There are so many jokes about the annoying mother-in-law. At this point, it’s a stale comedy trope. Shorthand for an obnoxious antagonist. “Mother-in-laws…” And then a pregnant pause. “Am I right?”
Awkward laughter. Some applause.
The joke goes that your mother-in-law is supposed to be your worst enemy. Overbearing. Meddlesome in your marriage. Quick to point out what you’re doing wrong. Always on your case.
But the reality is that my mother-in-law is one of my best friends. She’s amazing. So smart, so funny. And she’s been absolutely wonderful to me. She first met me at a very strange time in my life — at a time when I could barely accept myself. And instead of giving me the third degree, being suspicious that this odd colorful character who essentially dropped from nowhere and moved in so quickly with her son was going to do him great harm — which is ONE HUNDRED PERCENT how my own mother would have reacted if someone like me started dating my brother — my mother-in-law did the most surprising thing I could have imagined.
She accepted me.
She was kind to me. Quickly joked around with me and got to know me. Decided my quirks were funny and interesting instead of a sign that I was a danger to her son.
And she accepted me.
Remember… at the time, I barely accepted myself. To be completely honest, I still have days when accepting myself is hard. (Although I’ve moved away from self-loathing slowly but surely — and most days exist in a state of blessed self-neutrality.)
And over time, she not only became the best mother-in-law I could ever imagine. We became friends. When I last visited my in-laws, my husband asked his parents if we should get a hotel room, and his mother vehemently insisted that no — she really wanted us to stay with them. Because one of her favorite parts of our visit was sitting and drinking coffee in the mornings with me and chatting.
The feeling is absolutely mutual.
It’s Especially Weird Because I Don’t Get Along With My Mother
It’s been especially strange for me — because there’s another idea that’s so popular. That your mother should be one of your best friends, if not your best friend. And long-time readers of the blog know that my mother and I have nothing in common. Our personalities don’t match. She always wanted a pretty, popular cheerleader as a daughter. A pageant girl. My mother was that girl. (She was literally a cheerleader.)
And I’m not that. As a kid, I loved dinosaurs and cryptoquizzes. I grew into being a jazz musician, a poet, a playwright, and later an author. Definitely not a pretty pageant girl. I’m not saying I think I’m ugly or anything. I’m average looking. Nothing special. And while I’ve always had tons of friends, I wasn’t one of the “cool kids” in high school who sat at a special table making fun of everyone else.
My mother finds me embarrassing and disappointing. I find her tedious and cruel — since she continually makes fun of everyone she thinks is beneath her (everyone, and she’s particularly cruel to other women) and even treats service people like crap (something I can’t stomach and don’t understand coming from her because she grew up poor and briefly worked retail herself in her now very distant past).
I’m not my mom’s ideal friend. And she’s not mine. If we weren’t related, we could have probably gone our entire lives as neighbors and never spoken.
My mother and I do talk sometimes. She’s especially motivated to keep trying — because in her mind, mothers and daughters are always great friends. She tries to ignore half of what I say, half of who I am, in an attempt to like me. I’m not even talking about polyamory or kink stuff by the way. People always assume I’m oversharing about my sex life with my mother — nope. She finds it weird that I read books for pleasure. Or that I have been vegetarian from time to time. She is weirded out that I don’t have children and have never wanted to be a mother. And that I like to wear bright colors.
For my part, I do talk to her on the phone sometimes. I was doing it a lot more when my father first passed away, since she needed the support (she started dating my father in high school, so she’s never lived on her own). And it made me feel better to help her, since it seemed like something Dad would appreciate (he was the parent I was closer to and the one that I’m more like).
I can sometimes hear her in real time desperately trying to edit me into a daughter she can be proud of. It’s exhausting enough to listen to. I can’t imagine how rough it is on her end.
But maybe that’s my mistake… trying to imagine the interaction on her side with my perspective. It would be brutal for me to snip another person to ribbons, in a desperate attempt to find a version of them that was worthy of my love. But my mother isn’t me. For her it’s probably the easier path.
Sometimes You Find Support in the Most Unlikely Places
Anyway, becoming good friends with my mother-in-law was one of the most surprising events in my life. It just goes to show you that sometimes you really do find support in the most unlikely places.
I still don’t understand it. But maybe I’m not meant to. And maybe the best thing I can do is laugh and accept it, even if it’s unconventional.
I find I do a lot better if I don’t require the universe to make sense.