As if I didn’t already have enough to worry about with five kids all under the age of ten, I had been hoping, praying, and planning for my mother-in-law to move in. My husband, who often worked long hours, travelled a lot for work, and who, frankly, was often more focused on his career than his family, really pushed for my mother-in-law to come live with us. He thought it would help ease my burden of managing our chaotic household.
I didn’t agree at first. After all, I had always managed just fine on my own even when my beloved father passed away unexpectedly. I had managed to survive my husband’s absence while he worked abroad and held down the fort four times during the darkest winters of all. So why did I need my mother-in-law living with us now?
“We will pass the time more quickly together talking about life rather than alone counting all of the dishes in the sink every day!” My husband insisted as he logged another late night from the office. I could feel in my bones that he was right but I couldn’t bring myself to acknowledge it - plus, I wasn’t ready to give up my hard-fought independence.
Fast forward a few months and the idea of having my mother-in-law living with us became more appealing. My husband had been helping reorganize our spare bedroom so it was ready for her and I could feel the anticipation building up inside. We discussed how introducing another adult into the home could give us healthier family dynamics and allow us to focus on things we both needed: rest, relaxation and connection.
On the day of her arrival, things were stable, peaceful and a bit exciting. The kids, blissfully unaware of the potentials of our new normal, were counting down the minutes until their “new aunt” would arrive.
However, the first week of her presence was filled with an unexpected undercurrent. My mother-in-law brought a different energy to our home and the kids noticed it too. We had little fights over silly things that seemed like lighthearted teasing at first, such as who should carry the last bag of groceries in from the car. However, with each passing day, the glibness eroded away. My mother-in-law began wanting to take charge of the decisions in the house and that created tension between us.
The truth was nobody knew what kind of changes to make in the house and nobody was willing to budge. It was like a seesaw – whenever somebody moved one way the other followed suit without thinking twice. There was no proper communication happening and each of us ended up with the same opinion, which caused all sorts of disputes.
My husband and I had to make an effort to remind ourselves that this was supposed to create unity, not hostility. We needed to take a breath and remember that we were trying to bring a fresh element of our family back together and build a happy home.
That’s when we decided to take little steps towards making this transition smoother and more meaningful. We started to plan regular family outings, tasked the kids with intentional efforts to make my mother-in-law feel at home and engaged her in a variety of activities.
This was a great move because it helped us talk through situations without arguing and even opened up conversations around solutions to some of the difficult issues that had recently risen between us.
The surprise turned out to be the resentment we felt towards our mother-in-law has somewhat faded away and we have become a closer knit family than ever before. We recognize that having her with us can provide valuable insight, support, and emotional security, something that neither of us had ever expected.
The fighting has not gone away entirely but, in hindsight, it has been a good kind of fighting. It’s the kind of thing that strengthens relationships and brings a multifaceted perspective to the table that can help us appreciate and contemplate multiple solutions. It has created an environment of challenge and respect where our family can grow through a variety of meaningful interactions and gained perspective.
At its core, welcoming my mother-in-law to our home has taught us how to remain flexible and open-minded to negotiation and cooperation - even in moments of stress and uncertainty.