Wednesday, 14 August 2013


My Mother-in-law deserves a capital ‘M’, so herewith she’ll have one.

I know what you’re thinking ... but it’s OK. I have a very strong relationship with my Mother-in-law. Since she set me up with her daughter seven years ago she has and remains positively instrumental in my life. Now she has a grandson, her wisdom, foresight and unconditional support – attributes I’ve been fortunate to be on the receiving end of – will be shared amongst a new generation.

While I’m fortunate to have a great Mother-in-law, I’m told there is a diversity of mothers-in-law. Though the range seems extensive, most seem to be well-intentioned passionate helpers. Some can be home ambushers who, with a key to your house, can and do pop in unannounced to help with chores, cooking or to share their company. There are the self-appointed matriarchs who pride themselves on delegation, clan management and strong ‘family first’ beliefs. Some are quiet, unassuming, standoffish and placid. They range from social conservatives who frown upon fun to pot-smoking ultra-liberal lefties who act more like irresponsible siblings than parents.

But there are three things (well there’s probably many more, but for this purpose there’s three) all mothers-in-law have in common: the desire to assist, a clear pride at becoming a grandparent and experience in raising children. Not only do mothers-in-law who are grandmothers have proven parenting ability, they can raise their spawn to the point where a new generation can begin. This gives them enormous gratification.

Whether they remember how to calm an overtired baby at 7pm is irrelevant; they have served their time battling sleepless nights, ironing thousands of cloth nappies and wiping the bottoms of a brood of their own, and so, they are well qualified to coax a grumpy newborn into la la land.

I do note, however, that when a mother-in-law becomes a grandmother there is an obvious shift in perspective. She relishes the opportunity to shower the offspring with onesies, twosies or exorbitantly expensive outfits from overseas. (It’s all very much appreciated except, perhaps, the camp outfit from Spain that will turn my son into an Easter egg if it’s put on).

Accompanying this generosity is an arsenal of well-intentioned advice and fond achievements – the pride of flawless breastfeeding or nappy starching. Pity the mother who, struggling to breastfeed her own baby, is reminded that as a newborn she latched perfectly to her mother’s teat “and you did it just like this”.

As a hands-on father absorbed by the new role I too, admittedly, have lost a bit of perspective. I can get frustrated at such free-flowing parental advice, wishing instead that we could have the opportunity to muddle through the journey ourselves. Blind to the empathetic offer of a helping hand, I can occasionally perceive my Mother-in-law’s rite to advise as a bit meddling.

From my wife’s perspective, on the other hand, the advice is treasured. A new bond is born; one a father will never experience. It is a special bond underpinned by shared understanding and acknowledgement; ultimately a new mum wants to know that what she is doing is right and that it’s the same way mums have been doing it in the past. Who better to discuss sore nipples or a bout of baby blues than with your own mother?

As a father who works full-time, as most do, I value the limited time I have with my son. The early evening bath, a midnight feed and a quick book in the morning are the treasured moments of our relationship. For the working grandmother, who must meet even tougher work demands, finding a time that doesn't encroach on the new family’s time can be difficult. Of course, there have been times when I’d wished a visit could have waited a day or two, and ultimately my wife is torn.

But at the end of the day, my Mother-in-law is getting the balance right. My son has two adoring grandmothers. My wife and I have a pair of mothers-in-law at the ready, willing to rush to our aid at the drop of a hat. They are always thrilled to be asked to babysit. And if a little time’s lost here and there to the Mother-in-law, then at least I know that it’s returned in the favour of a night out with my wife.

No mothers-in-law were offended in the production of this post...I hope.