Tale of the Terrible Daughter-In-Law

Not too long ago, I met an attractive, well-dressed couple in their 50s—my husband would likely be half of such a couple had he married earlier, had children earlier. Upon seeing my son, the woman began gushing, “What a beautiful boy! He is gorgeous! Being the mother of a son is life’s greatest joy! My own beautiful boy is grown, and if I had to do it all over again…

(Parents of young children, brace yourself. You KNOW what is coming: advice! “I would have sent him to private school/public school/homeschooled, would have made him play sports/take piano/study harder, would have breastfed longer/potty-trained earlier, would have been stricter/more relaxed…”)

“I would have started coaching him at an early age to marry an orphan.” Okay, I was NOT expecting that particular piece of advice, but I admit that as of late, I’ve had the urge to tell my own single friends the same thing. “IF HIS PARENTS ARE STILL LIVING, IT’S A DEAL BREAKER! MOVE ONTO SOMEONE ELSE!”

Then, this very pretty, slightly older woman in the Brooks Brothers suit proceeded to tell me that her son, her only child, had married four years ago, and since then, she has had no time with him. “It’s all about the wife’s parents now, and it’s been that way since their wedding. They vacation with them. They spend every holiday with them. Now, she’s pregnant, and they’ve asked her parents to be in the delivery room with them. Can you believe that? It’s our grandchild, too. But it’s just this way in every family. All my friends say the same thing, ‘it’s all about the girl’s parents and never the boy’s.”

Her husband nodded in agreement and looked at his feet.

“I’m sure it’s the same way with YOUR family. I bet YOUR parents get all the time in the world with this little angel, but your husband’s parents have to settle for whatever time you can spare because that is just the way it is in every family,” she continued, but now, she was looking at me with disdain. How dare I steal some woman’s son?

“No, actually…”

“Oh, you can’t tell me that YOU aren’t running off to your parents’ home every Christmas! We have spent the last four Christmases alone! Just the two of us!”

“No, actually…”

“And birthdays! My son and his wife threw a big party for her father just last month. Sure, we were invited, but you don’t see them making any kind of fuss over us when one of our birthdays rolls around. We’ll be doing good just to get a card or a phone call, and you know once that baby is born, they will just forget about us completely. That’s the way it goes. That’s what all my friends say.”

Deep sigh. Should I tell her she is wrong?  Should I tell her that one day, that very daughter-in-law—the one she so clearly resents–may be the one holding her hand at the doctor’s office? Should I tell her that her daughter-in-law may one day be the person feeding her and dressing her?

No, this is not the time to deliver a lecture or whine about my sandwichy life or even defend the honor of daughters-in-law who are good to their husbands’ parents. Besides, I accept that every family is its own culture, and this kind of conversation proves just that.

I resisted the urge to tell her what I was really thinking, and instead, I did my best to muster some sympathy. “I’m so sorry that you feel so forgotten,” I said. “That must be really, really hard for you.”

“It is,” she said, and again, her husband silently nodded. “You are so lucky. You have a daughter, too.”

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