Living in Greece

A practical guide to moving, living, working & traveling in Greece, plus musing and misadventures from an American in Athens

My mother-in-law is a blessing


Watching my parents grapple with family politics when I was a child gave me the impression that it was natural to not get along with in-laws.

My dad was not well liked by my mom’s parents, my mom tried her best to be in the good graces of my dad’s parents with some success, and the in-laws all had no particular gripe with each other, but didn’t necessarily want to be in the same room at the same time if it could be helped. To satisfy everyone, Thanksgiving and Christmas had us eating two huge meals on the same day at different houses or we hosted one gathering at our house, then attended someone else’s. Diplomacy started early for me.

The stress of juggling in-law politics, perceptions of who was loved more, hurt feelings and false accusations of ungratefulness sometimes infringed on internal family affairs, which on one Thanksgiving had my mom on the first floor of our house, boycotting the kitchen and refusing to speak, and my dad on the second floor speaking only to my brother. We ended up having dinner at a Chinese restaurant in near silence, earning the designation of most memorable and strangest Thanksgiving ever.

Even before moving to Greece 10 years ago, I’d been told all kinds of Greek, Asian, Middle Eastern and Italian mother-in-law stories by friends in California. Things to the effect of living across the hall or in the same building, criticizing the cooking and cleaning skills of the daughter-in-law, calling her son several times a day, giving unsolicited advice and asking inappropriate questions, making demands, too much coddling/dependency and general drama regarding the pride of her existence.

It is my nature to accept people and things for who and what they are, so I understand and respect this behavior to a great degree. I pass no judgment. But I’ve also had some first-hand experience in which it was necessary to set some healthy boundaries for sanity purposes to minimize my Greek-Italian boyfriend’s spoiled behavior and bad habits. After all, I was not and never would be his mother.

When I unexpectedly lost my parents several years ago, it became a lot more important to have a good relationship with my mother-in-law should I ever get married. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life fighting and juggling, much like I spent my childhood. More than that, this was the only mother I would have in my life, and I wanted her to love me as much as I wanted to love her. And that’s what I got.

My future mother-in-law is the kindest, sweetest and most adorable woman. Even before we formally met in person, we sent each other gifts, we’d spoken on the phone a few times and exchanged food. I say “formally met” because the first time I saw her was on a hospital gurney at 3 a.m., after she had a heart attack and was being prepped for a quadruple angioplasty, so I became acquainted with a lot of family members that night in addition to the infamous fakelaki.

And although it was a strange way to meet, nothing about our relationship is estranged. It’s very easy to be with her. She has a great sense of humor, still works full-time and makes french fries for her son because she knows I hate frying. Sometimes I catch her staring and smiling at me. She wept with happiness when we told her we wanted to get married and hugs me much like my own mother did.

She doesn’t call every day, in fact we’re left alone, so we call her once a week and have dinner together at least once a month. She supports our plan to leave Greece and says it’s the best thing we could do because there’s “nothing here for us,” and there has been no pressure to produce grandchildren. I feel nothing but love, genuine respect and acceptance for who I am and our relationship, without the guilt and drama. And because of the freedom and love I feel, it makes me want to spend more time with her. My future father-in-law…well, that’s different story.

My mother-in-law is a blessing.

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  AntigoneSis wrote @ November 4th, 2007 at 23:26

Your post hit on something for me too. My mom died suddenly when I was 22 yo. She did not have a good relationship with her own mother-in-law, something that I sensed and lamented from a very young age. I spent a good part of the beginning of my marriage telling myself that my MIL was NOT my own mother and being a little defiant about it too. I have to say that now my feelings have softened considerably, and I respect and admire the woman tremendously. As a matter of fact, after having become a mother (of two sons), I’m beginning to feel like I am becoming her! One important piece of advice that my Yiayia gave me when I told her that I was marrying –call your mother-in-law ‘mom’ and drop the formality. After all, one day you may be a mother-in-law too. 🙂

  Stathis wrote @ November 4th, 2007 at 23:45

I think you are very lucky!

  Yogi`s Mummy.. wrote @ November 5th, 2007 at 04:06

In some way`s I owe my Mother-in Law a lot…!
My mum`s idea of looking after me (with a cold….ect) and my M-in-L.. is totoaly different., my mum`s is to leave a packet lunch & thermos.. my M_in L is to wipe my brow, take my temp , feed me soup and genereally spoil me like a small child… (al though as a small child…. I did`not get this a tention…)
I call My M-in-L, MUM…. as she has taken more attention of me.. than my own mum..
She has wiped my but… sponged me down and generally took good care of me..!
My M-in-L may be good.. or bad & drive me nuts.. in the future & NOW.. (it`s her job)
But just rememer , it`s her job to take care of the NIFF`y..! There is a BIG History for every thing they DO….! In past times..It used to be the job , of.. the Niffy to join the household.. under the direction of the M-inL`s eye.. she would be the person to teach the daughter in law to, cook, clean iron ect and all other jobs in the house…..that`s why.. in this day and age… it`s hard for some M-in-L`s…. because.. their Niffie`s.. can cook…!
Well I know, I can,…..xooxoxoxoo

  Deborah wrote @ November 5th, 2007 at 04:10

You are so very fortunate, but so is your mother-in-law. Your love of your mother-in-law is a blessing to her. I hope and strive to be a good mom-in-law. Hopefully she will read your post for the compliment of a lifetime!

  rositta wrote @ November 5th, 2007 at 04:51

My Mom and Dad left Germany because her MIL was miserable to her. Years later it was determined she was suffering from early dementia, and my Mom was a natural target. When I saw my MIL this fall, she told me that now that my own Mom had died, she was my mother. She’s right, she is the only one I have left. Unfortunately she is so far away and aging. She too is a blessing to me. I don’t know how my DIL feels about me though…ciao 🙂

  GP wrote @ November 5th, 2007 at 10:47

It’s good that you feel like this now and hopefully you’ll still feel the same way about your MIL 5-10 years from now…

At first, the relationship with my in-laws was fine – one big happy family. My arms were always open for them. As the years went by however, things changed. We have never quarreled or anything like that; mostly it’s me coming to the realization that they have misinterpreted my kindness & openness as a ‘green light’ to interfere in every aspect of our lives, etc. Quite frankly for the past few years I feel they are overbearing and just plain tiresome. I’ve had to diplomatically put up those invisible barriers…

Also, what bothers me more, is that over the years, I have realized that they have a very “poniro” side to their personalities and have always had ulterior motives; they didn’t like me for ME, I honestly think they saw/still see me as a big lottery ticket their son has won and seem a bit too interested in my/my family’s finances…

So, my point is this – I’ve known them for 12 years and I’ve gone from feeling like they are great people to feeling totally indifferent towards them…

And that’s my in-law story….

  cosmo79 wrote @ November 5th, 2007 at 21:15

My mother-in-law wishes I would fall off the face of the earth,lol. I guess that is what happens when ya take their baby away from them, but we are happy and doing well.So, that is all that matters:)

  Kat wrote @ November 5th, 2007 at 23:22

A – After years of saying I wouldn’t become my mother, I see hints of things in me and am OK with that. My mom and grandmother (dad’s side) actually had an OK relationship, maybe more than with her own mother. And regarding my MIL, I haven’t thought about how I address her since we’re not married yet and she knows I still honor my mother, even though she’s gone.

S – Thx agape mou. 🙂

YM – I’m the kind of person who likes to be left alone when not feeling well, so I think it’s more about style and needs rather than the level of love and affection by one’s mother. I’ve also taken care of myself and others since I was 5 years old, so I don’t need any cooking/cleaning lessons. In fact, I was the one who taught my fiance how to do everything she should have taught him. In Egypt, I found it interesting that Nubian culture dictates the son-in-law should ask the mother-in-law for permission to marry her daughter and live with MIL during the first days of marriage, during which he is evaluated and instructed. Personally, I think it sounds great!

D – My MIL doesn’t speak a word of English, so she’ll never read this post. However, she knows how I feel. What a nice thing to say to me!

R – All we can do is our best in any situation, whether it’s accepting, forgiving or anything that makes life and relationships easier. It’s much more peaceful.

GP – I wrote this post because I genuinely believe in the sincerity of our relationship and am grateful because I know it could be different. I could be in a situation like yours, with which I can certainly sympathize since most people I know tell a similar story. To a limited degree, I can also empathize. My father-in-law and his side of the family are intrusive, judgmental, prejudice, calling every day, tsk-tsking that I’m not Greek and don’t have olive trees and pushing us to have kids and come to family events using guilt, drama and tactics. He’s hinted that he’d like a trip to the USA, but all he got was silence. Is it any wonder my fiance’s parents are divorced?

No one can intrude in my family’s affairs and finances — they’re all dead and my sibling inherited everything, so I’m not a cash cow. However, they also know I have the power and capability to leave at any moment, jump countries and be just fine without them. It should be said that my fiance has no trouble standing up to them, and there’s no room for manipulation. In fact, he won’t give his father our address or stathero and told him why. That’s how locked down it is. My FIL is a good person with a good heart, he’s just very traditional and in that way, not so different than my own dad when he was alive.

I have no reason to believe my MIL will be different than she is now. My sixth sense about people usually picks up that kind of vibe (like several past boyfriends), and I’ve never been wrong. I’m certainly not going to put out negative energy where none exists or start on a self-fulfilling prophecy.

C – I’m sure that’s not true! Anyway, like I said to Rositta, we just do the best we can. Sometimes there is beauty in adversity.

  GPG wrote @ July 3rd, 2010 at 12:46

In laws are always a blessing regardless of the differences many of us foreign women/men married to Greeks face… Difficult/dangerous situations confirm that… I just lived it — had a bad bad fall, spent 24 hours in the hospital and my two year old was treated with love, consideration, respect and I could concentrate on getting better/healing.

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