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The Misanthropy Files: Your Mother-in-Law (and Other Jerks in Your Life)

It's That Time of Year Again

I'll start on a positive note (and then it's all downhill from here because, well, this is the "Misanthropy Files"): The holiday season truly is the most wonderful time of year. I love the lights, food, music, movies, and more. I love envisioning everyone with their families and friends around the nation and around the globe, cozily partaking in festivities. Gosh darn adorable!

It is perhaps these idealistic paradigms which I hold near and dear - about the holidays, and other concepts - that plague me with a perpetual WTF reaction to many, many things over the years. I have self-diagnosed, after a lifetime of talk-show and sitcom viewing (my parents let me watch too much TV growing up), that I might be someone who thinks too much according to paragons. Why can't people just be nice? Why can't we all get along? And when an antagonist arises, why can't we firmly, but proportionately, push back? Are these rules so hard?

Which leads me to my segue...when it comes to your mother-in-law (and your enabling, feckless husband), the answer to all of the above questions is: "Because your life is destined to be a worn, tired trope of an age-old power struggle." Cue primal scream.

The Fundamental Toxic Cycle

I have spent way too many hours searching online, scrolling through blogs about "What to do about a difficult mother-in-law." Each letter to Dear Abby or self-help scenario includes a bunch of minutiae about what the MIL did, what the husband did, and then she said that, can you believe it? It's entertaining, I must admit, and mildly helpful for catharsis.

But it usually boils down to the same basic fundamentals:

(1) Mother-in-law is a B. Says and does mean stuff. Passive-aggressiveness is a specialty.

(2) Husband is a weeny. Will not tell her to knock it off, or claims not to notice.

(3) Wife puts up with it at first (which she doesn't realize she's not getting credit for, but she is definitely not), then resentment builds. Finally, any further MIL infractions are met with zero-tolerance. Wife is now characterized as "overly sensitive," and husband is even more reticent to speak up.

Well played, jerky MIL and conflict-avoidant hubby. And so the toxic cycle continues.

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The Simple Solutions

Listen up! I'm about to break it down really simply.

Regardless of the details of your situation, here are the guardrails that would make the world go 'round harmoniously, if people were just freakin' adults about it all:

(1) Ladies: Be nice. I laugh when my MIL claims she has to "walk on egg shells" around me, now that I've finally told her that she does owe me the same common courtesy that she would offer anyone else, meaning not attacking my parenting or priorities every time we see each other. Ladies, do not be gaslighted - it should not be "walking on egg shells" for anyone to simply be polite, or neutral. I'm not even asking for compliments, just civility. If it's extremely difficult for a MIL (the implication of "walking on egg shells") to be nice, the problem is with HER. Similarly, be nice/neutral to her too. It shouldn't be hard for you to do that either. You could just ignore her most of the time - that's what I do.

(2) Husbands: Be a grown man, and stand up against anything that is not nice. If you are an adult male, and are so much of a mama's boy that you either cannot recognize female passive-aggressiveness, nor can't utter the shortest phrase, such as, "Wow, mom, really? You need to apologize for that," you need to rethink whether you're truly a grown up. That is a very simple, powerful message to send to a person who is angling to destabilize your marriage. Your wife is your teammate, and someone just inflicted a foul on your star player. Be a ref and tell her to knock it off. I believe husbands underestimate that saying this one time, early on in the marriage will prevent a cascade of resentment from your wife later on.

Gentlemen: Happy wife, Happy life. Being a mama's boy is not cool (and definitely not sexy). If you don't believe me, you need to revisit TLC's No Scrubs.

Reality Check

Okay, but what makes my brain absolutely explode, is that almost NOBODY DOES THE ABOVE. At least, my life has definitely been diminished to a really dumb trope of MIL-DIL misery, with lame Mama's Boy husband. I've tried everything possible to break the cycle (living different places/distances, spending lots of time together - too much, setting clear/fair boundaries, managing expectations with good communication, making up white lie excuses to not visit), and it just does NOT work, if the players involved cannot simply Be Nice, and Stand Up when they are together.

What's your nightmare Mother-In-Law scenario? As long as the world is screwed up with ridiculous people, who can't follow simple golden rules, we can revel in the absurdity of misanthropy together. Feel free to send me your stories, and I will select some to share (with names removed, upon request)!

© 2022 Joelle Washington

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