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If men are from Mars and women from Venus, where does that leave the mother in law? Is she perhaps the third sex that no one acknowledges except in the most negative way? Mother’s Day is coming up. That leaves Mothers in law and the LGBTI community out of the equation. 

Two men were in a pub. One says to his mate, “My mother in law is an angel.” His friend replies, “You’re lucky. Mine is still alive.”

Sometimes I think the mother-in-law is seen not so much from Venus but something in-betweenus: a butterfly, before her child’s last ‘I do’ turns her into a slug; a totally unrecognisable version of her previous self.

The first MIL must have been Eve. Poor Eve. You would have thought that being a by-product of Adam’s rib and an afterthought was enough of a burden to carry through life. Being stuck with the dubious honour of first MIL must have crushed her. She must have found the MIL role confusing, particularly as she had no comparisons to make or anyone else to confer with. One minute she was a beloved matriarch, handing out the wisdom gathered from life experience, hindsight and insight, the next, she’s finding herself a second class citizen. 

If a MIL has anything to pass on to her daughters-in-law it’s that, ‘nah, nah,’ they should prepare for the time, twenty or thirty years hence when they would find themselves bursting out of that cocoon.

Lucky father in law. His happy future is assured. MIL’s counterpart gets a free pass. His job consists solely of sitting in the corner of a sunny garden reading a newspaper. Father in law, FIL, lifts his head up now and again, takes a sip of lemonade previously handed to him by a doting grandchild or DIL. He smiles at the good life and the world in general. FIL has mutated from loved father into treasured father-in-law without breaking into a sweat. As long as he keeps to that sphere and doesn’t catch the eye of the Sisterhood he’s safe. 

We believe that mother knows best; we tell it to her time and again in cards with roses on them and sing sentimental songs to her all year round. She is the expert on toilet training and scraped knees, broken promises and broken hearts, a well-regarded lfigure who has dedicated decades of her time and energy to her children. One day soon a light bulb will go off above someone’s head and political correctness will catch up. Women who don’t criticise other women because they are women may catch on to the extraordinary concept of mothers-in-law belonging to the same sex.

I believe that we are a selectively politically correct society. We won’t criticise women or girls; even constructive criticism is forbidden, but mothers in law are fair game. What to do about MILs isn’t in the ragbag of ideas that the sisterhood dips into.

To be fair, it’s hard going on both the MIL and the DIL at first. A shock to the system and sometimes a power struggle, which is why FILs don’t get it in the neck the way MILs do. No one’s ever taken notice of FILs, so they have lost nothing.

Can I just say that this story was not born of my personal need to unburden myself. I get along just fine with my DIL and she with me. I hardly got a chance to know my MIL who died soon after I was married (no I had nothing to do with it). My DIL and I will be forever linked by her children / my grandchildren, her partner / my child. I understand that if a relationship is going to succeed it needs constant care and upkeep and the MIL / FIL relationship should not be any different

20 thoughts on “Mothers in law aren’t from Venus

  1. In an earlier life Mary, I had a MIL who was a fine person. In later life, I had an unofficial MIL who wasn’t keen on me but I liked her. Does that fit it anywhere here?

  2. My mum-in-law is wonderful and supportive of my marriage. During lockdown in the UK she keeps sending us food care hampers. First we had the expensive chocolates from Hotel Chocolat, next came an artisanal cheese hamper, then organic collection of Italian pasta and other ingredients including a truffle sauce. All she has ever wanted is for her daughter to be happy and so we are on the same page. A mother-in-law is such a key figure in the structure of a family, if she chooses she can be the bedrock of its success. 🙂

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