Whenever two people decide to get married, the blending of two families can create conflict. And throwing kids into that mix can create even more chaos. My tension with my new family came just after my first child was born. Through my blinding baby bliss, I hadn't even thought about what having a child would do to my relationship with my mother-in-law. It never even occurred to me that it would change our dynamic, but it did.
My husband's mom and I had always gotten along when we first got married, and we had our own lovely and special times together (she even helped us move into our first place). And the birth of my daughter was a joyous time for everyone, but strange and new territorial behavior came out of my husband and I, and, yes, my mother-in-law, too. I hadn't imagined in my wildest dreams that fights over my daughter's clothing choices, the planning of her first birthday party, and even her first day of kindergarten would happen between us. But they did. Oh, they did. At one point, I had even become paranoid that she felt I was not a good and fit mother. She was always coming around, telling me how she did things, and snubbing any attempt at parenting that was different than hers. I felt defeated, disrespected, and angry.
She was always coming around, telling me how she did things, and snubbing any attempt at parenting that was different than hers.
All of this also caused tension between my husband and me. I had assumed that she was trying to play "mommy" all over again with my child, but I wasn't having any of it. She tried to assert her parenting style into my home, which even leaked into other aspects of my life, like the way our home was decorated. I felt smothered and criticized when she was around, and it took everything I had not to say something. Instead of taking my frustrations out on my mother-in-law, I would turn to my husband, often getting into huge, blowout fights with him about how to handle it all.
When my daughter turned 3, I got pregnant again, and I pushed myself to keep my relationship with my mother-in-law civil and respectful, much like the one we used to have. I agreed to get coffee with her, just us, and after spending some quality time with her, I finally realized the cause of the tension. She was alone. She had two adult kids that didn't live near her and no partner to share her life with. Because I was a new wife and mother, I never even thought to look at things from her perspective. Hearing her say how much she missed her old life with her kids made me think about my future. How will I feel when my kids move out? How will I feel when they don't ask for my opinion because someone else's matters more? How will I feel when they don't need me anymore? I couldn't imagine not waking up and seeing them with messy hair, crawling into my bed.
After that day, I made a conscious effort to pull back my mama bear reins and let her have more of the role she so desperately wanted with my kids. I let her make them lunch, take them shopping, and help with homework. And I also listened to her advice. I was so angry for so long that I hadn't been able to really hear her and appreciate everything she had to say. She's been through this whole parenting thing before, and even her opinions that I don't agree with can teach me something.
I had spent years not realizing how much she needed my kids and how much I had come to need her. No matter how different our parenting styles may be, having experienced family around gives me perspectives I would never choose to think of. And even when my mother-in-law and I get into another fight (because I'm sure we will), at least I'll know that I have all the love and support I could possibly want.