Sometimes married life, or co-habiting life, or just hanging out life, has traps. Like a bear-pit. These traps can sometimes, I have heard, take the form of unscheduled and unannounced visits from other people’s parents. Or so I am told. If you do happen to find yourself in such a situation, perhaps you’ll need a little help. Here’s what advice I have picked up along the way, from friends who have had this sort of thing happen to them.
If you hear about a proposed visit by MIL to your town while you are away on holidays, the best thing to do is promptly forget. You don’t want to ruin your relaxed state. When you return from holidays, still forget. Until two days after you get home. Then hubby will remind you and you won’t have time to do anything. This is probably for the best.
When he does remind you three key pieces of information will be imparted. Your MIL is in your town, you are going to take her for coffee, he can’t remember her number. (These facts are all interchangeable with other facts like, today is Saturday, the car needs petrol, I can’t find my keys, as they are, equally, all completely useless).
If you arrive at MIL’s temporary accommodation with her longtime friends, say hello, be welcoming and friendly. If she then produces all her luggage when you think she’s gone to collect her purse, remain calm. Under no circumstances should you shoot accusatory glances at hubby*. He is in the same boat, that is far out to sea, in the dark, with no EPIRB or any flares. The next 48 hours will be a stormy period. Better to stay calm and dry for as long as possible.
Natural topics of conversations for MIL
- Your wills
- The contents of her house and how she’d like you to have them
- Your husband’s ex wife (etc)
- Your husband’s children
- Your husband’s father
- Your husband – with the sub-topics of, his job, his parenting, his political beliefs, his table manners, his future plans, his children
- Your house and its contents
- Your choice of school – together with choice of what age to send your child to school
- The education system at large
- How many ‘certified’ genius grandchildren there are in the family and how your child is going to be one of them
- Young people today, and all that.
There are a number of approaches for dealing with ‘the natural topics of MIL conversations’. Most of them involve irony and a thick skin.
Over, say a 48 hour period, if you are very proficient, you can employ all of the different approaches in turn. Sometimes, if you are extremely good, you can employ different approaches for the same conversation at different times. Naturally, you may be finding yourself in the same conversation a number of times over 48 hours. You can either play a straight bat, take the ironic route or just pretend that you didn’t hear the question. Anyone like another cup of tea?
For example, the conversation about the contents of the house will go something like: ‘I have a 12 place setting Noritake dinner set, would you like it?’ Your response should be, I’d love it, but MY mother just gave me a 10 place setting Satsuma and we really can’t store it. I mean where would we put it? This last phrase should be accompanied by an expansive gesture around your tidy living room. This may then morph into, if there is anything at all that you want in the house, just say so. It is a good idea to defuse this with wry remarks about bringing your own roll of red stickers next time you visit. Mine. Mine. Mine. Sold. Sold. Sold.
Exactly the same conversation at another time about a different dinner set may include phrases like, have you had this valued? Anyone ever appraised your collection?
Having narrowly avoided collecting more 60s dinner sets, a camphor wood chest and a glass table with a light inside (just for example) the conversation may take a morbid turn towards the wills, death and dying and the rosy future you will have after everyone else is dead, with the 60s china and the glass table. You need to be ready for this. Here, my research tells me, you can use all the different approaches together. The question about your own will, should be answered with, are you happy with your solicitor? Perhaps we should get further advice? This will perhaps deflect the conversation momentarily into the legal profession and all that ails it. And away from you and your BLANK will kit you collected from the post office last time any one mentioned it. Cup of tea anyone?
The school conversation, much like the genius grandchildren can either be treated seriously or ironically and you can use the same stock responses for both. Yes, we do think our child is your most special grandchild and indeed a genius, would you like to see his umbilical cord?
*Using the term loosely of course, to mean ‘other spouse equivalent’ which I read once on a form.