Last night my NMIL left a comment on my facebook that made me really angry. It was a long paragraph of barely coherent sentence fragments. Words of adoration and encouragement and advice. It was supposed to sound loving and supportive to her facebook audience, but mostly it was annoying and condescending and a big, fat lie. But the part that really got to me was the end. She signed her comment, “Mom.”
My NMIL is NOT my mother. This is something we’ve brutally fought about in the past. The story goes back to the planning of my wedding with my husband. We announced our engagement during the fall and were married by early spring. It was a short engagement and a lot of planning and not much time. The in-laws did not handle this well. In fact, they were downright unsupportive. Every decision or idea we had, they shot down. They had a complaint, an excuse, and an accusation for just about every detail. They threw a wrench into our plans at every chance they got.
The thing that really hurt the most was deciding the location of the wedding. I have a very large extended family that is rooted in Maui. My husband’s family is very small with only three people and no extended relatives. They are from the city of Honolulu, which is on a different island. Maui is an extremely beautiful island and since my family is much, much larger than my husband’s, we thought it’d be a great idea to have the wedding there. I was especially excited to show my husband and his family my home and my family and my history for once. I was prepared to give them the royal treatment and welcome them into my family. I thought it was a wonderful opportunity for them to receive the aloha spirit from my ohana (family) and to experience a lavish island getaway. When my husband told his parents our plans, their reaction was the complete opposite of what I expected. They bickered and complained that it was unfair to them, that it was too inconvenient for them to travel to a different island, and they refused to come if we had the wedding there.
It was a huge slap to my face. My immediate family lives in the continental U.S. No matter what island we chose for the wedding, they would have to travel at least six hours by plane to get there and back. (And by the way, a roundtrip to Hawaii for an entire family is not cheap!) My husband and I were also living in Japan at the time, so we also would have to travel for an entire day just to get to the islands. Meanwhile, my husband’s parents were complaining about a mere 20 minute flight! They also expected me and my entire family to cater around just the three of them. I couldn’t believe how selfish and conceited they were!
My husband is my NMIL’s golden child, so at this point he still believed his parents would bend over backwards for his every wish. For the first time in his life, his eyes were opened to the true character of his narcissistic mother and his enabling father. He fought with them left and right. His father even told him that he would not support him as a husband. Unfortunately, since this was the first time he’d experienced rejection from them, it also meant that he wanted his parents’ presence and support even more. He fell for my NMIL’s mind games and was willing to do what it took to ensure that she would be there. That meant having the wedding on their island.
I made the terrible mistake of staying at his parents’ home for the first couple of nights before the wedding. At that time, my NMIL kept making comments about being my mother and me being her daughter. Of course, I was not okay with this, but I didn’t have time to argue with her. I just wanted to get through the week and be married, so I ignored it. Well, three nights before our wedding, she made the same comment. “I’m your mother.” This bothered my husband and he spoke up. He told her to stop saying that. She then turned to me and asked, “You don’t have a problem with it, do you? You can trust me. You can tell me the truth.” So I did. I told her it made me feel uncomfortable. In those words. Her response was, “I’m so offended!” and she stormed out.
An hour later I walked into the living room to see my husband’s family in a heated discussion. Come to find out, they were fighting about what I said earlier. My NMIL felt I had rejected her and accused me of rejecting her entire family. She turned it into this big fiasco and that heated discussion turned into a family intervention on my personality! His mother accused me of being unfriendly and disrespectful to them and not integrating myself into their family. His father lectured me on how I needed to behave if I wanted to be in their family and be married to their son. I kept my composure and told my NMIL that she needed to back off. But when it was all over I was so, so angry. I felt so betrayed that my NMIL made it all about her three days before my wedding and angry at my enabling FIL for being such an arrogant hypocrite! They couldn’t fly 20 minutes to Maui to acknowledge my family, but I was supposed to call them “Mom” and “Dad”?! I have only ever been that angry once in my entire life — when I was sexually abused by a distant family member. It took me years to forgive my abuser. I still haven’t forgiven the in-laws for this yet.
Fast forward two years later. Here NMIL is pulling out the “Mom” title again. On facebook. Facebook is a public place. My entire family is on facebook, including my mother’s very large, extensive family. Her sisters, cousins, aunties, uncles, nieces, nephews, and of course, my siblings. My family is not very emotionally expressive, but we respect each other. To us, “Mom” is a title reserved just for my mom. She gave birth to me, raised me, paid for my education. My NMIL did none of that. Her calling herself my mom in front of my mom’s family is rude and arrogant and disrespectful to my mother. Not to mention she crossed a boundary I had already told her not to. I deleted her comment immediately. I hope none of my family members saw it.
Since my husband and I live in Japan, we’ve been able to live our lives separately from his crazy, entitled family. I’m also happy to report that my husband is no longer brainwashed and is better at standing his ground with them. But now that there will soon be a grandchild in the mix, things are becoming a bit more blurred. Boundaries are being crossed again. The title “Mom” is being thrown around. And soon, that will be my title too. It’s honestly something very strange for me to grasp. To take ownership of that title. The weight of responsibility of being a mom is intimidating, but I’m realizing it’s something very important that I’m going to have to do for the sake of my child and my family. To stand my ground as “Mom.” But I need to do it right.
It forces me to ask the question, “What does it mean to be a mother?” To me, it means someone who gave birth, raised, and financially supported their child. But beyond that, what? I have two examples. My own mother and my husband’s mother. My mother is extremely strong willed and productive. She’s great at taking care of finances, providing material needs, and getting things done. I’ve learned a lot from her. How to be strong, to be aware of my surroundings, and how to pack a suitcase like a pro. But she is not emotionally nurturing. (Have you seen the mom on Fresh Off the Boat? Malcolm in the Middle? Roseanne? That’s my mom!) My NMIL is also extremely strong willed, but emotionally volatile. Obviously, there are no personal boundaries with her and it’s always all about her. (Have you seen the mom on Everybody Loves Raymond? Terms of Endearment? That’s my NMIL!) It’s almost as if the word “mother” is synonymous with the word “God” to her.
Are these examples good enough? I love my mom, and like I said, I respect her. I know I want to be a strong woman like her. But I also want to be more than that. I know I do NOT want to be like my NMIL. So how do I do “Mom” right?
Actually, there’s a third example. The Holy Spirit. Here are some of the names for the Holy Spirit: Comforter, Counselor, Advocate, Guide, Intercessor, Teacher, Witness. When I look at this list I realize this is the one thing both our mothers lacked. (Maybe in my NMIL’s case, not the only thing.) It’s what both my husband and I lacked in our childhoods. Realizing this missing piece gives me hope for my daughter. I pray that I can be those things to her. I know I’m not going to be perfect. I’m going to mess up at times. But I think that’s the key. Being a mother means I have to love my child like God — to be comforting, encouraging, guiding, watchful, prayerful, and present. But I cannot become her God.
And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed.” — Luke 1:46-48
When it comes to my NMIL I honestly have no answers. I’m still mad at her. Her abuse of the word “Mom” infuriates me. Managing this type of hostile relationship is still relatively new to me. Half the time I don’t know what I’m doing. But the most important thing to me is that I remain my child’s mom and not hers. At least I know this: I’ve got the Holy Spirit to comfort, encourage, guide, and teach me. That helps.
As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you. — Isaiah 66:13