Thanks to Christy B. who has asked me if I’d like to write a guest post for When Women Inspire, based on my book The Daughter-in-law Syndrome. I had a little think and came up with this:
We as mothers spend years nurturing our children and trying to do our very best to give them a good childhood to remember, perhaps even better than ones we had ourselves. Sons (and daughters too, but I am writing here of the mother/son relationship) are our moon and our stars. Of course there are exceptions, but I’m going to write on a general level here, and assume a strong mother/son bond.
This mother/son bond is formed sometimes while the foetus is still in the womb, and as time passes and the boy blossoms and grows, that bond is strengthened further still. Therefore it comes as rather a shock when the boy becomes a young man, starts staying out late, and begins to forge a life of his own in which the mother suddenly finds to her chagrin that she has very little input.
One day the son brings home a girlfriend for his mother to approve, but whether she does approve or not is irrelevant. Her moon and her stars decides it’s time to move in with his girlfriend and leave behind all that is familiar. His mother cannot even bear to look at this stranger who has taken away her pride and joy, and senses that the mother/son bond might be unravelling before her very eyes.
Such was the scenario I faced when my husband Sam first took me home to meet his parents. His dad was lovely, but oh dear, his mother Jean was not. After a curt ‘hello’, Jean then proceeded to direct all her conversation to Sam, and ignore me completely. Tensions were further increased when I couldn’t eat all the dinner she produced, being used to far smaller plates and less food. After we were married she grudgingly allowed me to call her ‘Mum’, but whenever I phoned she automatically assumed it was Sam ringing and always said “Hello Sam” straight away after recognising our number. After about 25 years of it I finally snapped and replied “Hello Dad.” There was a strained silence, but she never did it again.
Sam of course never wanted to take sides, and tended to stay out of it. Jean often told lies to her daughters about something nasty I’d said to her or done. One of Sam’s sisters told me only recently that she had never believed her mother, but unfortunately the other sister did and hardly ever spoke to me.
However, 37 years have now passed. Jean is now nearly 90 and has mellowed somewhat. I don’t know what she has said to her daughters, but now both of them speak to me and invite us for family get-togethers. Jean recently told me that my sons are a ‘credit’ to me, causing me to nearly fall off my chair after I received this first compliment ever from my mother-in-law.
I’m a quick learner. When my sons brought home their wives-to-be, I went out of my way not to be like Jean. I get on well with my daughters-in-law, and never turn up unannounced at their homes, or criticise their child-rearing skills however much I would like to! I smile and nod a lot.
So you see, I had much to base the character of Edna on in The Daughter-in-law Syndrome. When Edna meets her son Ric’s wife-to-be Arla for the first time, Arla suffers just the same as I did, although when it’s time for Arla to be a mother-in-law it takes her a lot longer to come to terms with the loss of her moon and her stars than I did.
We all have to adjust to our adult children leaving home and making their own family lives away from us, and for some parents it’s a bitter experience. However, it doesn’t have to be. It’s all up to you!
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