Finding Common Ground

Yesterday so many of us celebrated Mother's Day. A few weeks prior to the holiday my husband asked me about dinner plans since he wanted to make reservations in advance. I chose a local hibachi place, not because I love hibachi but because the little guy has been begging to go. He's never been and I wanted him to enjoy the experience of the explosive fire, knife twirling, egg catching, cooking fun. I asked my husband to make the reservation for four people. He looked at me with raised eyebrows and asked, "Are you sure?" I nodded. You see, even though my relationship with my mother-in-law is a challenging one, I know that if we didn't include her in our dinner plans, she would be alone on Mother's Day and that wouldn't feel right to me.

If you've read my blog before then you know that my MIL and I are like oil and vinegar. It's been that way since her son first introduced me to her years ago. I'm not the Korean daughter-in-law she wanted and unfortunately this adversarial relationship we have is not the relationship I imagined I would have with my husband's mom. I always try my best to show her respect but she makes loving her or even liking her quite difficult. After our first few meetings I tried my hardest to convince her that I was worthy of her son. Gifts, conversations, smiles all proved futile. The more I tried, the more negative comments were cast directly or indirectly my way.

A baby is a blessing but when one enters the world mothers everywhere are often given unsolicited advice. My MIL followed this trend to a T and would spend our sporadic time together instructing me on motherhood ---what to feed my child, when I should put him down for a nap and for how long, how often and how I should bathe him, even the color of his innocuous baby clothes was a topic of grave concern for her. Nothing I could do as her son's wife or as her grandchild's mother would please her. Everything about me was just wrong. I won't lie and say that I immediately turned the other cheek. Initially I was angry and cried a lot! What could I do? How could I make her like me?

At some point, probably after I had a few years of this mothering gig under my belt, I started to relate to her as a mother. I figured out that I wasn't the problem. She had ideas of who her child should be and who he should marry. As parents we want the best for our children. Some of us have carefully constructed plans for their future. Maybe we want them to go to our alma mater. Maybe we want them to play the same sport played by their father and grandfather. Maybe we want them to take over a family business. What happens when they decide on a trade instead of college? What happens when they decide to pick up a paintbrush or instrument instead of a ball? What happens when they say no to taking over a family business that has been in one's family for generations? My MIL's reaction to me wasn't about me at all. Her plans for her son were disintegrating before her eyes. She was afraid of losing the connection to her firstborn. She was afraid of being abandoned. How could someone not from the same culture help to keep their family traditions alive? She was determined not to like like me let alone allow me into her life. She had plans for her child and I went and ruined them. It was easier to blame me than her son. I served as her whipping boy.

Nowadays our relationship is tolerable. We try to make polite conversation. I believe that she now understands that I'm not going anywhere. For anyone lucky enough to be a parent we understand that it is hard work but it's also difficult to transition from being your child's everything to taking a backseat and letting them live their lives. Young children adore their parents with blind devotion. Our babies see their parents as all-knowing, perfect beings. It's when they start becoming their own person that they see their parents as flawed individuals. We see our parents' frailties, their fears, their inconsistencies and failures. We can either choose to resolve the these two identities or we continue to play the blame game. In the case of my MIL, I chose resolution. I resolved to continue to respect my MIL even when she's at her worst because I see her as a scared mom wanting to keep her son close, and as a mother I understand. After our delicious, entertaining dinner, we stood outside of the restaurant and said our farewells. My husband was driving her to a friend's house. I reached out to my MIL, gave her a gentle hug, and wished her a happy mother's day. She returned my hug, whispered the same sentiment back to me and in that moment I knew she meant it. ~HZM

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