Mother-in-laws tend to have a bad reputation, commonly cast in films and soap operas as being interfering, self-righteous and jealous. Within a farming structure, they are often seen as desperate to keep the power they hold within the farm family and the community. But is that accurate? Is she really a villain or is she misunderstood? If her visit is putting a bit of a dampener on your Christmas, here’s some ways to make it easier too. Let’s start with working out which kind of mother-in-law you have (be warned, they are on a sliding scale of wonderful to, well, not so wonderful).
There are different types of mothers-in-law – which one is yours?
- The Grateful Mother-in-law: She is so happy that a nice girl married her son as she had given up on him. She will welcome you with open arms.
- The Busy Mother-in-law: She’s delighted to have you to take over her farming roles of feeding men, feeding calves and doing the paperwork. She’s busier than ever now anyway – playing golf, meeting friends and attending ICA or WI meetings and courses.
- The Granny-Wannabe Mother-in-law: She is over the moon to have a daughter-in-law (especially if she has all boys) and is excited about the prospect of grandchildren.
- The Needler Mother-in-law: You get on well yet you have different ways of doing things. She puts all her mugs and glasses facing down, you leave yours facing up. She changes yours around every time she pops into your kitchen.
- The High Expectations Mother-in-law: She doesn’t think you are good enough for him. She isn’t happy with anything you do and tells everyone about your ‘failings’.
- The Controller Mother-in-law: She wants to maintain the ownership of the farm. She expects you to work off farm but also help out in your ‘spare time’. She might even call you a gold-digger if she believes (or wants to believe) you are interested only in the value of the farm. She seems determined to set her children against each other and views any input from you as unwelcome interference.
- The Impossible Yet Normal Mother-in-law: Even if you produce the beloved grandchildren, provide an off-farm income and work on the farm, she still never sees you as worthy of a compliment or her approval, not if she lives to be 100.
If you are inviting the in-laws for Christmas, here are some tips for getting on with her on Christmas Day.
- Prepare as much as possible the day before: Don’t worry about the vitamins leaching out of the vegetables– prepare them anyway. Braised red cabbage and brussel sprouts can be pre-cooked and reheated without loss of taste. Set and dress the table. Make the stuffing and leave in the fridge. Pour yourself a glass of wine and practise your relaxation breathing techniques.
- If she offers to cook or bake something, ask her to bring whatever it is that your husband always says “yours is never as nice as my mother’s” or “I always loved xxx as my mother used to make it”. Not only does it save you trying to make it to their exacting standards but with a bit of luck, he will realise that nostalgia cheated his memories and your baking is nicer.
- Have a plentiful supply of her favourite tipple. If that fails, present her with a box of chocolate liqueurs.
- Show your regard for her by buying her a hand knitted cowl not a scarf. Scarves are extremely dangerous on farms as can get caught in machinery. Everyone will appreciate the gesture. Don’t forget to pretend that you knitted it!
- Accept that you won’t get brownie points no matter how scrumptious the dinner. If her son happens to carve the turkey, it might make it the best she ever tasted though. Little credit may be awarded to the person who raised, plucked or cooked the turkey.
- Invite others for the afternoon to dilute the effect.
- Treat yourself to a quiet walk after dinner so you get some space. Record your favourite Christmas programmes and let her watch all the soap operas.
- Accept you are going to be working for most of the day but ensure you have a week of relaxing days to follow when you’ve lots of ‘me time’.
- Remind your husband that he owes you a long weekend away and keep telling yourself that too.
- Accept all compliments graciously and at face value. Presume there is a compliment in there somewhere even if it doesn’t quite sound like it. Don’t go looking for the deeper unsaid meanings. Be polite and firm. Smile lots. Eat plenty of chocolate.
- And an extra tip. I reviewed The Homecraft Book recently and I think it would be a great little book for starting conversations about comparing the past with today. There’s plenty of laugh at too and it will keep the conversation going as older members of the extended family share their stories. Add that to her Christmas stocking. And don’t forget to get a copy of How To Be A Perfect Farm Wife too – after all, there’s a section in there on how to cope with your mother-in-law! And of course, never forget that someday you will be a mother-in-law too!
I hope you have a wonderful Christmas, with or without the in-laws,