This isn’t the way I had wanted it to be. When I met and married my husband I had envisioned a relationship with my mother in law that would be better than those of other mothers and daughters in law. We would not become frenemies. My husband would not become the pawn or middle man in our petty disagreements. I would be patient and respectful, and eventually develop a love for the woman that bore and raised the man I loved. Most importantly, I would not become my mother, who I felt harboured a lot of resentment towards my grandmother over things that seemed trivial.
It is clear to me now that how we are and how we come across is as much of a reflection of who we are with as who we are ourselves internally. My best intentions have slowly over the course of the decade chipped away leaving me chronically agitated at the woman who I had hoped to understand and befriend.
She has always been a hypochondriac. Something is twitching. Is it a sign of something dangerous? Her face aches with tomatoes. She must be allergic to vitamin C, in fact she is sure of it. She can feel her blood pressure go up, so she will check it every 5 minutes until eventually it does. Her blood pressure is too low, she feels sick. She has this pain, but doesnt want to take tablets. Who knows what the side effects will do to her? We have been there for countless trips to the emergency room via ambulance, only to be sent home soon after as all is fine. I humoured all this, not only because of my commitment to the relationship, but being in the medical profession I was kind of used to dealing with strange and unreasonable people. I had developed a patience with them at work and this transcended easily over to my relationship with my mother in law. So we were doing fairly well, until the children came.
With the children came a loss of boundaries. I remember the extreme pain of trying to hobble over into the bedroom with the baby in one hand and breast pump in the other, barely clothed (what was the point?) and the episiotomy and high vaginal tear still very much fresh. My mother and father in law had decided to come by unannounced and were at the front door of our small apartment. Of course they wanted to see the little munchkin. Had he gained any weight? Was I breastfeeding? Were my breasts making enough? It was very important he was breastfed. My husband was breastfed until he was two, my father in law touted proudly. I excused myself, scrambling to hide the formula and baby bottles drying near the sink. Why was he crying now? Had he been changed? Maybe he was hungry. Had I fed him? At this point my mother in law would take it upon herself to soothe the crying baby. My rocking wasn’t good enough. I was failing at mothering already. She had more experience with rocking babies. She would be able to fix it, of course.
This only got worse over time. At outings I was instructed to give my son some more chicken, more bread perhaps, the orders from across the table never stopped. He never seemed to have enough food to her satisfaction. She never trusted me to know how much my child should be eating. Of course he didn’t sleep through the night, he was cold and he needed more layers on! (she’d never heard of SIDS). When I went back to work the pity she expressed for my son when he started daycare would make you believe I was sending him to an orphanage to be raised by drug lords. It wasn’t only parenting that my mother in law second guessed me. Here I was managing a delivery suite by day, and then having to convince my mother in law that I have enough medical knowledge to know this rash my son has is not worrying. He does not need to see a doctor as I, his mother and a doctor myself, am not worried. All of this preyed on my insecurities as a new mother. I was a doctor first, and I loved it. My time and attention was divided. This could not work any other way. Would it be enough for my son? It would have to be. Perhaps her words and actions were not as bad as the feelings of incompetence and loss of autonomy they elicited in me.
With the second baby came more of the same, but I was better equipped. No she isn’t breastfed, it just didn’t work for us. But I am happy to report she is fed, Sorry, I can’t let you in. I just got out of the shower and am not yet clothed. I will not be opening the front door naked. If you had called before coming I would have told you. They have had enough to eat, thank you. In my assertive and often uncomfortably direct responses to her behavior, I have resigned myself to a relationship with my mother in law that is nothing short of frenemies.
En322 is a OBGYN in London who has been a silent follower of MiM for years. She has two children who are 8 and 2.