Why It’s Important to Forgive Our In Laws, Whether They Deserve It or Not
This was our first visit to my in laws and I woke before anybody else. Tiptoeing into the living room, I pulled open heavy, opaque curtains that concealed a dazzling lake view, plucked an orange from the fruit bowl and settled back to enjoy the sunrise.
Then my mother-in-law walked in.
“Who opened my curtains? We don’t do that here because sun fades the furniture,” were the first word out of her mouth. Her next words were, “Who said you could eat one of my oranges?”
“What a witch,” I thought but didn’t say. Instead, I dropped the half-eaten orange back in the bowl and stalked out.
This was the first of many blood-pressure raising encounters with my mother-in-law, but eventually we settled into a truce. Ours was never a warm, fuzzy relationship, but rather, a respectful, beneficial one.
I came to admire certain qualities she possessed that I lacked, such as her ability to seize everyone’s attention when she entered a room, even a room filled with much younger women. I was never that confident, and it awed me to watch her slip so effortlessly into the limelight.
I admired the fact that she was brave and creative enough to wallpaper a room with covers of New Yorker Magazine and paint sweeping murals across her kitchen tiles. An excellent cook, she shared her recipes with me, which greatly improve my culinary skills.
The proudest she ever was of me was when we were in a restaurant and I sent back an overcooked steak. “You sent your food back! I’m so proud of you,” she, who almost always sent her food back, exclaimed.
While I grew to admire and eventually love my mother-in-law, I always vowed that I would never be like her. My daughters-in-law could open my curtains, eat my oranges, do anything they liked in my house, and I would not say a negative word.
I would not be that kind of mother-in-law.
That’s why I was stunned, dismayed and totally blindsided several decades later when my son’s wife hated me
I got my first inkling of trouble after they got engaged. She didn’t want any of my friends invited to the wedding. “We want to keep it small,” my son said when my half of the guest list was crossed out.
I objected but didn’t make too big a deal of it, even when aunts and uncles were excluded. Even when my best friend whose child had been my son’s best friend was left out. Even when every relative or friend of the bride who had ever flickered, however briefly, across her radar screen was invited.
I didn’t make a stink because I didn’t want to be THAT MOTHER-IN-LAW.
Peace at the wedding was a small price to pay for a good relationship, I thought. Only the good relationship never happened. Her dislike only escalated.
When they visited us, she got my son to drop her off at Panera Bread Company at 8 a.m., where she spent the day until he picked her at 5. After refusing dinner with us because she had already eaten at Panera Bread, she disappeared in the bedroom.
Finally they stopped visiting altogether and I decided on the “kill her with kindness” approach. I sent gifts with messages like, “I know you’re studying hard in grad school so I’m sending a care package.”
I tried phoning, but she was always busy or out.
All my attempts to win her over failed miserably.
This experience with my daughter-in-law is probably what brought a jolt of recognition when I read an article about Patrick Reed, this year’s winner of the Masters. The ESPN article, titled From 3 Miles away, Patrick Reed’s family wept as they watched him win the Masters, detailed Reed’s alienation from his family following his marriage.
Patrick’s mother, father and sister had to watch the Masters on television as he sank the winning putt, because they weren’t allowed on the golf course. According to the article, the Reeds haven’t spoken to Patrick in six years.
Patrick, his wife, Justine and her family stand on one side of the fence enjoying family time together while Patrick’s family, the Reeds, weep and cheer him on from the sidelines. The Reeds are not welcome at Patrick’s tournaments, to the extent that they were escorted off the grounds of the 2014 U.S. Open in compliance with Justine’s wishes.
There was no clear explanation in the article for why the feud started, but it goes long and deep, beginning with Patrick’s marriage to Justine. His parents have not been allowed to meet their two young grandkids. When asked about the estrangement, Patrick replied, “I’m just out here to play golf and try to win golf tournaments.”
Never mind that Patrick’s father bought him a set of plastic golf clubs as soon as he was born, that father and son couldn’t get enough of playing golf together and that his parents supported him with lessons and golf club memberships. Whatever the feud is about appears to have canceled out an entire lifetime of support.
A study from the University of Cambridge Center for Family Research and an organization called the Stand Alone Institute has found that rifts between parents and their son’s wife are among the most common reasons for family estrangement.
Maybe there are valid reasons for cutting off communication with a spouse’s parents. I know from personal experience that in-laws can be difficult. But a valid reason doesn’t mean that refusing to forgive is a good or appropriate path to take.
I decided with my own in-laws to be forgiving, for my husband’s sake. I loved him and they had a lot to do with the man he turned out to be. What I gained through remaining in a strong relationship with them was a growing love and appreciation for the unique gifts my mother-in-law brought to the table and a stronger relationship with my husband, who appreciated my acceptance of his family.
I actually miss her now that she’s gone.
If I could sit down with Patrick Reed, I would tell him that his life, his children, his marriage would be enriched and blessed if he could extend an olive branch of forgiveness.
Love is a better platform for building and sustaining a marriage than bitterness and resentment. Unforgiveness has a way of spreading its poison to other areas of a person’s life, causing a gradual erosion of happiness.
As for my own daughter-in-law, I never found out what I needed forgiveness for and she never grew to love and accept us. Instead, she and my son divorced and he is now married to a young woman who is a beautiful, loving daughter-in-law.