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.
Photo from agiftoftreasure.com