Pride and Precedence: Oh, to be a Mother-in-Law!

An ongoing series by Persuasion’s Mary Musgrove


Being a mother-in-law is, I am convinced, the pinnacle of a married woman’s life.

A maudlin sentiment? Not at all.

See here, once a woman’s looks have been spoiled by childbirth, what else is there? One cannot pine for past conquests forever! I laugh to think of my elder sisters, whose beauty is so admired and fêted, suffering the same fate. How mortified they will be! How they will turn away from the looking glass and sigh!

No, after that disaster has taken place, one must look to the future. Mine is quite wondrous, actually.

Children are raised. Oh, to be done with having to listen to Mama Musgrove’s criticism of my parenting skills! My sons will be married and gone—and if they eat too much or run about shouting or ruin the furniture, what is that to me? They will bear the consequences of their own folly. I will look on and smile.

Social prominence is unchallenged. By that time, I will be mistress of Uppercross and calling the shots. As wife of the squire, I will run the Public Days and preside over every social event of note in the district. I would like to do those things now, but a certain person refuses to expire! A lovely bit of influenza would do the trick. But does he ever fall ill? I remind myself that patience is a virtue.

Complaints are expected, and with good reason. I will be able to say whatever I wish to—and about!—my daughters-in-law. And no one will be able to do a thing about it, save to listen! I smile to think of one of them having to live in Uppercross Cottage, with its small, cramped drawing room and inadequate closets. While I indulge the grandchildren and win their affection. And come to call, but only to suit my convenience and at the most awkward times. I will feign disinterest, while toys are kicked beneath the sofa and crumbs are brushed aside. Yes, delightful!

Dear Mama is always right. A husband is a disappointment, but a son? He will defend his mother against every accusation, and always take her side. Mr Charles is a prime example of the unjust and unwarranted defense of Dear Mama.

Ah, but I am a Dear Mama myself. And I have not one son, but two! Which means I will have two daughters-in-law—and therefore will be twice as right.

Courage, gentle reader! Patience will carry the day. Your turn will come.

Most cordially,

Mary Elliot Musgrove
Daughter of Sir Walter Elliot, Bart.
Future Mistress of Uppercross

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11 thoughts on “Pride and Precedence: Oh, to be a Mother-in-Law!

  1. Robin Helm

    Ha! Mary unsheathed her manicured nails today. I would hate to be her father-in-law, knowing that she was standing by, impatient for my demise. Too funny!

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  2. Laura Hile Post author

    With a mother-in-law like this, who wouldn’t long for Mary’s demise? Her poor daughters-in-law!

    And their mothers. And their sisters. And their friends…all of whom are on the receiving end of Mary’s criticisms.

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  3. Gayle Mills

    Thanks for the confirmation, Laura, of something I only had suspected before. I reached my pinnacle four years ago, when my last unmarried child took the plunge. So now I’m a mother-in-law to my DIL and my SIL. They’re take on our relationship would be very interesting, I’m sure. I do know that I have become more dear to my SIL with each successive birth leading to the completion of their family of 7. You move right to the top of the list when you offer babysitting services.

    I think the Musgroves should be very careful around Mary; her mercenary nature obviously knows no bounds.

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    1. Laura Hile Post author

      In the back of my mind when I wrote this, Annette, was the real-life situation of a friend of mine. Talk about a clash of cultures!

      Debi is Native American, raised on a reservation. She is upbeat, smiling, and straightforward. She laughs, she cries, she addresses issues head-on … and action is the answer for most everything. I had the privilege, when we were both homeschooling years ago, to visit a ranch and see Debi astride a horse. She lives in suburbia, but that girl’s home is most definitely on the range!

      As sometimes happens among Christians, she met and married a very nice fellow from a different culture. He’s American-born Chinese, a peach of a husband. But his mother? Debi had no way to know about what is expected (in traditional culture) of a Chinese daughter-in-law.

      To be fair, her mother-in-law has very poor health and is almost a recluse—not typical in the Chinese community. But apparently the mother-in-law is supposed to rule the roost, with the daughter-in-law following meekly. Debi was often perplexed. Hidden messages, guilt manipulation, and self-pity were the weapons in this game, and they went rolling off Debi’s back. Her mother-in-law was, I think, often horrified at the direct way Debi confronted issues. “So, Mom, what’s the real problem here? Have I offended you?”

      This was not what the poor woman was used to. “Why, no!” she would say, when it was obvious that Debi had.

      Through the years, they’ve forged a working relationship. Debi is a great help, and continues to be meet as many of her mother-in-law’s needs as she can. But guilt manipulation, while hurtful, simply did not work.

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    1. Laura Hile Post author

      Absolutely Mary Musgrove, isn’t it? Satin for day wear? The so-chic parasol? And, my word, what a hat! Just the right get-up for a stroll through the weeds. Mary, Mary…

      I found this years ago, probably on some art site, before images were watermarked. It’s Afternoon Stroll by Giovanni Boldini.

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  4. Susan Kaye

    My MIL was a peach. My FIL on the other hand was a challenge. And a half!

    It’s always nice to have Mary’s take on things.

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Why yes, we DO want a piece of your mind. ;-)

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