Posted by: Kate | January 10, 2012

‘Twas That Season.

…the season, that is, of waiting to see whether this would be the holiday in which my mother-in-law got the message. Up to now, she has steadfastly insisted on sending cards addressed to the children for all relevant – and irrelevant (Halloween cards? Really?) – holidays. They’ve always been forwarded by the post office because she doesn’t have our new address, and she kept sending them despite repeated reminders from both Willem and me that our children will not even risk a paper cut on an envelope she has handled until she shows some interest in genuine communication with their parents.

And so, she is to be congratulated, for finally getting it: we didn’t receive an inappropriate packet of holiday cards. Either she got the message, or the post office lost it. Either way, it was one less thing to stress about. (Edit: Yeah… never mind. They just got lost in the mail; they arrived on January 12th. Nice to avoid during the holidays, but obnoxious nonetheless. And still.)

I mentioned my mother-in-law, briefly, in my last post, after quite a stretch of radio silence on the topic of Herself. I thought she deserved a bit of extra airtime (facetime? pixels? whatever), because all strong characters in a play should be able to experience the occasional follow-up. If VH1 could manage to make Flava Flav a relatively recognizable personality umpteen years after his rightful descent into inappropriate-timepiece-wearing obscurity, then it seems only fair that I bring the topic of me, myself and my mother-in-law up-to-date here.

It’s my blog(gy?) and I’ll write if I want to… but, as it turns out, I actually have a few relevant reasons for mentioning her now. One, I continue to get a significant amount of blog traffic from searches along the lines of “passive-aggressive mother-in-law” and “my mother in law hates me,” so while my relationship with her no longer plays a significant role in my life – my blog’s first title was Post-Traumatic Grandma Disorder, if that gives any indication of how intensely her hatred impacted me – I do feel some level of responsibility toward my readers. You bothered to click over here, so I’ll offer the occasional update, even when it’s just, “Two years and counting, no change, no contact.” She was very briefly in contact when I was sick, because my mother simply couldn’t imagine that she would maintain her grudge in the face of my near-death illness. My mother was certain that C. would throw herself in the car and rush out to support Willem and the kids, regardless of her feelings toward me – maybe she would disappear once I was discharged from the hospital, but surely she would want to come help them get through the worst of it at home, in my absence, right? Right?

No. Wrong. She sent me flowers in the hospital, which didn’t reach me for a few days because I wasn’t allowed any flowers in the ICU. So then she called me with a guilt trip: “Did you get the flowers I sent?” Which is just begging for a thank-you, because there are other ways to confirm a delivery, and yes, I received them, and they’re lovely, and thank you, truly. Really. But send some to Willem, because he really needs his mom right now. (I didn’t actually say the last bit, because I didn’t want to get further involved than that from a hospital bed. She ended up on the phone to Willem, sobbing and telling him just how sick I was, just how much danger I was in, and so on, to the point that he had to ask her to stop calling; her calls had become another source of stress for him, not support. And that’s the last time either of us spoke with her.

A few months later, there was a brief email exchange. It wasn’t pretty. And there has been nothing but silence since. So there you have it, Dear Readers: an update of nothing.

Two, I continue to get the occasional lecture from readers aghast at my willingness to air my dirty laundry, tell my side of an ugly story, disrespect my husband’s mother in public. “Why on earth would you write about things so publicly? How would you feel if she wrote a blog about you?” To which I can only, and in full honesty, reply: because when I just write in a journal I’m only venting, without any remote possibility of connecting with other humans – in either positive or negative ways – and the validation I receive from others in similar situations, as well as the challenges (and occasional insults) emanating from those not in favor of my words, are both important, thought-provoking, helpful things.

And, if she were to write a blog about me, I would be terrifically amused, deeply interested, and incredibly hopeful: I have never, ever understood her venom, her thoughts, her views of any of the hundreds of incidents that have coalesced into a painful, gnarly mess of a relationship between us. This blog is the only way I was ever able to even get her to acknowledge my personality and existence apart from “My Son’s Wife,” and after a decade of abject failure when either Willem or I attempted to engage her in any level of honest communication, I would welcome any level of insight into her world. (Not to mention, it would be hilarious.)

Three, the cable network A&E has been in contact with me four times now, asking if I would consider appearing in their new series, Monster In-Laws. The first two times were sort of form letters that appeared in my in-box or as comments here; I don’t remember the details but I do remember thinking it was a joke. The second two times have been direct, personalized emails, sent to me and explaining some of what the show is about. I have steadfastly refused to even consider such a thing, because I cannot think of a single less genuine way to repair a broken relationship – and trust me, I’ve given it a lot of thought; paying C. to spend time with me would feel less false than taking a decade’s worth of hurt and confusion (on both sides; nobody is pretending here that I was a model daughter-in-law – it’s just that my style has always been up-front and as honest as I knew how to be, which she seemed to find to be overly aggressive) and trying to cram it into 42 minutes of screen time.

But the concept amuses and delights me, just thinking that I have a story vivid enough to catch the attention of someone at A&E. It may not be a part of my daily existence, now, but all of my family relationships have played roles in helping to create the person I am now. Even – or maybe especially – those relationships that have faded to black.


  1. Here it goes, my outspoken opinion for what it’s worth as it is only an opinion…. I am honestly saddened by the fact that Willem, you and his mother cannot seem to find common ground for a relationship. It sucks all the way around for ALL of you. Everyone is missing out on what could have been/could be a great relationship. But relationships take work from EVERYONE involved. They also require respect of ALL of those involved for each other. That is a hard thing for some and impossible thing for others. Yet I still, being forever the optimist, have hope that things will change for the better with your “relationship” with mom in law. If it does not work out it is really too bad as she is missing out on two really great adults and three phenomenal children. And because of the time lost with their Grandmum, the kids are missing out as well. Kate, please write a book. You could write about the most mundane thing and I would find it interesting and amusing. You have quite a bit of flare in your writing. I love to read what you write no matter what it has been Jeff just told me last night we are going to have to get to your house and soon. It will have to be a red eye weekend trip but we can do it. I know I still owe you a letter. I wrote one and the writing was too messy for me to send it.
    Love and hugs

    • Laurie, I couldn’t agree more: nobody wins in this situation. I would love to attempt some sort of reunion with my mother-in-law, and have told her so. All it would take is some recognition that there has been bad blood, there have been awkward situations, etc., and so we need to start over with some care and caution – not a “wiping the slate clean” that she has requested, because that’s just not possible. So far, she has apparently decided that she would prefer to be angry than to start over. It’s a sad, sad thing.

      And the door is always open, the couch always available (or we could put you up somewhere close by, if you wanted some more space and privacy!)… any time. And I don’t mind messy handwriting, honest…

      Love to you all!

      • Just a note on Destinys reply… My mom and I actually had a tumultuous relationship when she was alive. We had a different situation though, loved each other through and through but had no idea HOW to communicate. We were both very emotionally driven and clashed constantly. I miss her dearly and you can’t make up for time lost. I guess that is why I say I would love to see things get resolved for all those involved. But… we are all human and things don’t always go the way we would like. So just make sure of you and your house and you wont have to worry or feel bad!

  2. I don’t think they’d be able to get a genuine breakdown out of you without sleep deprivation, overmedication, and alcohol. Sure, they could frankenbyte both you and your mother-in-law into the craziest women ever, but you have to have a breakdown for this sort of reality tv.

    Wishing you and your family peace. No news can be good news.

  3. Kate coming from hated daughter-in-law to another I have to say the mess after they pass away is just as bad. The feelings and unresolved emotions are difficult and trying to explain it to children is a sucky thing.
    Funny part is that after she has passed now Steve and I are cleaning up her life, laying out the details of her final wishes because executor of the will she designated is a lazy selfish bum (the favorite apple didn’t land far from the tree.) I feel her apology days before she died was half-hearted and she only did it so she wouldn’t die alone knowing that I wouldn’t let that happen because again her favorites don’t really care enough about others to sit there with her in those last moments. I was there as she made that final gasp for breath and to call her time of death not the people sh favored. I find it so screwed up. (I only say it was half hearted because it started out with “You know I have always hated you…”)

  4. I’ve been very blessed with a delightful mother-in-law. Sure she has some quirks but when I hear the horror stories from other people I Thank God for letting me find a man with a mother I get along with!

    When my mother married my step-dad there was NOTHING she could do right in his mom’s eyes. You are definitely NOT alone. Some people are wicked, vain, and malicious….and nothing you can do will change their behavior.

    Good luck (and yes, my mom gave up over time – but never denied my step-dad or her children the opportunity to see “grandma”….but as we got older, she lost interest and so did we.)

  5. I cannot believe they are making such a show. Actually . . . yes, I can.

    My m-i-l has been on her best behavior lately. It’s been boring.

  6. “(Not to mention, it would be hilarious.)”

    You make me giggle.

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