were able to have one last happy and gossipy reunion. Years later, as a mother of three sons, I understand why she was devastated by my unwise confession.
When I married a second time, I was older and warier of drawing too close. We chose 23 December as the date of our wedding, which I admit was a deliberate ploy to keep the numbers down. Neither my parents nor his could come.
New roles and responsibilities
My mother-in-law and I got on well, but every so often I sensed a slight distance between us. It was only recently that my sister-in-law told me that her mother hadn’t really understood the balance of roles in our marriage, and would occasionally shake her head and say, “Robin does so much.” She was of a different generation, where husbands weren’t expected to help with the housework or the children. But for us, times had changed, and the work was evenly shared. Never once did she comment to me, though. Harmony was always maintained, and as the children grew up, we grew closer.
What have I learnt from this? That whatever you think about your daughter-in-law and the way she and your son live, you should bite your tongue and keep some distance. How wise, my own late mother-in-law was.
Lisa and I have gotten off to the best start possible. We have one huge thing in common – we both love my son. More than that, I’ve watched her build her own business with as much pride as if she were my own daughter. She’s even given me a sewing lesson. On the one hand, I’m still dying to be involved more. On the other, I’m happy to wait until asked.