Posted by: Kate | December 28, 2008

Dropped the Ball

Oh, Mother-in-Law,

To say you dropped the ball would be an understatement.  Unless you’re talking about dropping a bowling ball through a layer of tissue paper.  Your son decided to drive the extra three hours out to see you, and to have a very important conversation with you.  The possibility of actually severing ties, of stopping communication, has been raised in our house of late, but he decided he wanted to have a sit-down conversation with you .  He wanted to express his concerns and give you the option of changing the trajectory of this particular projectile relationship.

Because, see, we don’t need you to change.  We don’t expect anything out of you, and we have no demands to make.  There’s no such thing as a grading rubric in our world, no handbook that gives a particular list of the minimal effort one needs to put forth in order to remain a Family Member in Good Standing.  Just some effort, some pretense at caring, even if it’s only on Christmas and Easter, or whatever family holidays would make you feel like you were still a practicing grandmother.  People we hear from once or twice a year feel like loving, benevolent family members, so we’re not creating some unattainable standard, here.

And for a long time, we carried the relationship.  All of the phone calls, the letters, the updates small and large, all were initiated by us.  You even had the gall to complain that it was hard to get us off the phone, because we had so much to talk about.  After a while, we stopped reaching out, because it was starting to feel as if we were begging you for a relationship, and the begging was, frankly, demeaning.  We both deserve better.

So we stopped, and it turns out that you weren’t willing or able to make any of us a priority.  Not me, of course, and thank God for that; we’ve seen just how hateful you can be when you decide to turn your guns on me.  But not Willem and the kids, either.  You don’t know what they’re up to, what they like to do in their spare time, what their plans are.  Not because it’s hard to find out; we’re not exactly a bunch of closed books around these parts.  But because you don’t show the tiniest glimmer of effort.

It hurts Willem, you know.   He won’t show it, because it’s extremely hard for him to show any sort of emotion, particularly around his family of origin.  He was raised in an environment in which the only viable interpersonal emotions were a dragging, guilt-laden “But I love you” brand of obligation, or a biting, hurtful, sarcastic form of anger.  Problems were dealt with by name-calling and shouting, or by complete avoidance.  Around me, and around others, he has learned how to communicate and experience things and express himself and, blah blah blah, somehow become a fully functioning adult.  So it does hurt him, the longer time stretches out without any sort of interest or connection from you.  He might not be able to express it to you, because you haven’t changed, even if he has – but it’s there.  Just listen to his refrain, about how he cannot imagine treating his own eventual-someday-theoretical grandchildren the way you treat yours.  “Just try to keep me away from them,” he says. “I don’t want to invade their lives, but I want to know who they are.  I’ll make time to visit.  I’ll see them.  They already matter to me, and I’m still appalled at the mere concept of my children attending an R-rated film.”

And family, being family, still matters.  So he drove out to see you, taking an extra day away from his family to have this dreadfully important conversation.  This chance to let you know,”Things are not OK.  And we don’t need them to change for our sake, because we’re doing OK amongst ourselves.  But if you want any chance of developing a relationship with your son and grandkids, you need to make some effort, yourself.  We’ll tell you how you can try, if you want to, but we won’t demand it.  It’s your choice.”

You, at the very least – and truly, it’s sad that this even deserves recognition – showed up for the talk.  You didn’t bail at the last second.  But then you spent your time lying and being defensive.  You refused to take responsibility for your own actions, and you talked about how you felt you were being treated like “the bad guy” here.  Let me tell you, lady, this shouldn’t be a case of good-versus-bad.  We should all be on the same team here.

Then you left to go on a date with your boyfriend, despite this being only the third time in two years that you’ve been in your son’s presence.  Despite having plans to go away with him again for two days on New Year’s.  You made a legitimate choice, and we’re not angry about that; we just are learning how to receive the messages you’re sending out.  You’re telling us what your priorities are.  You’ve been doing so for quite some time, actually; we just took a while to recognize them.  Now we’re trying to let you experience the consequences, negative and positive, of your own actions.  They happen to be negative in the realms of “relationship with son” and “relationships with grandchildren.”  I hope, simply because you are a human being and I don’t have the energy to wish you harm, that you are finding positives in other areas of your life to balance that out.

None of this is a surprise.  I would appreciate bring proven right, except that it hurts my husband and he deserves better.  It doesn’t hurt my kids, because they have other grandparents who show them some simple, uncomplicated interest; but it will, as they grow older and become more aware of your absence.  Emily is already asking questions.  And while I am very careful to keep things as neutral and non-blaming as possible, I am also careful to be honest with them.  There is a way to fix that problem, of honesty being painful, and it is not to start lying and dissembling.  It’s to make some changes, to behave in ways that aren’t inherently embarrassing.

So, anyway.  You’ve already gotten more of my time than you deserve, and this is really a function of me working out some of my impotent frustration at your selfishness.  I have the same wish for us both, and really for everyone I know: May your actions receive appropriate and natural consequences.  May you reap what you sow.

And, just for you, I hope that “natural consequences” includes nasty, weeping, chronic blisters on your inner thighs from riding your new horse.



  1. How awful for Willem. I know it’s been a long time coming, but to have it happen this time of year is especially hard. My m-i-l has a hard time understanding the consequences of her actions, too. What is it with them?

  2. Oh for fuck’s sake.
    Good for Willem for having the convo, despite having a sense of how it would good, despite having an idea of the outcome, despite knowing the resulting emotions, good for him for doing it. A pox on her for being, well, her. You all deserve better (including her). Ugh.
    We’d be happy to adopt you and play the role of grandparents, albeit extremely young ones!

  3. Damn. You knew, yet you didn’t know. For sure. Now you do. God help this woman.

    I sincerely hope you consider printing out this post and mailing it to her.

  4. She is certainly a wretched human being, isn’t she. Not that there was much doubt, but she just loves offering confirmation. She sucks big, hairy balls.

  5. 😦

  6. Wow…she’s really something, isn’t she!?

  7. Is it time to cut the ties completely? I know it’s a difficult decision to make, and an even harder one to stick to, but it sounds like that’s where you are. I’ve probably said it before that Shane’s dad is a selfish bastard who I was willing to give the benefit of the doubt when Shane and I first got together, despite Shane’s insistence that a relationship with the man was not an easy thing to maintain. We tried and tried, and then the asshat chose not to come to our wedding because he was mad at Shane for something really stupid. It was then that I realized what a selfish, emotionally-retarded man he is, and Shane and I mutually decided that we would no longer have any contact with him. We don’t have much control over the fact that he sees BB from time-to-time, but he will not have any contact with our future children. I know that deep down it is very sad for Shane, but it’s a sadness that he has learned to live with his whole life. He accepts the sadness because the alternative is a weeping wound that would be constantly ripped open if we continued to try and have a relationship with the man.

    I hope if you guys decide to cut the ties, that Willem can make peace with that decision. I’m so sorry y’all are having to go through this.

  8. Family dynamics are sure complicated sometimes…when I married my husband, I felt like I was marrying another culture. My MIL can be weird too…she’ll entice us to come visit and then ignore our kids, for instance. Weird.

    My parents, on the other hand, take a keen interest and never miss the mark where Christmas and birthday presents are concerned since they know the kids very well and ASK what they want. But my in-laws must shop at the Oriental Trading Company…

    Well, I hope you can recover from all this and take in some lessons…family relationships can be difficult and perhaps it is wise to take some distance and just concentrate on family members who offer positive energy…

  9. Kate, I think you’ve now done all you/Willem can do. She’s made her choice, you’ve made your effort. I’d ditch her now, hurtful it may be but it’s clear the woman is not going to change. A great shame, I’ve always held out some hope that after a face-to-face she might realise but (having someone similar in my family) I know these people cannot see themselves as being part of the equation or accept any responsibility for the damage they cause. You’re now better off without her. I wish she read your blog because this piece is powerful indeed!

  10. Good for you guys, for being straightforward and honest with her. And double-amazing-good for Willem for basically spending a day driving to do it. I’m sorry she couldn’t hear you in a way that would make a difference in her choices.

    Blisters sound appropriate. And also: ew.

  11. 2 words….HER loss. 😦

  12. Blech. I’m sorry, sorry for your husband, since he so obviously doen’t want things to be this way. People are so hard and hurt each other so much. May you all have some freedom from the mil’s mental illness in 2009.

  13. UGH! BTDT and still waiting for a REAL response. I hope she grows up and realizes what all she will be loosing but if she is anything similar to my MIL (which she is) she will never get it. I am so sorry for Willem and the kids, especially emily right now because she can see the differences. BUMMER!

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