A Fresh Perspective on In-Laws and Control

iStock_000016927429XSmall“Mom, why do you hate my grandmother?” I was only 6 years old when I asked that question but I’ll never forget the horrified look on my mom’s face.  Clearly taken off guard she responded, “Oh Honey, I don’t hate your grandmother.”  My mom was not an unkind person.  But my grandmother drove her nuts and apparently my mom was unaware of the fact that we all knew it. My grandmother was every grandkid’s ideal. When she came to town the party began. She taught us how to play cards and would stay up long after my parents went to bed playing with us. She laughed a lot and knew how to engage us in conversation. On occasion she would take us to her house to spend the weekend with her. Our first stop would be the grocery store. She let us chose the food we would eat for the next two days. You can imagine what kind of junk ended up in the cart! Yep, it was every kid’s dream and every mother’s nightmare.

As an adult, I can understand why my mother was frustrated with her mother in-law.  When my grandmother walked into the house she took charge. She was a big presence and as hard as my mother tried to gain control, it was a losing battle.  I’ll never forget that Christmas morning. I had been asking for a Barbie Doll for weeks. My mother thought Barbie was a less than healthy image of womanhood for a little girl.  So on Christmas morning I got a Tammy doll from Santa. Tammy had a much more wholesome look about her but she did come with cute clothes. I was actually pretty satisfied with my gift and began to dress my new doll in her tasteful yet modest outfits.  Later that day when my Grandmother arrived she handed me my gift. I opened it up and to my great surprise and delight; it was the sleaziest looking Barbie Doll they made! I shot a glance at my mom just in time to see her eyes roll back in her head. Defeated again!

Even though my mother had some pretty good reasons to struggle with her mother in law, she made a decision to never again communicate negatively about my grandmother. In fact, she went out of her way to encourage my relationship with her.  At the time, she had no idea just how significant that decision would be and the profound impact it would have on me. Within weeks of that encounter my mother discovered she had breast cancer. She was in and out of hospitals as doctors attempted to stem the tide of the progression of the disease.  I remember the last day my mother spent at home. I was in sixth grade and I was going to summer school. I went in to my mom’s room to say goodbye, but she didn’t answer me. Her eyes were opened but there was no connection.  My mom lost her battle that day. I was only eleven years old when she died. There is such a profound sense of abandonment and feeling of being alone when a child loses a parent.  It was my grandmother who was there for me. She was the woman in my life whom I knew loved me. She was the one who did not leave me. She was the one I needed.  I will forever be grateful to my mother for encouraging the relationship with my grandmother rather than putting her own likes, dislikes and opinions first. Kids need a community of people to love and care for them.  My mom is my hero in many ways but one of the reasons is the choice she made concerning my grandmother. My grandmother is also one of my hero’s but I doubt that my two heros would ever have been best friends.  One thing they did share in common however, was their love for me.

Observation: It’s hard to watch a grandparent break the rules with our kids. It feels disrespectful. The old saying, “Choose wisely the hill you are willing to die on” is a pretty good standard of measure. Some people die on anthills. Try to view the issues that hurt from a global view. Don’t die on anthills.

Reflection: Life goes by so very fast. My mother-in-law died in August.  I miss her too.

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One Response

  1. In the blogs following her introduction, I can see myself, the mistakes I’ve made both as a daughter in law and as a mother in law so I can really appreciate Liz’s words.

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