Six letters, two little hyphenated words, but always one massive reaction: in-laws. The staple of many an un-pc comic’s routine for pretty much all of the 20th century. And whilst we’ve come a long way since Les Dawson asked us to “take my mother in law….please”, there is nothing like the arrival of a new baby to expose the cracks in even the strongest of family unions.
A friend of mine has just gone through it and come out the other side, albeit not unscathed. She had her first baby a few months ago, and as she lives abroad, her mother came to stay for the first few weeks to help out. She said it was a Godsend, and despite her husband doing his best, if it hadn’t been for her mother, she doubts anyone bar the baby would have eaten in those first insane weeks. But then her mother left and her husband announced that now his mother would be coming to stay. She tried to explain that this is not how the post-baby-visitation system works – mothers stay, mother-in-laws just visit - but he was adamant. He saw it as a quid pro quo situation. Now let me put this out there for the record; some mother-in-laws are wonderful people (mine included), but they are only human after all, and we have to always remember that some humans are arseholes. This woman was one such human. My friend told me her mother-in-law’s starter for ten was this gem: “Oh but Stuart* is looking so tired. I hope you’re not expecting too much of him?”
Actually, Stuart did look a little peaky as he had been out at a boozy work dinner the night before, whereas my friend’s only time off baby-duty in over a full month was at a doctor’s appointment being re-stitched. You haven’t known true exhaustion until you consider having your vagina repaired like a torn jacket pocket to be a break.
What ensued was two-weeks of every judgmental mother-in-law cliché in the book. She wasn’t holding the baby correctly, wasn’t putting her in enough layers, was making a rod for her back with the lack of routine etc etc. What made it doubly irritating was that the criticisms often weren’t direct, but instead conveyed via talking loudly to the baby:
“Well now, I see your mummy must want you to have nappy rash as she hasn’t used nearly enough Sudocreme.”
“No wonder your daddy is looking thin when your mummy is so busy with you.”
“Oh doesn’t your mummy have it so much easier than I did in my day!”
For two full weeks my friend sucked it up. But once mammy-in-law had left, she thought on reflection that it had almost been worth it, just for the feeling of relief once it was over. Everything else seemed manageable now.
This story was shared with a group of women, and opinions were divided. One woman had lost her own mum a few years before and said she would have been lost without her mother-in-law. Another said she always reminded herself that one person’s mother is another’s mother-in-law. A third pointed out that as we all now had children, hopefully we would be mother-in-laws one day.
Bah. Don’t you hate it when people ruin a good story with empathy and common sense? I wish Les Dawson were here.
*Name changed beyond recognition.