Tuesday, January 26, 2010

When babies bring out the crazies

Sitting on couches in comfortable living rooms, children laughing and playing, coffee from the closest coffee house in hand, playgroup conversation is fairly predictable. There's talk about diapers and discipline, what's going on around town, the upcoming preschool and kindergarten registration panic of OH MY GOD! What school are you taking your kids to!? There's chit chat about the next cooking club and what dish we'll bring for Mexican Night. Eventually, someone mentions family members, usually their Mother-in-Law.

This is about the time I wish my coffee had been spiked with some Baileys. While some people exclaim that they have the best mother-in-law ever, always helping out around the house, spoiling their kids with gifts and sugar, watching their children on the weekend so that they can spend some adult time with their husbands, I sit back nodding with a smile thinking about how lucky they are. How absolutely, incredibly lucky they are to have a normal family. The family where everyone gets along, where everyone helps out and there are unicorns, rainbows and bright rays of sunshine. We got stuck with a twisted Brothers Grimm fairy tale with poisonous apples and gold spinning dwarfs trying to steal first born children.

I don't know what it is, but babies bring out the crazies in some people. It certainly happened in my family. I never had a great relationship with my Mother-in-Law after her hurtful words many years ago, but it never mattered since we were in different states and I was fine with pretending that things were decent during holiday visits. They were short visits, after all. Then during my first pregnancy, also the first grandchild in the family, it got worse and all hell broke loose. The crazies came out, and it wasn't by my post-pregnancy hormones, either.

There was baby snatching and passive aggressive comments about breast-feeding and my post-pregnancy weight, name-calling and Grandma calling herself "Mommy" to my kids. Basically her world was falling apart because the expectations she had as a Grandmother were not quite the expectations I had as my child's mother. It's been an ongoing monster-in-law mess.

I often sit back and wonder how all of this happened. Knowing others that have less-than-fabulous in-laws and are in similar situations, I catch myself questioning if it's a generational difference. Are the mothers of today too independent for the mothers of yesterday? Is there really a power struggle between the two women because older generations were used to their mothers and grandmothers taking over? Why on Earth would the birth of my children bring out such insanity? Whatever the case, it is what it is, the damage is done. All I know now is what kind of Mother-in-Law I will not be and not to have those same expectations. I will not go crazy over someone else's baby and hope that I will not be thought of as the fairy tale villain when everyone else is living happily ever after.

Kristin Mastre


Kristina Lim said...

While in Singapore my MIL insisted that should have my 2-yr son checked by his doctor because he was sweating at night. The tropical climate shock had nothing to do with it, of course. And if he was ever going to be healthy and strong I would have to start feeding him Chinese herbal soup twice a week. I stifled my impulse to tell her she should start eating green salad twice a week if she didn't want to collapse again and spend another week in the hospital. To her credit, she did try her first salad at age 70 during our visit, but I guarantee it was also her last. So we're talking not only geographical separation but generational and cultural too. She always wanted her son to marry a Chinese woman and live at home. The basement was remodeled into an independent apartment for that purpose. So it took years for her to accept my skin color and the fact that her only son chose to settle in another country.

Sometimes I'm glad she's half way around the world; other times like when my little baby took his first steps a week ago, I really do wish she could share in all the little joys.

Em said...

THANK YOU THANK YOU for writing/speaking out on the one topic that so many of us mommies are dying to talk about out loud!!!! Oh geez, Kristin, you are SOOOO not alone!!! I loved your piece and am grateful that you chose to write about this! :)