Ask The Bee: In-Laws or Out-Laws?

Hi Bee, I just read your response on your blog about having a boy. I was hoping you may have some advice on in-laws ? Like you, I no longer have my mom. She passed away suddenly when I was in college. When it came time to plan my wedding it was really tough without her, made even more difficult by my stepmom who is kind of a rollercoaster, along with my future mother-in-law who could not be more different than my mother and me. Wedding planning was a constant reminder of my mother’s absence. We just were married in January, and my hope is that a baby will follow soon. I’m already anxious thinking about my mother-in-law and how she will be during my  pregnancy and having a new baby. She seems nice on the surface, but I find her to be a chronic complainer who doesn’t seem interested in changing the things that she is constantly complaining about. Sometimes it feels like she wants to live vicariously through us and it makes me feel like I can’t breathe. I am always polite and kind, but I am also trying to establish some healthy boundaries. I would like our relationship to evolve organically over time, but the more she does that bothers me the harder I find it. I’m reaching out to you, Bee, because thank GD no one in my immediate circle, who I trust, has lost their mom. Any insight would be very much appreciated no matter how big or small! Thank you in advance & I hope you have a great week. Looking forward to your next Skinny Confidential collab that you teased. ??

Dear Married, Motherless and All MILs,

When my boys were just three and one and I still felt like a baby myself in many ways, my mother passed away suddenly. Unexpectedly. I remember the phone ringing early that morning, too early for a good kind of call, and when I heard my Uncle’s voice on the other end I knew something was terribly wrong.

“Hold on, Uncle Jeff,” I said calmly. I looked at my babies, still in their pajamas, still warm from sleep; they sat on our den floor playing quietly amongst soft toys and sippy cups.

“Hold on,” I repeated. I knew instinctively why he was calling.

“Mar?!?!” I yelled for the boy’s beloved Nanny, Margaret. “Mar?” I called again, this time more urgently. “Please can you come be with the boys?”

I got up and began to run, the phone clutched in my hand. I didn’t want them to hear me. I didn’t want my kids to hear the moment that I learned I had lost my mom. That they had just lost their Granny. I ran for the other side of the house and once I was safely behind a tightly closed door, I listened, sliding down my bedroom wall; I listened to my Mother’s brother sobbing and whispering to me that she was gone. I listened as he told me that he had found her. Listened as he told me that I no longer had a mother.

The loss of my mother was one that gutted me. It threatened my marriage, dug a well of sorrow and grief that separated me from my brother when we needed each other the most, and it forever changed my own mothering to my own two children.

I barely remember the days and hours that followed. Bazz had left for a business trip that morning to Washington, DC. Upon landing and hearing my voicemail he turned back around and got back on the next flight, returning home to us, never even leaving Dulles airport. Quickly my closest girlfriends filled our tiny kitchen. They took over the meal preparation for that day, held my babies and helped me to pack up our family for that dreaded trip to Atlanta for the funeral.

I could barely breathe. I could hardly see.

This particular week my mother in law was on a much anticipated, long ago planned girl’s trip to Morocco with some of her girlfriends. I will never forget the moment that Barry called me into our bedroom.

“Jule, my mom is on the phone from Morocco. She wants to talk to you.”

I sat on our bedroom floor against the side of our bed still in my pajamas. I was vaguely aware that I needed a shower, but wasn’t sure if I had the strength to stand in one.

“Jule, honey, it’s Mother In-Law.”

Early on in our marriage I had affectionately started calling Barry’s Mom “Mother In-Law”. To this day, 15 years later, she signs most of her emails and cards to me “Love, MIL.”

“Jule, I’m so sorry sweetheart. I have no words. I just want you to know though, you are our daughter now”.

My hands shook. My head pounded. Such beautiful words that I wasn’t ready to hear. Such an incredible message from such a generous place and yet, I felt my body filling with a red hot rage. I threw the phone at my poor husband and teetered back to my children. They anchored me, they soothed me, and this made me feel weak and raw and even more angry. They weren’t supposed to soothe me; I was supposed to soothe them, and my mother was supposed to comfort me, but she was gone and the next best thing was in Morocco riding camels and drinking mint tea.

In-laws can be tricky. By nature, it’s a bit of a strange relationship. You fall in love and then an entire family who you have had nothing to do with up until this very moment of adulthood becomes yours. Batsh*t crazy.

So here’s what I’ll tell you, angel girl. I don’t know how fresh your loss is, but I know the pain goes deep. I am so sorry for your hurt and I also urge you to look at this woman through fresh eyes. Some mother in-laws are the absolute devil. And who knows, maybe yours will turn out to be a f*cking doozy. But until then, please do yourself and your husband and your marriage and your future children a favor and try to find the love.

She is never going to replace your beloved mother, and while I know you know that in your head, I am typing that to your heart right now. If I could wrap my arms around you and rock you and play with your hair I really truly would, and my guess is you might even let me. Don’t be totally shut down to the idea of allowing her that privilege. You need her. And she needs you. You are the gateway to her son and will be the mother of her future grandchildren. Powerful shit. And this should not be a power used to drive a wedge or create drama. She doesn’t have to be your bestie, she doesn’t have to be your favorite person, but finding a way to connect is a mitzvah, a gift, and a blessing. Be the gift, be the blessing.

You know the girlfriends who thrive on drama? Yep, me too. How about the social media account who is less influencer and more shit stirrer? Yep, I can think of a few, too. Ever notice that it gets old? You know what never gets old? Happiness. Peace. Connectedness. Joy. I am not for one minute negating your feelings or suggesting that my relationship with my in-laws is perfect and hasn’t taken work and effort on both of our parts. I am an opinionated, willful, pain in the ass after all, with a sense of humor that is not for everyone. “Jule The Bee” is NOT the easiest to navigate. But I also love fiercely, forgive in a heartbeat, and communicate pretty darn well, if I do say so myself. That communication has served me well and I thank G-d that my MIL and I respect one another and have an open dialogue that has brought us closer over the years. It didn’t happen overnight, but it is work that has been rewarded. The reward being our relationship. We are very different women, we have different interests, different priorities, different viewpoints, AND I love her. I have single handedly, brick by brick, built my fair share of walls over the years not allowing her to get too close. Perhaps in fear of betraying my own mother? Or for fear of feeling too deeply for her? Maybe I’ve been afraid to care too much, only to lose someone else and get hurt again? At times the vast differences between my mother and her have felt like tiny sharp knives to my heart, but with honesty and respect and time and boundaries established, little by little the bricks have been pulled down. And on the other side of that wall stands a tiny but mighty force named Myrna who protects her family fiercely, would walk through fire for those she loves, and truly wants to be close to me. We will ALWAYS have that in common. And THAT is a wonderful place to start.

So my darling wounded girl, stop thinking about where she is going to fall short. Stop planning a pregnancy and a baby that isn’t here yet, and start working towards what it is you want in this relationship with her. I have no doubt that you are kind and polite and I am quite sure your lovely mama raised you to be both of those things. Talk to her, have a lunch date with her, go kayaking with her (been there done that), but make an effort to get to the organic.

Now please take a brick down. You can start with just one. It’s ok to go slow, and start building a bridge instead of a wall.

Sending love, cutie pie.

Xx Bee

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2 Comments

  1. Kathy wrote:

    Jule, again you brought tears to my eyes. I lost my mom at 23 and have had a hard time with my MIL over the years — she’s just soooo different. But, you have made me realize that it’s probably time to take down a brick, maybe two. It would be good for everyone involved. Thank you for that very important perspective. xo

    Posted 2.26.20 Reply
  2. Sonya wrote:

    All the wows !!!! I’ve never had the pleasure or maybe displeasure of having a Mil
    But I have had my heart broken by the death of my own beautiful mother. I always say im so glad I didn’t have a mil , my mom was the jealous type. Love that you wrote this so honestly & beautifully. Thank you

    Posted 2.26.20 Reply