Having A Baby Brought Me Closer To My Mother-In-Law

With my own mom living in another province, my MIL has been a true blessing to me

The birth of my first child was the culmination of several years’ worth of major life changes. I had ended a long-term relationship, moved cities, changed jobs, started dating my future husband, set out to make new friends, gotten engaged, gotten married, bought a house, gotten pregnant and given birth—all within a whirlwind two years. Although I couldn’t see things that clearly at the time, by the time my first child was born, I was a little overwhelmed.

At a time when I most needed the stability, comfort and familiarity of close family members and old friends, few of them lived in the same province. My mom was two provinces away. Phone calls and emails and occasional visits were wonderful, but they weren’t a true substitute for someone local to lean on (and learn from). Lucky for me, and somewhat unexpectedly, one of the people who filled that role was my mother-in-law.

I have always felt fortunate that I genuinely love, appreciate and enjoy spending time with my husband’s parents. I know that for many couples, there is tension that comes along with the in-law relationship, but as the years go by and my family grows, I feel more and more aware of how rare it seems to be to be able to say “I get along wonderfully with my mother-in-law”—and I try to remember not to take it for granted.

Now, my MIL is not really the super touchy-feely, bubbly person you might be imagining, given that she completely bucks those nasty clichés about MILs. She is a direct and no-nonsense person, and at the same time, hands-down one of the most generous and supportive women I know.

Going to my MIL’s house as a new mom, I knew I would always be offered two things: meals I didn’t have to cook myself and the chance to have a rest—either just on the sofa or in a quiet bedroom—while someone else took loving care of my usually cranky baby. In those early months I came to see her house as a blissful oasis of support and companionship.

I learned a lot about baby care from her. Just by watching her, I picked up some great tips on soothing a baby (and have since gotten quite a confidence boost by passing those tips on to others!). Her parenting style sometimes seems old-school compared to this generation, but there’s a lot to be learned from our parents’ generation and how they made do without all the hundreds of baby gadgets we have access to today.

When you’re in the trenches of early years parenting, sometimes what you need the most is practical advice to make your life as simple as possible. That’s the sort of advice my MIL is a pro at dispensing. (And luckily, she’s the first to say that she has her opinions but she doesn’t expect anyone to agree or follow them.) So, for instance, if I expressed guilt at not having the energy to dress my baby in “real” clothes, she’d tell me that there was barely such a thing as “baby clothes” when her kids were little and that they basically lived in sleepers 24/7 for the first few months of life. She reassured me that I had nothing to feel bad about.

One of the most important ways my MIL showed her support to me was through her attitude towards breastfeeding. She made it clear that nursing was completely normal, something I didn’t need to feel self-conscious doing around the extended family. While some other women I know felt like they needed to go into another room to nurse when visiting their in-laws (or any family or friends) so as not to make others uncomfortable, my MIL was a staunch proponent of normalizing the sight. And she was absolutely appalled at the suggestion that nursing mothers feed their babies in bathrooms. More than once I heard her say that if anyone ever suggested that to someone around her, she’d ask them how they’d like to eat their own meal sitting on a dirty toilet. This made me laugh and also admire her convictions, and I knew she had my back.

She also told me often that when her first child (my husband) was a baby, he was very unsettled and cried all the time. She knew what I was going through and could totally empathize. It really helped me to have someone who could see my situation for what it was (very challenging) and say, “I know how hard this is for you... I’ve been in your shoes, and it will get better.”

Before I had a baby, we usually saw my in-laws about once a week for a big family supper—which was fun and I felt was important, but sometimes felt like a big commitment (every Sunday?). But after our son arrived, those family suppers turned into a whole day gladly spent at their house. As the first couple among our local family and circle of friends to have a baby, we didn’t know a lot of other people in the same boat. I began looking forward to Sundays as they truly became a day of rest and family time. And now, on the odd occasion that we don’t have a family meal on Sunday, I feel a little out of sorts and adrift. That recurring get-together really anchors me.

In a short time, my MIL went from someone I simply hoped I’d get along with, to one of the most treasured people in my life. And, lucky for me, I could also write a whole other essay on my amazing father-in-law!

When I see my MIL’s face light up as we come up the front steps and how she enthusiastically welcomes us into her home, I feel truly blessed that I do not deal with those stereotypical mother-in-law issues. She’s someone I love to spend time with, even without the kids—we even have a standing weekly yoga date!

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