Mother-in-Laws have figured in many conversations recently. During the Easter holidays, we went to see mine for the Easter break, and then went to pay our respects to my wife’s (my late Mum). Over in the Twittersphere, @tara_cain has been asking followers for their experiences of their Mum-in-Law: marvels or monsters? And then there was the focus of attention on Carol Middleton, Mother-in-Law to the future King William at her daughter’s nuptials on Friday.
My Working Wife and I were discussing this over a bottle of wine the other night. And as the first bottle miraculously turned into a second, we began to speculate about what kind of Mother-in-Law she would be (if we ever live that long) to her daughter’s and our sons’ future husband/wives.
‘I’d probably get on with my Son-in-Law like a house on fire,’ she said. ‘But I’m not sure about Daughters-in-Law.’
‘They’d be replacing me as the Number One woman in my boys’ lives.’
‘If you were to write a letter to your future Daughter-in-Law, what would you say?’ I challenged.
She didn’t need asking twice. The next morning, she opened up the laptop and wrote the following:
Dear Future Daughter-in-law,
It is your wedding day and the church is packed. The flowers look beautiful, the bridegroom looks nervous and everyone is waiting for the arrival of the most important woman in his life.
Suddenly, a figure appears. Every head turns to look. Every neck cranes to catch a glimpse of the woman in white.
With all eyes on her, she begins to make her way down the aisle. As she reaches the altar, she pauses briefly to dab a tear from her eye, and then gently kisses the groom.
And then you arrive.
Sorry, did I forget to mention that today, your wedding day, is about one woman and one woman only? Me. Your mother-in-law. The real number one woman in your husband’s life and, from this moment on, your sworn adversary.
Think I won’t try to upstage you by turning up dressed all in white? Think I won’t – accidentally on purpose – arrive late to steal your thunder? Think you can replace me in my boy’s heart?
Wrong, wrong, wrong!
And in the next few weeks, months and years – should you stick it out that long – I shall be turning up on your doorstep unannounced and uninvited to remind you of that fact. I shall run a white-gloved finger over your dusty surfaces, I shall tut at the state of your laundry basket and I shall raise an eyebrow at the shoddy way in which you look after my precious little lad.
Right now, my boys are aged just six and three but, in case you were in any doubt, I am a mother-in-law from hell in the making. And I’m not the only one of my kind.
According to a recent survey more than a third of wives blame us for passing on bad habits like laziness, lack of hygiene and selfishness to our sons. In a poll of 4,000 wives, nine out of ten wives believed their husbands had been ruined by mollycoddling mums. As a result, 15% hated their mothers-in-law.
To all those bitter daughters-in-law out there, I say this: You are absolutely, 100 per cent, completely and utterly right.
But, please, don’t be too harsh on we mothers of sons because the truth is some of us just can’t help ourselves.
Let me take you back to a late summer day in 2004. In a hospital room, a baby was being placed into my arms. As I looked down at my boy, a pair of blue eyes opened for the first time. The first thing he saw was me. He gazed up. I gazed back. And the deal was sealed. It was love at first sight.
Until that moment, I’d had no idea about little boys and their ways. I had no idea how just one flash of big blue eyes could compel me hand over a chocolate chip cookie. I was blissfully unaware how one solitary fat round tear could turn me to jelly and make me beg for forgiveness. And I simply had no clue that along with his love of rough and tumble there would be a softness and a vulnerability to my lad that would take my breath away.
And so I now find myself in attendance at the court of the Boy King.
Are you all right, love? Do you want another juice, pet? Shall Mummy fetch your blanket for you? Come and give Mummy a cuddly wuddly…
My nine-year-old daughter has got my number.
‘Grrr…’ she seethes. ‘Stop giving into him, Mum. You always let him have his own way.’
She’s right, of course. But I can’t stop myself. Being the mother of such a boy is just wonderful. What other male, for example, can be counted on to carry my shopping up two flights of stairs – albeit one item at a time – without moaning or complaining? What other male will throw his arms around me and refuse to let go until we have counted to 100? And what other male will take my face in both his hands and say: You are the beautifullest and the best and mean every word of it?
I bet the mother of singer Justin Timberlake feels the same thrill when her lad, despairing of finding a girlfriend, says: ‘The problem is, I’ll never find anyone as great as my mother.’ And I bet Mrs Williams is secretly delighted when her Robbie chooses her and not some twig-like model to accompany him down the red carpet. What mother wouldn’t be delighted?
Well, on second thoughts, me.
Recently, I went to stay with an old friend for the weekend. Like me, she is the proud and besotted mother of sons, although her two are in their late teens. I hadn’t seen her for a while and when she opened the front door I almost fell down on the pavement in shock.
She looked liked she’d aged twenty years in the space of ten.
I soon discovered why.
The sons I’d last seen as golden-haired, rosy-cheeked cherubs had changed somewhat. Gone were the bright-eyed charmers in matching tank tops and shorts and in their place were two lanky, lazy, sulky beasts who lolled on sofas and sprawled in front of the TV.
They’d grown up. But somehow Mum hadn’t noticed.
She treated them the same way she’d always done. Every few minutes, she’d flit into the living room like a tiny, exhausted sparrow, and say to the two giant cuckoos on her sofa: ‘Are you all right, love? Do you want a cup of tea? Can I get you anything? Sandwich? Toast? Have you got any washing for me? Shall I fetch it for you?’
During the course of the weekend, these two lads didn’t make one cup of tea, clear one single plate from the table or dip so much as a little finger into the washing-up bowl. Meanwhile, their mother was on her knees with tiredness. It made me feel furious. And I wasn’t the only one.
‘She’s ruined them,’ their dad confided in me. ‘They’ve never done a thing for themselves and now they never will. I feel sorry for any woman who ends up with them.’
And, right there, that poor, pushed-out, overlooked, jealous dad had hit the nail right on the head. The problem with idolising someone is they get used to it. And being worshipped and adored is a hard habit to break.
Suddenly I saw my own future. It wasn’t looking great.
And so now I face a choice: Do I want to send my sons out into the world as selfish, demanding demi-gods or do I want them to grow up knowing how to treat all the women in their lives with respect?
For the answer I turn to my own, sadly late, Mother-in-Law – Mum to My Husband. She has four sons. All were cute and appealing as children but none was indulged or worshipped. As a result, they know one end of a kettle from the other, can conjure up dinner for two at a moment’s notice and can tell their women – without having a panic attack – where exactly the ironing board is kept.
They still adore their mum – the memory of her, at least. And it is no coincidence that she was also adored by each of her four Daughters-in-Law.
Luckily, there’s time to get a duster into my lad’s hands. And if that doesn’t do the trick you, dear Daughter-in-Law, can always get your revenge with a well-aimed joke. My favourite? What do you do if you miss your Mother-in-Law? Reload and shoot again!
Love from your much-loved (I hope) Mother-in-Law