So there it is. You look for a partner, and amazingly you find Mr. or Ms. Right, fall in love and get married. You think that your life is complete and all is well with the world. But you have not realised that marriage incorporates getting to know your partner’s parents and other family members, and this may fall far from your expectations. There inevitably are cultural and sociological differences, which are not always easily overcome.
I recently came across an appeal for help on a Facebook group devoted to women talking about anything that bothers them. The mother-in-law of this particular individual had a habit of descending on the young couple for a sojourn of several weeks on their living-room sofa, and this was (understandably) having an adverse effect on the marriage. Advice given ranged from getting husband to talk to his mother, accepting one’s fate gracefully, setting clear boundaries about when said m.i.l. could come to stay, or even renting a room for her in a nearby hotel. I hope something worked for her, as the poor soul sounded very distressed.
The current brouhaha over Meghan and Harry’s decision to back away from the Royal Family may be a case in point. No one knows exactly what goes on within the family concerned, but the gulf between someone who has grown up in the democratic environment of America, with its tradition of having rebelled against British rule, and anyone imbued with England’s tradition of loyalty and even love towards the Royal Family must undoubtedly have played a part.
When I first met my parents-in-law many years ago we could only smile and nod as my knowledge of Hebrew was limited and theirs of English was non-existent. As the years passed, however, I was able to understand more of what they were saying, and it was then that I realised that their way of thinking was quite unlike anything I had encountered till then. They were not unkind to me, but we simply came from very different cultures and had very different views on life. I more or less adopted their political views, but that was where the convergence ended. Once the language difficulties had been overcome, the fact that I had grown up in a different country and absorbed different values made communication difficult.
And now I myself am a mother-in-law, with all the complexity that that involves. I think I do my best to maintain good relations with my various current and former children-in-law, but I haven’t a clue as to what they think of me. I grew up in a family where good relations, polite behavior and correct table manners were important but there was little overt demonstration of affection. I think that some of my children in-law find this way of behaving strange, even alienating, but there is little I can do about it. Overt demonstrations of affection to other adults are just not part of my emotional repertoire, and any attempt to behave differently would simply be artificial and unconvincing.
So I will confine myself to trying to provide little treats and favourite foods for the in-law kids and their offspring, my beloved grandchildren, when I can, lending a helping hand whenever this is desired and refraining from interfering in their lives to the best of my ability.
I have doubts about my success as a mother, but I gather that the current mot de jour is ‘good enough.’ I may not have been a good enough mother, but at least I can try to be a good enough mother-in-law.