Why Do Mother-in-Laws Make Daughter-in-Laws So Neurotic?
Even when mother-in-laws are friendly with their son’s wives, they still manage to drive us crazy!
-Emily Southwood, imarriedapornographer.com
Ever since my in-laws came to stay with us last week and the dust has settled back on our bookshelves, I’ve been reflecting upon what is it about mother-in-laws that make daughter-in-laws feel scrutinized. Growing up, I remember how my mother became around my grandparents, her in-laws—she sat up straighter, was prone to nervous chatter, hopped up first to clear the table. I always wondered what she was on about as my brother and I sat in our pajamas eating chips and drinking Ginger Ale with our feet propped up on the coffee table. Nanny wasn’t judgmental. Or was she?
Now that I’m a DIL myself, I’m beginning to understand the rule of mother and daughter-in-law relationships. Here’s an exchange between my MIL and me from last week whilst preparing breakfast.
MIL: “Where’s the margarine?”
Me, bounding to her assistance: “Here!” I say, pulling out a brand new, crumb free, container from behind the OJ.
MIL: “Thanks,” she says, continuing to poke about in the jam-packed fridge. “Wait, there’s an open one right here. Why don’t we use this up?”
Me: “Oh,” I mumble, “That margarine is kind of, um, gross. I thought I’d put out the new one.”
MIL, taking out the old grotty container anyway and buttering away: “That was nice of you.”
Now, I have what I consider to be a very good relationship with my MIL. We are friends and lucky to share some key common interests, namely books, fashion and wine. And yet, during the days before my MIL’s arrival I found myself running around like a beheaded chicken, doing such things as replacing mildewed sponges, manically scrubbing shower grout, and, yes, buying crumb-free Smart Balance.
While I tidy my house for all houseguests, for my MIL I go next-level antibacterial. I would not, for example, have bothered to scrub the veggie crisper for a visit from my own mom. Then again, the jig is up with her as she’s pulled more than one rotten apple from an abandoned backpack over the years and lived through my teenage, bedroom tornado. More likely, I’d have asked her to clean the fridge with me.
I guess it comes down to the fact that as women, we notice things. And as the mothers of the loves of our lives, MIL hold a particular amount of clout. Of course no matter how much attention I put into dusting or purchasing the two percent milk she prefers in her coffee, the law of mother-in-laws dictates that inevitably she will notice something else. For while I was unnecessarily concerned about whether or not my MIL was noting the crumbs in my buttery spread, she was busy remarking on how I’d moved on to the next tub without using up the last. Waste not, want not, or whatnot. What’s a daughter-in-law to do?
Alas, the only advice I have for myself is the same one liner I’d have given to my own mother fifteen years ago: Chill out. And yet, when my MIL returns for another visit there isn’t a fraction of a doubt that I’ll be up at 11 p.m. the night before Swiffering under the guest bed.
And so it goes.
Emily Southwood is working on a memoir called Prude and blogs at imarriedapornographer.com. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband. Emily is the author of the “I Married a Pornographer” series on BettyConfidential: I Married a Pornographer, Porn in the Dominican and I Married a Pornographer Part 3