Why none love for the MILs?

Mother-in-law jokes are seemingly ubiquitous.  And pernicious.

What is up with the pervasive and destructive cultural meme that women can’t get along with their in-laws, specifically their mothers-in-law?


Fig. 1: Monsters-in-law?

For the record, I love my in-laws.  It’s awesome when we see them or when they come stay with us.  They are fun people and we all get along really well.  I wish we could spend time with them more often!

It’s disrespectful to all parties to imply that women and their MILs don’t get along.  It implies that women can’t be friends (in many versions, because they fight over a man, the husband/son).  It also implies, in many versions, that the mother needs to control her adult son, which is terrible for both of them (maybe because she is trying to live vicariously through him because as an older woman, she has no life except her children and grandchildren).

It says that adult women can’t have mature, reasonable conversations about points of disagreement, instead letting resentment simmer and seethe for years, usually in a passive-aggressive way.  It says the MIL does not respect her son’s wife, and that she can’t be polite about this.  There is also the problem of the husband/son not having his wife’s back, not telling his mother to back off… the implication that there is a contest for affection… the implication that the MIL even needs to back off… the problem where the man puts his mom above his wife.  SO MANY PROBLEMS!

It’s true that you won’t always get along with your in-laws, just like you won’t always get along with any random set of people, even if you are related.  But we don’t have to degenerate into society-wide melodrama about it.

I see this relationship in media all the time and it never fails to induce hulk-y rage.  My in-laws are good people and have welcomed me into the family.  Let’s stop pitting women against each other over issues of control, identity, and a man in the middle.  Can’t we all just get along?

#2 notes that her mom thinks #2’s partner is fantastic (and more than once has expressed surprise that #2 managed to find someone so great, thanks mom).  Also, #2’s partner’s mom has helped her with research in the past!  It doesn’t get that much more collegial than that.

Readers, hit us up with positive stories of your in-laws!

28 Responses to “Why none love for the MILs?”

  1. liri Says:

    An interesting cultural difference – in russian, the words for mother of the wife and mother of the husband are different. There are many many jokes about the relationship between the wife’s mother and her son-in-law, but virtually none about the husband’s mother and her daughter-in-law.

    • GMP Says:

      My culture is similar — most jokes are about the groom and his MIL (also different words for bride’s and groom’s MILs) , with him being a lazy half-wit slob while the MIL is overbearing and always in her daughter’s corner. No jokes about brides and their MILs, but them not getting along is considered serious business (plus I am sure there’s something there about not being funny). This all stems from the old rural tradition of young women moving in with their husband and the husband’s family, so the woman’s MIL, being the lady of the house, would more often than not have the ability to make the bride’s life very difficult.
      Anyhoo, my 2 cents on stereotypes in different cultures.

  2. Holly@ClubThrifty Says:

    My mother-in-law wrote my husband an email to tell him that she was worried my kids weren’t going to get into heaven since we aren’t getting them baptized.
    Positive story: They live 800 miles away.

  3. plantingourpennies Says:

    I <3 my in laws. Mr PoP has long admitted that if we ever split up, he'd be the one left out in the cold since they'd clearly take my side in whatever led to it.

  4. Debbie M Says:

    Weird. I thought it was also a stereotype that men didn’t like their in-laws. And it’s because the parents are used to being in charge, but now the kids have to tell them bad news like how they can only visit for half the Christmases. The first bad thing I had to tell my mom was that she wasn’t allowed to smoke inside. Oh, I dreaded that moment. But she just said okay and smoked outside. Weird!

    I’m not married, but I have met the parents of quite a lot of my boyfriends and I have lucked out because they were all cool. Even the ones who had been missionaries in Africa and thought I was going to hell–they are awesome, and they probably prayed for me at night–where I didn’t have to hear it. The one with six kids who found something to do that was of interest to each kid was great, too; my boyfriend was an environmental engineer, so she joined the environment committee of the League of Women Voters so they’d have things to talk about. Also they had a tradition where the birthday person got the bowl of leftover frosting! There was one lady who made her kid get Hepatitis B vaccinations when she learned he was having sex, but she was awesome, too. My current guy’s dad let us sleep in his bed because it was the only one big enough for two and he was a widow.

  5. hush Says:

    “degenerate into society-wide melodrama” – THIS, yes that is the problem, versus letting everyone have their own personal assessments about folks they actually know on the individual level. I’m with @Debbie M that I see this stereotype also play out as men not liking both of their in-laws, though as I have never seen a movie made about that (i.e. “Monster In Law,” starring Jane Fonda and J-Lo.) I think @nicoleandmaggie’s analysis is not wrong.

    An inconvenient truth in light of this post, but I have no respect for either of my in-laws (they stole DH’s identity as a child so I think we are an extreme case) and my husband adores both of my parents.

  6. SP Says:

    I’m very different than my in-laws. We get along on surface levels, but they live really really far away. My MIL is kind and friendly, and my FIL has a wry sense of humor that I recognize in my husband. However, they are on the opposite spectrum politically and in lifestyle. My MIL never brings anything political up, and my FIL rarely does either, so it isn’t too big of a deal. My MIL also has a much more overbearing parenting style than my parents ever did, so it rubs me the wrong way, even though it is well intentioned. She has so many OPINIONS on things that I don’t think she needs to worry about. They also are more traditional in that I think they expect me to take care of things, like all family gifts/cards, scheduling my husbands appointments, etc.

    On the plus side, they love T (and don’t seem to have problems with me) and want us to be happy.

    T has similar views of his in-laws. They are nice and well-intentioned, but he’s very different than them and they can rub each other the wrong way.

  7. bogart Says:

    My MIL, may she RIP, was always kind, generous, and welcoming. I was the … hmmm … 12th spouse one of her 6 kids had married by the time we wed (the group is now up to 15, 1 additional divorce and 3 additional marriages having since taken place, one of which has also ended in divorce), and am my own DH’s 3rd wife, and by the time we wed some of her grandkids were marrying and/or having children so, you know, what’s one more (or less) IL in that context? But the entire family has always been kind to me, and welcomes pretty much every adult (there are a few outliers), whether a current, former, or simply not-actual spouse and absolutely every child. My own M is phenomenally generous to me and my DH, principally through time/effort. She does at times drive DH a little batty, but he knows (and would be the first to agree) that it’s just quirks of personality — hers and his (and mine!) — and that she’s priceless. I’ve always said that I did better-than-average in the parental lottery, and let’s just say my dad dragged the mean down, more or less in the manner of Hush’s IL’s), so my DH is not so fond of him (nor am I, though I do have a relationship with him. It’s easier now that he has dementia.).

    But, yes — I suspect that the underlying “joke” relates to how women, and relationships between women, and women’s perceived social competition, are portrayed. IBTP.

  8. oilandgarlic Says:

    I can see some truth in the stereotype, but I hate that it is so prevalent. When I get annoyed at my in-laws, I make it a point to say I’m annoyed at BOTH, not just my MIL. I think historically women have been more involved in their child’s life and while daughters seem to retain a bond with their mothers, often sons are less communicative and seem to “cut off” their moms. However, I see this as a son-mother issue, not the fault of the daughter-in-law.

    • hush Says:

      I’m annoyed at BOTH, too! You’re right, it is so often actually a son-mother issue, indeed.

    • Bobo Says:

      As the mom of boys, I can see now how tough it was for MIL when I came and took her son away!! She did almost everything for him, and still likes to maintain some control over him and what he’s doing. She’s also tried to rile me over my kids, doing things that she knows I wouldn’t agree with, but because our kids are so fab, and we do have things in common, she’s eased off a bit now. I think she did feel or worry that because daughters supposedly have better relationships with their moms, that she would lose out where the grandkids are concerned. But I keep her updated on them, and she knows I don’t have the perfect relationship with my mom, so think that concern has lessened now and I suppose it helps that we’re living on the other side of the country!!

  9. The Frugal Ecologist Says:

    My MIL is a (very sweet) total nutter, but it doesn’t have anything to do with either of our relationship with my husband. She’s just pretty batty – it bothers me much less than it does my husband. The somewhat fraught relationship in our situation is with my father and my husband. That goes much more along the lines of the stereotypical – think Jay and Phil in Modern family.

    But I simply adore my sisters & brothers in law!!

    • Rosa Says:

      one of the benefits of having a spouse is that they are generally less upset by someone else’s parent’s issues. My husband sits next to my craziest parent at family gatherings and is not driven to drink, while I deal with his craziest parent over breakfast without batting an eyelash.

  10. The Frugal Ecologist Says:

    My perception is that there is just as much son in law/father in law conflict stereotyping as MIL/DIL.

    • hush Says:

      I thought about that perception, too, in the context of US pop culture/film – and the only one I can come up with is the “Meet The Parents” movies where Gaylord’s FIL, played by Robert DeNiro, tries to undermine him, but his MIL (played by Blythe Danner) reigns the FIL in and has Gaylord’s back. The movie also plays with feminizing and humiliating Gaylord (i.e. the male nurse) so is a problematic representation on many levels. Though, in the second(?) movie, we have Barbara Streisand playing Gaylord’s mom, and she has a positive relationship with both her son and his wife. On balance though, there may be as you say, “just as much son in law/father in law conflict” out in the real world, but I disagree that there is an equal level of stereotyping represented in pop culture.

      Also the nature of the conflict is presented as less onerous, and less about harming all men, when it comes to SIL/FIL conflict – they’re usually arguing over the wife’s reproductive system/virginity if you really examine what undergirds the conflicts. Then the two men could have a beer together once they’ve sorted it out; whereas women are construed as crazy harpies who will hate each other forever.

  11. chacha1 Says:

    I’m sorry, I can’t really help you out. :-( My parents really like my husband and he likes them fine. It helps that they live 3000 miles away and contact is essentially restricted to our daily mom-o-gram exchange (which my husband and my dad both read) and infrequent vacations on the East Coast (we were there in 2008 and 2012, so that’ll tell you something). If we lived closer there might be friction, because we would all feel we “ought” to spend more time together but our primary interests are incongruent. (Does that mean what I think it means, O Math Masters?)

    My husband’s parents like me well enough (and I like them), but we, as a group, are far from close. They never contact us (either of us, really) except on the rare occasions there is some family crisis that they want esposo to weigh in on. They were openly disappointed that we would not be having kids, which is an extended-family-wide attitude (Filipino clan, revolves around the kids almost 100%, adults are uninteresting … kind of the reverse of how I feel). They are in very poor health but have alienated all three of their offspring to greater or lesser degrees. And yet if we go anywhere near the Bay Area without spending considerable time with them it is resented. Which means we don’t go up there nearly as much as we might like to, because neither of us wants to give 50% or more of our precious vacation time to sitting around somebody’s house listening to people gossip about their kids, or this other person’s kids, or the neighbor’s kids … .

    Long story short, there is no *personal* friction between me and my husband’s mother, but there is not much genuine affection either. She is an inoffensive person and we try to be kind to each other, but that’s as far as it goes.

  12. First Gen American Says:

    Back when I was still dating my future husband, my mother in law visited me in the Carolina’s when I was living there temporarily, and just she came to visit me. No son, no husband. We went to the Biltmore mansion and did girly tour of homes things without the men. She also goes on vacation with us regularly and is quite welcome. My father in law has since died and is missed but we always got along.

  13. Chelsea Says:

    My father-in-law is about the nicest person you could imagine. My MIL is bossy but she means well, and once I accepted that she means well (and is bossy toward everyone, including her own parents), it made our relationship much smoother.

  14. Donna Freedman Says:

    I’m not married to my DF but his mom is all sorts of awesome. In her late 80s, lives independently, swims almost daily, subscribes to a university lecture series, goes out with another group of artists to do plein air painting…I hope to have that kind of energy when I’m her age. Hell, I’d like to have it NOW….

  15. Laura Vanderkam (@lvanderkam) Says:

    I think the assumed conflict stems from a few traditional family assumptions. First, that the daughter-in-law is doing the bulk of the day-to-day care of the grandchildren. People often have certain ideas about how things are supposed to be done in family life, and presumably the DIL got these in part from her own upbringing. So when grandma from the other side comes and sees the daughter not doing things as they were done in her family, she may share opinions about this. Because, in these traditional assumptions, childcare is the preserve of the woman, and it is her major identity, and therefore when things are done differently than she did them, there is supposed to be conflict (whereas a woman may think whatever her mother did was more normal). But, of course, there are many issues with this assumption. Personally, I think that if someone wants to come help take care of my kids, and clean my kitchen and cook me meals — all of which my wonderful mother in law does regularly — I think it is awesome. I don’t think “I’d cook that meal differently.” I wouldn’t. Because I never would have cooked it in the first place.

  16. rented life Says:

    I’ve heard jokes about it being the MIL and husband too. Overall I’ve got nothing for positive stories. But this isn’t because I’m the DIL, it’s because of who my in-laws are. They are like this with their one daughter and who she married too, and I’ve also seen how they interact with their grandkids and it’s terrifying. Long long history of abuse in the family. When we were dating FIL would call my dad and insist that he shouldn’t let his daughter be in a relationship. (I was 18.) He also sent letters to husband and my dad stating as much.

    Husband fits in with my family very well though. We know a couple who gets together for breakfast every week and both sets of inlaws come. We wish that could be possible, but we did one shared meal together and it was dreadful (FIL then regularly insults my family to me when they aren’t around as well). So sometimes…it’s about whether or not the people are good people. Sometimes the only positive story is not having them around.

  17. KeAnne Says:

    I like my in-laws, and my MIL watched my son for peanuts from 12 weeks until he was almost 3, so I think that really strengthened our relationship. My husband has a good relationship with my stepfather. I will say that while my mom may drive my husband crazy and his mom may drive me crazy, we feel mutually about how they drive us crazy.

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