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The Mother-In-Law Story

She's really just acting in the best interest of her grandchildren...

Grandma outside looking over her should knowingly

Grateful is not the word you would use to describe how you feel about your MIL’s presence overtaking your home.

Being that we are Moms Against Racism, I need to talk to you about a specific type of mother; the Mother-in-law.

Now, I am sure ALL of you reading this have just wonderful relationships with your MIL, as do I, but many people don’t. There are oodles of blog posts about MILs and their Toxic Mother-In-Law behaviours. There are books written about How to Deal with Your Mother-In-Law. Hollywood even made the movie Monster-In-Law, where the protagonist, Charlotte, meets the man of her dreams but is up against a MIL hell-bent on destroying their relationship.

Having just celebrated Christmas, this relationship dynamic was on my mind. Perhaps not this year, because Covid, but years previous MILs have often come for a visit for the holidays. To stay. For more than a couple of days. The thought of it can make many people cringe. Based on my “research”, here is what I have found often happens during these “visits”.

Stage One: The Mother-in-law Descends.

This stage may or may not be prefaced with advance notice of the visit. This advance notice could come as a “request” or a “suggestion” of a visit, which, for all intents and purposes is not really a “request” or a “suggestion”. More likely, it is a fait d’accomplis. She is coming to stay and there is nothing you can really do about it.

Stage Two: Insincere pleasantries

This is the calm before the storm, so to speak. In this stage all “appears” to be going well. She has brought gifts (albeit a bunch of useless crap you will need to get rid of as soon as she leaves), is saying mostly kind things, and is doing her best to “get along”. It would seem, perhaps, she does want to have that genuine relationship with you.

Stage Three: You are doing it all wrong

Keeping up appearances becomes exhausting for your MIL and gives way to passive-aggressive comments, or direct attacks on your housekeeping, parenting, and general life choices. She is leaving no opportunity unaddressed to let you know you are definitely NOT good enough for her child and are ill-equipped to raise her grandchildren right. Your partner, having grown up in this culture, sees nothing wrong with the criticisms, per se, and does not rebut the attacks.

Stage Four: The Takeover

Then, somehow, you find yourself giving up your room and bed and being relegated to the basement guest room so that she can be more comfortable. Your kitchen is “reorganized” while you are out. Your Grandma’s eclectic lamp, that you love, is donated to the thrift store and replaced with some sterile meaningless lamp from Ikea. You’re told to relax because she is helping with the kids and making dinners – that you should be grateful she is here. Grateful is not the word you would use to describe how you feel about your MIL’s presence overtaking your home.

Stage Five: Depression

In the evenings you hide out in your “room” downstairs as you no longer feel comfortable being in your own home. You try and go out with the kids for long periods during the day but she offers to take them off your hands so you can get errands done, and now you feel so alone. Your partner, willfully oblivious to all this, is no help in setting boundaries or straight up ousting her from your home. You are angry, sad, lonely, hopeless… all at once. She has stripped you of everything that once was yours, in the name of “helping you”, and now has full control over your household. Oh, and she’s just announced she’s decided to stay for another two weeks. FYL.

Does this sound familiar? Can you relate? If this hasn’t happened to you, because your MIL is the best, I am sure you know a “friend” who has recounted a similar story. Could you empathize?

Congratulations! You have just been given a taste (on a much smaller scale) of what it feels like to be on the receiving end of colonization. The process of assuming control of someone else’s territory (home) and applying one’s own systems is called colonization.

The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples grouped the history of colonization in Canada into four stages:

• Stage 1: Separate Worlds (up to 1500 AD)

Indigenous and non-Indigenous societies developed on their own in lands far from each other, with different cultures and forms of social organization. This changed when Europeans arrived and began to settle in North America.

• Stage 2: Contact and Co-operation (1500 to 1870)

A growing non-Indigenous population sought ways to foster co-existence, mostly in the form of trading and military alliances. Despite a steep decline in Indigenous populations due to diseases carried by settlers, this time was marked by mutual tolerance and respect, with each society left to govern its own internal affairs.

• Stage 3: Displacement and Assimilation (1871 to 1969)

In this period, most of non-Indigenous society—now larger and more dominant—stopped respecting their Indigenous neighbours. Interventions in the lives and lands of Indigenous peoples grew as the dominant culture set up policies that forcefully absorbed Indigenous land and people into the Canadian mainstream.

• Stage 4: Negotiation and Renewal (1970 to present)

Supreme Court victories for Indigenous peoples, along with the recognition that assimilation was a failure, compelled non-Indigenous society to begin seeking change to the relationship through dialogue, consultation and negotiation. Meanwhile, Indigenous leaders regained greater control over their own affairs and re-established their own societies by healing the wounds caused by decades of domination.

Although the stages in our “fictional” MIL colonization don’t directly line up with those outlined by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, I am hopeful you can see the analogy to the experience of the Indigenous Peoples of Canada. For a more detailed discussion on the timeline of Canadian Colonialism and Indigenous resistance, take the time to read through Leveller’s article which starts in the 1600s and takes us up to present day.

Now back to our analogy. Imagine you have been living this oppression for hundreds of years. It has caused trauma for you, your children, your children’s children… Could you just...get over it? Would the situation be made better if the MIL apologized to you - yet everything remained the same? What if she allowed you to have part of your own front lawn back? Not the good part, mind you, where you could actually grow any food or flowers, no. You get the unusable part right beside where you store your garbage cans. Your neighbours? They don’t understand what your problem is and give you side-eye anytime you walk by their house. You know, just in case you get any ideas about their flowers.

And the partner who was silent in all of this for generation after generation? Who, by their ignorance, facilitated what was happening; what about them? Sorry to say this my friend, but if you are a white person reading this, that partner is you.

Colonization, and all its systemic effects like white supremacy, racism, misogyny, ableism - they are all permitted to continue unless YOU decide to step in and push back. This was created by your ancestors, figuratively and literally.

It is time for you to do something about it.

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