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September 14, 2011


Margaret Maron



<<Mack Sennett:  A mother never gets hit with a custard pie.  Mothers-in-law, yes.  But mothers? Never.">>             

 Mack Sennett was right.  Mothers are sacred. The second Sunday in May honors them. Songs are written about them. 


Mothers-in-law, on the other hand,  are automatically the butt of jokes and deserving of a pie in the face. Why?

My husband loved and pampered my mother and I adored his.  She was funny, loving, supportive, and although at times bewildered by some of the things I did and said, she almost never showed disapproval.  And when she did, I fully deserved it.  Her formal education ended with the 8th grade, but she taught me how to play Scrabble and then wiped the floor with me. She showed me how to cook the Yankee foods her son missed when he married me, taught me how to budget our money, diaper a baby, and bring down a baby's fever. When I became a stay-at-h0me-mom, she quickly disabused me of the idea that it was "his" money.  "You're working just as hard.  His salary is just as much yours as his."

She ironed socks, dishtowels and underwear, but admitted that was her hangup and nothing I needed to do. She was a meticulous housekeeper, but tactful as hell when it came to my house.  Even though she lived on the next block, she dropped in only once without calling and was so shocked by the clutter that she always gave me at least a half-hour warning after that.

Images-1 <<Mark Twain:  “Adam was the luckiest man in the world.He had no mother-in-law.”>>

 Even though my mother-in-law was the yardstick by which others should be judged, I have heard enough from my friends to know how lucky I was.

 <<Juvenal:  "One cannot be happy while one's mother-in-law still lives.">> 

 When a good friend’s fiancé told his mother that he was going to marry a shiksa, she said, “Fine.  I’ll be out in the kitchen with my head in the oven.”  She did everything possible to prevent the marriage and then spent the next 30 years trying to undermine it.  She said such hateful things to her son, to my friend, and to her own grandchildren that I couldn’t understand why they continued to let such a toxic woman in their lives.  Now in a nursing home with deepening Alzheimer’s, her face lights up when this previously-despised daughter-in-law enters her room.  She grasps my friend’s hand and says, “We’ve always loved each other, haven’t we, dear?”  My friend says, “I could weep that she never showed us this gentler side when it would have made such a difference.”

<<A man sends his mother-in-law to a seaside resort for a month to get her out of his hair.  Two days after she gets there, he receives a tweet from the resort manager:  “Regret to say your M-i-L drowned and washed ashore covered in blue crabs.  What shall we do?”     To which the man tweeted back: “Ship the crabs and set ′er again.”>>

Treasure_and_dragon Another friend, I’ll call her S., married into a rather wealthy family. His father was in the diplomatic corps and he was decent enough, but the mother made it quite clear that her son had married “down,” and she loved to give formal dinner parties in the hopes that S. wouldn’t know which fork to use, nor how to eat squabs or meringues. She had bursts of calculated generosity, followed by bursts of stinginess and she was a notorious for giving someone an expensive gift and then declaring later that it was only a loan.  S. learned the hard way.  The dragon lady gave her a pair of lavish brocade drapes when she redecorated the embassy, then asked for their return a year later:  “I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed them, dear, and the room looks lovely decorated around them, but I need them back now.”

She decided that S. needed an “important” piece of jewelry and, upon the birth of her first Images-9 grandchild, gave S. a wide gold cuff encrusted with high-value gemstones.  “It was really garish,” S. said, “but I wore it to parties in an attempt to please her.”  A year or two later, when her  m-i-l asked for the return of “that bracelet I lent you,” S. said, “Certainly,” and went straight to her jewelry box and gave it back.  “Of course, I had taken the bracelet to a jeweler as soon as she gave it to me and had the stones replaced with imitations. After the divorce, my daughter and I lived on the proceeds of that bracelet for two years till I could get back on my feet.”

<<Joan Rivers: “I told my mother-in-law that my house was her house, and she said, ‘Get the hell off my property.’”>>

Another friend’s m-i-l has taken just the opposite tack.  She thinks that her son married “up” and sneers that nothing she has or does is good enough for her d-i-l, who couldn’t care less about such things.

So what about you?  Did you luck into a lovely mother-in-law like mine or was she someone who could give the dragon lady a run for her money?


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I reckon I've been lucky. My first wife's mom had been dead 15 years when we met and my current (and final) wife's mom, while not a bad sort, was cut loose by my wife along with the rest of her family. It saves us a bundle on Xmas and birthday gifts.

My mom and my wife get along fine, probably because they don't see each other very often.

A friend of mine had one of those mothers determined to break up his marriage. After the first month, he and his wife told her that if she didn't change, they would stop speaking to her. She didn't change, so they told her to piss off. It wasn't until 10 years later when they had her first grandchild that she apologized and they let her back into their lives.

I had a great MIL, she was a German immigrant and figured out pretty quick that real german food wasn't for me, when we went for dinner she did the german spread for everyone else and gave me yummy leftovers of the non german variety. (Lets just say that rouladin and red cabbage, not for me.)
On our first anniversary she took me aside and told me she was way too young to be a grandmother, I told her not to worry about it. Since her son and I didn't make our second anniversary, I was very happy I was stringent about birth control!
She was in an unhappy marriage and 3 months after I left her son, she left my FIL after 25 years. I was shocked but very happy for her.

Margaret, I was so lucky to have my mother-in-law. She was an old-line feminist liberal, and she taught me through our many lengthy and brilliant conversations what that meant to her.

Her children called her by her first name as did her grandchildren. She saw them as competent individuals, as she helped them see her. She fully believed that children were better off being raised by others, something I did not understand until I saw how her relationships developed with the children in the family.

She also held that boarding schools were the only way to prepare children for life. I am fairly certain this is cultural, but it's a value I'd only had very minimal exposure to in my own family. For me boarding school was a place to send troublesome me when my parents were inappropriate. Those values were the most difficult aspect of our relationship. But in the end it worked out very well, as I came to understand her values in context.

She was brilliant. She was open-minded. She had a career in what was considered until recently a "man's profession. It still is short on women but is at least accessible now. When the men came home from WWII she had to give up her job as a physics professor, so a man could have it. She went back to graduate school and earned a degree in engineering, then another to make her skills more marketable. She didn't need to work, but she loved it, and she was determined to do it.

Once when we had one of our heart-to-hearts, I told her about my most intimate relationships. In kind of a panic, right when I realised who it was that I had just opened up to, she said, "Yes. I prefer the company of women. That's why I go everywhere with ______." I mean really, she was a hugely cool woman.

Geez, are the trolls' mothers-in-law coming out from under the bridge today?

My first mother-in-law was a stone total bitch. And her son was a mama's boy.

Last MIL was great but I think we got along well simply because she lived in the Netherlands and we live in South Carolina. She didn't speak English and I still don't speak Dutch. But she was never less than gracious to me even though she was very sad to have her first-born (and favorite) child move so far away.

My first MIL was much nicer to me after her son and I divorced. I guess she finally realized her wasn't the golden boy she'd thought (for instance, when I was pregnant with my second baby and my then-husband decided to have an affair, she asked me if the other woman was really pretty. I was pretty taken aback but mentioned that while he must think so I thought she had a really fat butt.).

My current and final MIL is a dream. She embraced my sons and my without reservation. When my husband and I went to tell her we were getting married, after hugging me, she exclaimed, "I have two new grandsons!". I love her dearly.

I love my mother-in-law, even though we don't always see eye to eye. Truth be told I probably like her better than my mother in lots of ways! (Although I don't tell either one that).
My mother-in-law CAN be blunt, but she never means to be unkind and I appreciate honesty after living with my mother who wants you to guess what she's thinking and then sulks and pouts when you don't guess correctly. My mother-in-law also sees her children as adults and appreciates them for being capable individuals. My mother on the other hand would be happy if I still needed her for everything right down to the laundry and making sure I knew when to "go". (I wish I was kidding)
In short, love my mother-in-law. My father-in-law on the other hand. . . least said the better.

Judy, how dear of her to know she could love your sons from the very beginning.

Doc, sounds like you got the short end of the MiL stick.

What an extraordinary one you had, Reine!

Gaylin, sounds as if your MiL learned from you.

I think these comments are "bots." I had a few on my post yesterday. Basically, they lift a paragraph from the post or one of the comments, submit that and then link to their sites. DON'T CLICK ON. We'll remove them.

Might be time for TLC to add another level of security to posting. Sigh.

Reine, it seems to me that Step married someone very much like his own mom! No wonder you got along well.

I've had three mothers-in-law, and three fathers-in-law, since my first husband's parents had divorced and each remarried when he was still in high school. I loved them all to pieces, all six of them, and kept in touch with hubby #1's parents for many years after our divorce. My last father-in-law was very, very dear to me, and was my "dad" figure for 7 years longer than I had my own father, who died when I was 17. FIL was really touched when I told him that, around the time we'd been married 23 years or so.

My last mother-in-law and I did not see eye to eye for quite a while, mostly because she didn't approve of my previous marriage, divorce, motherhood (although she treated my daughter just like her own grandchildren), and because I was, horror of horrors, Catholic. It wasn't until after her death that I realized my father-in-law grew up Catholic, too! She also brought up my husband's first wife constantly, even though she hadn't especially liked her, either, and I finally asked Steve to please ask his mother to quit it. It was hard enough being with a widower, without her adding to it. She did stop, and never brought her up again.

After our second (my third) child, Edna and I got much closer, and realized we had an enormous amount of common interests. I learned a lot about cooking, especially, from her, and about the importance of keeping girlfriends for life. She had so many very close friends, many of whom asked her to be the executor of their wills, since she was utterly brilliant with finances. I was very grateful we had come to that level of friendship since she had a stroke and was never the same for the five years left to her.

Now I'm a mother-in-law myself, and I try to keep my nose out of my children's business, and make our home a pleasant place for them to visit. My oldest daughter's mother-in-law is a trial to her, and I try to do the opposite of everything she does. My youngest daughter is getting married in a few weeks, but she doesn't live nearby and it's been much more difficult getting to know her fiance. But he makes my daughter the happiest I've ever seen her, so that makes him a good guy in my book. I intend to proceed accordingly.

I deleted the 'bot comments. Annoying, huh?

My husband is the kindest, gentlest man I know, but I believe he was essentially raised by his grandmother. My m-i-l set a tone for things to come at our wedding when she made an extremely rude remark to her ex (my husband's father) in front of my aunts. Who were Formidable Women. They invited him to their table at the reception, and for the next 30 years asked very kindly after him. But not about her. Which in my gene pool is as good as a pie in the face.

Margaret, the story of S: what a horror that old bat was! Good for S, for forward thinking on that one.

I love your aunts, Nancy!

I've never married (some of the anecdotes listed above make me newly grateful for that) but I just had to mention Edgar Allan Poe's "To My Mother." So far as I know, it's the only poem anyone ever wrote to their MIL...

I've had, ahem, several..but Jonathan's mom was SO hilarious.

When we first met--she was, 89 I think? She took one look at me and said:

"My, you're a big one, aren't you?"

Geez, Hank, were Jonathan's other lady friends midgets, or anorexic, or something? What a thing to say.

You're a good sport, for thinking that was funny. :-)

I regret that this is a public forum.

This was me, being diplomatic. I may have actually chipped a tooth.

My mother-in-law was Italian, and very determined on certain things. We had some rough years, but she and my Dublin-born mother, despite the "Olive Oil/Butter Wars" got along great, and in the end, I loved my mother in law very much, and she loved me. Now I'm a mother-in-law and I adore my Ukaine-born daughter-in-law, and I feel that we're becoming a little United Nations within ourselves. I try to be a good mother-in-law. My son is the only one I say goodbye to and feel okay--he has her!

Kathy, could you send out a mass email, or something? I'd give much to hear what you have to say, and how you say it. ;)

My first mother-in-law had lost her husband when her son was 6, never re-married, and he was her only child. He also had an aunt (his mother's sister) who had no children. Thus he was raised to believe he was the center of the universe. Enough said. His mother did not realize when he married, that meant she wasn't supposed to come into our home when nobody was there, call him constantly to come do something, etc. etc.

My second, current, and last mother-in-law is wonderful. The thing that makes her happiest in the world is to have her children, grand-children, and great-grandchildren around her (and she doesn't live near any of them), and that they are happy. She is very warm and loving, and accepts my daughter as one of her own. She's 92 (yesterday), and still going strong.

I've noticed a theme here - it seems like many of us who had awful first marriages, also had awful Mothers-in-law. Once we found the right guy, we get the good MIL too. ;)

I grew to love my MIL dearly. She had a 3rd grade education but read constantly (and yes - she believed what the National Enquirer had to say). :) One of my hubby's earliest memories is her reading him books as a child. She also read to my daughter. She LOVED babies and young children but I'm not sure there was any child she loved as much as my daughter from the moment she was born. I think it was a combination of where she was in her life when my daughter was born. Once children became teenagers, she was at a loss at times. She LOVED her children fiercely and didn't always say the appropriate things but she was a strong and beautiful woman who married at a very young age to a man who became a disappointment. It was hard to be around them at times but then you realized - they had their own kind of relationship. When we were first married (we were very young also), she told my husband if he got real unhappy, he could always come home. I asked, "what if I get unhappy?" - she said, you can come home too - and I mean here. I stuck my tongue out to my husband and said - "so there"! She was disappointed when my young husband showed the irresponsible tendencies of his DAD and came to love me dearly when I dealt with it. She LOVED my children as if they were her own and craved all of our presence anytime we could make time to be with her. She didn't always agree with me but learned to respect me and I loved her dearly. She didn't know any of us by the time she died but we knew her. I've always been so grateful I was with her as she gently slid into her last sleep.

My MIL, Betty, was from Tallahassee and had all the southern upbringing and charm the teeth off a snake manners to go with that. She and my hubby's dad were divorced and both had remarried so I also got a step MIL too.
They were as different as night and day. My husband's mom had married wealthy and lived in a huge house in the Gables on the waterway across from Doctor's hospital. My step lived in a modest house in Miami Springs like my parents and worked at the airlines. I discovered after the first holiday that it was going to be a challenge to schedule all the dinners.
We went to all the fancy hoity toity restaurants in the Gables with Betty while Marilyn cooked for 20 at home. My folks were usually just breakfast.
Everybody loved me but I came to realize it was because I was taking care of my husband and they were off the hook so to speak. I also produced the grandson so I got points for that.
Anyway, Betty had extremely expensive everything at her house. I mean giant Ming vases worth tons. Everything had numbers on the bottom and was photographed and in the vault for insurance purposes. Imagine bringing the baby over for a visit.
She had a staircase up to the living room dining room area with a banister at the top with vases on it. One day I accidentally knocked one off while child proofing my son's seat at the table. (plastic under the chair...towels on the chair under the baby seat...giant plastic cutting board under his place mat)What an oh no moment as I heard it hit and break and tumble down the stairs.
She looked at the I'm so sorry face on me and said in her sweetest southern voice "Well if there was one vase to break that was the one".

My mother-in-law is wonderful. She raised 8 children while working as an RN, at least part-time, the whole time. So she is strong and independent and raised her kids to be, also. I have noticed that all 7 of her sons were drawn to strong women as well. That made for some contentious moments among the daughters-in-law over the years, but as divorce changed our ranks a few times, we all came to cherish each other as survivors! The only standard my MIL ever had for her daughters in law was that "she makes him very happy." A wise woman indeed.

I also wanted to mention what I observed in the generation before. My mother was a WWII bride who came North to Ohio from Louisiana and stayed with her sight-unseen MIL while my dad served out his hitch in Europe. My dad had no sisters, and by the time he got home from the war my mom had his mom wrapped around her little finger. For my whole life, it seemed like my paternal grandmother loved my mom more than her own son!

One of the blessings/curses of beginning a relationship in the autumn of life, MIL's have gone on to their rewards. And as we haven't produced any offspring before (or since) getting together, we will not be inflicting ourselves on unsuspecting young people.

For the most part, I like my MIL. It would be better if she realized my children are MY CHILDREN not hers and if she could read a clock, (Princess One's 4:30 pm birthday party at her house had food at 6:45) but it is ok.

Much better than my cousin in laws. One day we drove past "cuz's" house. He was outside talking to a girl in a car. It was his wife. We stopped to say hello. "Why are you out here?"

"Oh, I have never been allowed in her house." That about covered it.

My MIL was so sweet that when I divorced her son, and even when he remarried and was no longer "allowed" to be in touch with me, we stayed friends. She raised three good sons, and said she knew her sons would bring her daughters . . .

I just wrote a long post, but then I thought of some words of Ramona and Holly, and deleted it.

My former MIL was pretty great, but she really failed me when I needed her the most, and that is what I will remember about her.

I've heard of biting one's tongue, Kathy, but to bite so hard that you chipped a tooth. There must be quite a story there.

Xena, your MIL sounds as if she keeps everything in perspective.

Heather, can I be part of the Southern branch?

Tricia, your MIL sounds so like mine.

I think you're on to something, Laura: good MIL does often equal good husband.

Your mother sounds like a very wise woman, Susan.

Holly, you would make a great MIL: independent, outside interests, I doubt you'd be meddling in her life.

O Alan, your poor cousin!

Oh, the stories I can tell.

Dear Hubby has been very lucky. My mother, actually the entire family-aunts uncles grandparents on both sides, embraced him and my stepdaughter from the beginning. The only thing he had to complain about was my mother calling on Christmas morning at 8am asking where we were. His reply of having sex put a stop to those phone calls. I was the first (and only) of my siblings to get married and she had a hard time learning boundries, lol.

My father's mother was forced to quit school at the age of 9 and take the streetcar into St. Louis to clean houses for the wealthy families. Her father took the money and she learned to hide any raises she got to buy clothes. Grandma told my dad and mom that they were not to bring us kids around expecting them to babysit all of the time. So we only were there for family gatherings/holidays. When my aunt (the favorite) and my younger uncle (the baby and close second favorite) had children, they were there all of the time. My grandfather finally insisted that we be included and we started to spend more time with them. Nothing my dad did ever pleased her, his own mother. Mom was kinda ignored.

My mom's mother was a saint. She accepted my dad as one of her children. She put up with a husband who ran around on her and had one (that we knew about) illegitimate son. She raised my cousin and worked her buns off making sure my grandfather didn't spend all of their money so she could give extra to my uncle (who was only 8 years older than me) when he was in college. My dad adored her...as did Dear Hubby.

My first MIL was great. Of course, I didn't realize it at the time and didn't appreciate her as much as I should have. My ex's parents had known me since I was a teenager and even after the divorce still included me and my now husband in family functions. I'm still good friends with my ex SILs and get together with them often. It doesn't hurt that they all live within a mile of me.

My current outlaws are a the laziest people I have ever met. For a long time, they expected us to help them out financially but I finally put my foot down on that and told them to get jobs. All four of my husband's siblings still live with their parents and they are in their 40s! None of them work either. It's not just the siblings, it's the grandchildren living there too. A few years ago, when my mother died I asked my husband if he knew what his parents wishes were for when they died. My husband is the worst communicator sometimes. He goes to his parents and says Bev wants to know what happens when you die. Talk about screaming phone calls about how I was a gold digger. I was like, they have something I want? Needless to say we have little to do with them. I tell my husband he can go visit them anytime he wants but I'm not going. He doesn't go either.

Here's a Miss Manners moment for all of us with second (and subsequent) marriages: Did you know your in-laws are in-laws for life, even if you get divorced or are widowed?

Oy. After 25 years, we've reached an understanding - she doesn't care for me any more than I care for her. It's supposed to be fine for her to speak her mind and hurt my feelings, but is righteously insulted when I don't just sit quietly and take it. as if. Actually, I can let most tacky things she says to me just go over my head and just look at her and laugh (ooooh, she hates that), but when she hurts Donald's feelings I skip the "pretend nice" and zoom quickly to nasty and do not back off.
Odd and sweet is the relationship between my mom and Donald. She forgets, I think, that she didn't give birth to him. She loves him boundlessly just as he does her in return.

Karen, my ex's mother doesn't talk to me, or my daughter. Of course, her son doesn't talk to his daughter either.

I still love my former mother-in-law and always will. And I still call her "ma" because it's so strange to return to a formal first name after a decade of "ma" . . . but it's also a little tricky and more poignant than when we were all one big happy family. But there is no one like her, and she became part of my life when my own mom died, and I can't quite ever give her up.

I love my MIL, but it's only grown to where she's almost a mother figure to me (My Mom passed away almost 10 years ago.) in the past few years when she's realized that she met her match when it came to willfulness. Now to just figure out how to get her to back of the "family must be together for every. single. holiday. I'm talking Fourth of July and Labor Day, too! WTHeck?

When I started going out with guys I had an impression that very often their moms liked me more than their sons did what was making out of me a perfect daugther-in-law. With years things had certainly changed. I became more independent in my judgment and quite blunt from time to time. Not sure these mothers would have liked that. But sometimes MIL need someone blunt, don't they?

I had a lot of respect for my mil and we got along fine. Not bosom buddies, but okay. I was way down the food chain from them, and I always thought that they covered their disappointment well and with dignity. :) Really. What mattered to me was that they adored my son and were sweet to him.

My 2nd ex-MIL is a lovely woman who still keeps in touch with me 15 years post divorce. While we had our problems, she gave it a darn good try and I won't fault her for any lapses.

I learned from my paternal grandmother exactly how awful a MIL could be. She hated my mother for as long as she knew her. No matter what Mom did, it was the wrong thing or done with only spite in mind. When my father died my grandmother actually looked at my mom and said "He was a good boy. He was a good boy until you got hold of him." What a waste of spirit.

Omigosh, Amy, that describes my paternal grandmother to a "T"! She had a fat lot of nerve looking down on my mother, too. She was the worst kind of harridan, gossiping about everyone as she sat around in her hairnet with her glass of beer, then sanctimoniously going to church on Sunday. And my dad was an alcoholic before he even met my mother.

That particular grandmother was the polar opposite of my mom's mom, who was a perfect lady, and who treated each and every member of her enormous family with equal love and respect. I like to think I emulate her, rather than my dad's crazy-ass mother.

I have a wonderful mother-in-law. In fact, when her son and I split up I "kept" her in the divorce. She has always quietly supported me and stood by me through a lot of tough times. She is still a big part of my life 11 years later and I still call her mom.

Nancy and Kaye, I can't imagine any MIL not taking you to their hearts.

And I know Roseann's MIL, (she's my SIL) and she inherited many of MIL's qualities.

Karen, what a family you've had!

Amy, Harley, and Brandy -- glad y'all's are all keepers!

Karen, you are much too kind. I think Step's marrying me had a lot more to do with understanding and tolerance. But thank you.

Nancy M, I love the "Formidable Women" of your family. In my family they are called "The Aunts." And Auntie-Mom, although the youngest, is Chief Aunt.

My mother adored my husband. My mother-in-law wished for a daughter with every one of her three boys and as the wife of the oldest son I became her first daughter. They are both gone now - we've been married 44 years - but everyone always said that if Jim and Jayna ever broke up, they'd go home to Mother - she'd go to his and he'd go to hers!

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