Monday, August 27, 2007

little more than kin

Bon (or perhaps that should be bon), in a post that’s about something entirely different, remarks that she won the in-law lottery. I read this with interest because, in my view, I don’t really have in-laws.

The word in-law underlines the ambiguous nature of the relationship. While the term recognizes and codifies a connection between you and your spouse’s parents, the “in-law” part stresses the artificial and obligatory nature of the tie. There’s a natural and even inevitable conflict between a spouse’s loyalty to you and to his/her original family. Not surprisingly, the term mother-in-law used to refer, not only to a spouse’s mother, but also to that other notoriously difficult relationship, a father’s second wife.

But I don’t think of myself as having in-laws. When L was very young, L’s father left L’s mother’s for another woman, leaving behind three boys under the age of five. L’s father has remarried twice since then and almost all of his paternal energy is invested in the much-younger children of his current marriage. L’s father is a very nice guy. He sends us postcards whenever he goes on a trip and we see him once every few years. But I can’t really think of him as a father-in-law. On the other hand, L’s mother developed breast cancer before she was 40 and died while L was still in school. So, in my life, the space that would normally be filled with in-laws is blank. And at times I feel a smidgeon of envy of even those people who arguably have the worst in-laws in the entire world.

What are your in-laws like? Did you hit the in-law jackpot? Or would you be hard-pressed to dispose of them even on freecycle?

29 comments:

Emily said...

My mother-in-law and step-father-in-law are fantastic and the only family near us in this part of the country. They take their roll of grandparenting seriously, which in my experience, makes all the difference.

In all of the ways, they exceed expectations, my father-in-law and step-mother-in-law fumbled and failed miserably. My father-in-law held one of my daughters, one time...I have a photograph to prove it! They were poor parents, which naturally led to poor in-lawing and poor grandparenting.

Still, they taught me a lot about how I want to interact with my MIL and SFIL...mistakes I don't want to make in that relationship.

weered1 said...

I definitely won the in-law jackpot. My MIL and SIL are sweet and quirky and an absolutely great second set of parents. And I see my wife's other relatives more often than I see my own...figures.

Carlynn said...

I have great in-laws, I am very lucky. They like me and we get on well and they have always made me feel very welcome in their family. That said, however, I think in-laws are always someone else's family and you seldom feels that coming home feeling you feel with your own parents and the ease that allows you to say, "Mum, Dad, we're having cereal for dinner tonight."

The thought of having no in-laws is partly delicious and partly sad so I can understand your smidgeon of envy as well as any enjoyment of the blank space.

Magpie said...

My mother-in-law makes me insane - she talks at my child in a high-pitched squeak, she refers to herself in the third person ("Grandma's going home now"), she subtly challenges my parenting ("her poop is a funny color"). Oh and she hates me. Or maybe she's afraid of me.

On the other hand, my father-in-law is quite sweet.

And on the whole, they do babysit a lot and live nearby, which is incredibly useful, so I should stop complaining.

Catherine said...

My father-in-law is dead. My mother-in-law asked my husband, on the morning of our wedding, "How can you do this to me?" (I didn't find out until seven years later.) She "couldn't make it" for either of our boys' funerals and I no longer acknowledge that she exists. :o)

Beruriah said...

I feel that I am forced to pay for having a fabulous mother-in-law and brother-in-law by having to tolerate my father-in-law and his side of the family. They are seriously on par with Meg's but buffered by the two mentioned above as well as my family (who can certainly be annoying but that's the only complaint I have).

I don't mention how much I dislike them much because my husband isn't prepared to confront it and he looks to my blog for support as well. We did get in "trouble" though because J's mom and brother came immediately when Natan died and we didn't invite his dad (they've been divorced since J was a toddler) to be fair. We didn't invite anyone - some family members didn't feel the need for a formal invitation. Oh, and just a few week's later we were reminded that it's not acceptable to use our "meaningless" loss as an excuse to be lazy. And my husband is inarticulate and lazy anyway. And the Bell Curve is correct and we're historians only because we weren't smart enough to do anything else. As a woman, I am especially intellectually challenged.

Gee, not sure you wanted that diatribe but the topic sets me off easily.

Caro said...

My relationship with my in-laws is difficult. Not helped by them telling me before we were married to leave S now instead of hurting him later which they seemed to think was inevitable. Things have improved from this point but I don't think we'll ever be best friends.

Bronwyn said...

I'm in the same boat as you, more or less. My husband's father took off when he was 2. His mother had severe mental health problems and remarried a real bastard. He went into foster care (luckily, a really great family) when he was 14 and has absolutely no contact with his mother these days (I've never met her). So I have the best kind of in-laws -- non-existent ones!

painted maypole said...

My in-laws are pretty good. They are older, and so don't have the energy and enthusiasm that my parents do. My MIL had a stroke a few years back, and my FIL is not very mobile due to his high number of artificial joints, but they are kind to me and our daughter. They have been financially generous with us, and have not, to my knowledge, spoken a bad word about me. They can get on my nerves at times, certainly, and we don't always agree, but in the scheme of things, they are very good in-laws.

Betty M said...

My position is very similar to yours. FIL abandoned G and his siblings when he was 4. MIL died when he was 17. FIL and evil SMIL (FIL's 2nd wife since MIL) failed to step up to look after G and his younger bro and were basically vile. SMIL is now dead and FIL occasionally tries to be a father and g/parent but remains the most self-centered individual I have ever met and I try and avoid him if at all possible. He lives the other side of Europe so that is quite easy. My SIL is great and BIL is ok too so at least I have that.

Anonymous said...

My relationship with my MIL is about as bad as it could be. However, she's cuckoo, to use a clinical term. ;)

My relationship with my FIL, on the other hand, is lovely.

And now I feel the need to post this anonymously, cuz you never know. So let's just say that I'm Ben and Jack's mom and leave it at that. You'll know who I am, niobe.

Bon said...

giggling at anonymous...yep, we know you. and i only talk about my inlaws (and referentially about my mother) on my own blog while leaving the mess that is my father's family largely a stoned unturned, because i have nothing nearly so nice to say about my own family as i do about Dave's.

the funny part is, they're not really even inlaws, formally...we've never married. yet i feel close to them and a part of their family in a way i never did with my real, legal ex-inlaws, or with most of my real blood relatives.

very interesting, all of this.

meg said...

I've read through the comments, so far and I'm having in-law envy for the positive comments and then...feeling badly for the ones that remind me of my in-laws.

It really shouldn't be this way. I guess it all comes down to finding out who your true friends (and in this case family) are when things go to hell. I guess the difference is that friends aren't bound to stand by you, but I always thought that family would.

Lori said...

Oh lordy... I can't even get started on my in laws because it would never end. My poor husband... because as bad as they are as in laws, they are even worse as parents.

Just a small sampling: My husband's parents separated when he was about 12 years old. However, his father was unemployed at the time and so he couldn't afford to move out. Therefore, his father lived in the basement, and his mother and he lived upstairs. His parents never spoke and instead used their son, my husband, as their messenger.

Thankfully they live far apart from one another now, AND far from us!

Anonymous said...

My inlaws were vacationing on a sunny island on the night when my baby died and then was born. They didn't come home for a month because, they said, my husband didn't ask them to come home.
I will never forgive my in-laws for raising my husband to believe he's not entitled to anyone's help or support.

Christine said...

mine are pretty nice and i do honestly love them. of course there was once an "incident" but that shall never be discussed on the blogoshphere

LeRoy Dissing said...

I am blessed with some great in-laws. In fact, my father-in-law were probably closer later in life than my own dad. I miss him since his death this past May. My mother-in-law and I get a long great but there is also a border between us and we live south of it!

niobe said...

Wow. I'm amazed at how many people have in-laws who, in terms of sheer awfulness, can give Meg's a run for their money.

My Reality said...

My in-laws are dull and boring. I don't particularly like them. My brother in law is a world class asshole and his soon to be wife is nuts. They aren't awful, although they have caused me lots of grief over a few issues. And my MIL asks way too many questions.

If you ever feel the need for a set of in laws, I am more than happy to donate mine.

wannabe mom said...

I've posted about my FIL more than he deserves. My MIL passed away when my husband was 16. Hubby always says that things with his dad would be different if his mom were alive.

For example: On Father's Day, FIL told hubby that his stepkids care more about him than his own, because they were with him in the hospital last Dec...this was at the same time that we were burying our twins, and we managed to drag ourselves to visit him 3 days later. ***ker.

AJW5403 said...

I don't hate my in-laws but I don't care for them to much. We are so differnt that we clash. But it is not to bad since they don't live real close and I really only see them a few times a year.

Eva said...

I thought the second wife of your father was your stepmother?

Anyway, I LOVE my in-laws. I don't know if it's because they live across the ocean and we see them less than once a year or what, but they are so sweet, not at all intrusive, give nice presents, very dear, just fabulous wonderful kind people and I wouldn't even mind living with them. I cry when they leave town.

niobe said...

Eva: What I was trying (apparently not too clearly) to say is that formerly -- during the 17th and 18th centuries and maybe earlier -- "mother-in-law" described the relationship that we'd call "stepmother" as well as the one that we now call "mother-in-law." In both cases, it's someone who's kind of in the position of a mother, but the "in-law" part stresses that the person isn't actually the mother.

Julia said...

Well, my MIL is horrid. On top of being aweful about A's death, she is just not a nice person. She has been emotionally beating up my FIL, who is a sweet and well-meaning, if bumbling, man, for the duration of their marriage. She is the most un-authentic (read: fake) person I have ever met. After every time Monkey spends more than two hours with her I have to de-program the child. Very very annoying. And tiring. I have said more than once that if I was to win a big-ass lottery, I would happily buy her a villa on sea coast across the ocean thus limiting our contact as much as possible.

Furrow said...

Basically what Painted Maypole said. They're kind, generous, never said a bad word about me (as far as I know), but they can be annoying at times. But who can't? It is more difficult with them, though, because while I feel comfortable expressing irritation with my own parents, I don't with B's. He won't do it for me, either. I sometimes find my MIL difficult to communicate with. That's probably because of the booze and pills.

But overall, I'm not too bad off.

Patience said...

My in laws a really very nice people and I'm very lucky - but they're very *bland*. They're predictable and considerate, but frustratingly so. They won't decide which restaurant to go to, they'll all go 'oh I don't mind, you choose' over and over and over until I want to strangle them.... Anyway, that's just one example... I could go on...

Monica said...

My biggest problem is that my mother is so damned talented that no one could ever compare to her. MIL doesn't cook, doesn't clean, hell, I can't think of anything she does do. She's not a bad person, but she just lives in another plane of reality. FIL left her about ten years ago and is now on his third girlfriend. They both have money issues, namely that they can't keep any. I do love my BIL and SIL. Which brings me to another point. For all their flaws, they must have been damn good parents because DH, SIL and BIL are all wonderful people.

Amelie said...

I'm sorry for L, that sounds hard.
My in-laws [to be, to be exact] are ok, overall. They're trying to be nice, but sometimes have just quite different ideas on what we should do, what is good for us than we do. It has been good to put some geographical distance between us, for me anyway. More relaxed like this.

Rebecca said...

My in-laws are a mess. They're all divorced and remarried so many times that my husband has 5 parents and 7 grandparents, if we're counting. His dad and his partner are fine, I like them. But his mother and her husband are just.... They don't like me. They think I'm too well-educated and posh. They upset me at every turn. I am not that most revered of creatures - a mother - and therefore I mean nothing. They cause me FAR too much anguish.