Last night, I watched Monster-in-Law, where Jane Fonda plays the mother of a young man who falls in love and marries a lovely girl. Mama Jane is determined not to be replaced as the most important woman in her son’s life and proceeds to hilariously undermine their relationship at every possible turn. It all works out in the end, but I couldn’t help laughing over the lengths Mom went to ensure she wasn’t going to become invisible or unnecessary.
The immense popularity of this comedy tells me that many mothers of sons identified with Ms. Fonda’s predicament. The saying “A daughter is a daughter all of her life, but a son is a son until he takes a wife” can set Moms up for extreme emotional adjustments that must be made in the blink of an eye. We’ve watched, prodded, helicopter parented, loved, and fiercely protected our boy for 2+ decades, and now we’re just “Mom” on his iPhone speed dial.
From Jane Fonda in Monster-in-Law to Marie in Everybody Loves Raymond, MILs have taken a big hit. There are entire comedy shticks on TV and in nightclubs about the horrible mother-in-law who tries to ruin her son’s marriage. But it’s not that we’re trying to ruin it. We just want to feel part of it.
Thankfully, there comes a time when we ultimately realize that the best way to stay in our beloved son’s life is to keep the DIL happy. You love him, but he loves her. Happiness and a Welcome mat by their front door is best achieved by trying to avoid these conversational landmines during your next outing with your DIL:
1. “When are you two going to give me a grandbaby?” Even if you can un-see the disturbing visual this conversation immediately evokes of your son and his wife doing the skippy every night “trying to make a baby,” this is, quite frankly, none of your business. And constant reminders from you that “you’re not getting any younger” will never put more yippy in their skippy.
2. “You’re going to name the baby what?” Yeah, just what they need. A butt-hurt phone call from you, demanding to know why you’re naming Baby Girl after her grandmother, the one who “never even comes to visit.”
3. “Why is the TV in front of that window? You should move it over there. And black towels in the bathroom??” Back off, Mom. This isn’t your house, and if you ever want to be invited back, the only response to her floor plans, decorating styles, or color schemes should be “I love it.”
4. “Why do you have to live next door to your parents? We never get to see you, but they see you every day.” Stop whining. There could be a dozen practical reasons why they live where they do, and it doesn’t have anything to do with whose parents they like more. Don’t make this a competition with her parents. You’ll lose.
5. “I saw a wonderful book on Cooking Basics that I think you could use. I ordered it for you.” As a general rule, self-improvement books aimed at your DIL are a bad idea. Bad. Whether you think she’s not a good cook, she needs to lose weight, or she doesn’t have a grasp on parenting, this will not end well. Even the most devoted mama’s boy will dump his mother like a hot biscuit if she starts criticizing his wife.
6. “It’s just my opinion, but I think you should…” Whatever is coming next, Stop. Talking. Everyone knows that that sentence is a preamble to something she’s doing wrong. A compliment never begins with “It’s just my opinion.” And “I think you should…” is passive-controlling. Double fail.
7. “Why does little Sally do that??” Watching your granddaughter repeatedly bang her spoon on the table while she eats, and looking confused or irritated while you question DIL about why she “lets” her daughter misbehave is likely to get you ejected from the kitchen. Kids do that. Yours did too.
8. “How can you let Billy eat that stuff? When my son was little, I never gave him sugar.” Well, good for you. But Billy isn’t your son. He’s hers. Unless she’s feeding him a steady stream of Ding Dongs and Red Bull, Billy will grow up just fine.
9. “I know you told me not to let Suzie stay up until 11, but I figured it would be okay because she was with Grandma.” If DIL told you not to do something, don’t. Respect the boundaries that your son and DIL have set, or your visits with the little darlings may start being supervised by one of the parents.
10. “You two shouldn’t be spending your money on tattoos. You have other bills to pay.” How do you know what they have to spend? Unless you’re their bookkeeper or they asked for your advice, their spending habits are none of your business. Even today, could your checkbook register withstand critiquing from your parents?
11. “In my day, we controlled our kids. Our parents spanked us, so we learned right from wrong.” Advising a young mother to whack her kids every time they act out is archaic and unhelpful. If you really want to score points (and you’re such an expert), take the kids for the afternoon and send DIL to the day spa for some quiet time.
12. “Your house could use a good cleaning. I’ve got some great products I’ll bring over.” So she’s either lazy and doesn’t care, or she’s inept and doesn’t know how to clean. That little jab will be rehashed with her husband at dinner for three hours, until he calls, asking why you made his wife cry.
13. “My son would never have said that if you hadn’t provoked him.” Get real, Mom. Some days, even your wonderful, talented, smart boy can be a total jackass. It happens. And blaming every tiff on her can quickly become the two of them angry with you. You’re right, It’s not fair. But who ever said love is?