The Worst Mother-in-Law

I’ve just finished reading Mychael’s post Monster-in-law at Scott’s new blog, Morally Contextualized Romance, and skimming through the comments.  There are several good stories there about the positive role a mother-in-law can play in her daughter-in-law’s life, but the question asked was how to avoid becoming a MONSTER-in-law to your (potential) daughter-in-law.  I’ll never have a daughter-in-law since we have only daughters and no sons, and (despite some tensions early in our relationship) my own mother-in-law is not a monster, but I do have a thought on what would make a terrible mother-in-law.

I think a terrible mother-in-law is someone who seeks to influence important decisions in her son’s and daughter-in-law’s life according to her own agenda.  Equally important would be the problem of the son who seeks to involve his mama in marital decisions overly much.  Allow me to provide an example that I have mulled over for years.

Two years ago, the self-help author Susan Jeffers, a not-infrequent guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show, passed away.  She was born Susan Gildenberg, got married young, had two children, and decided that she was meant for “more” than “just” raising a family (her words).  So she went back to school, biding her time until her husband was making enough money to afford daycare, and then divorced him, giving him full custody of the children so she could pursue a full-time career as a psychologist and self-help author.

After getting divorced, she changed her name to “Jeffers” because she liked the way it sounded.  Among her many words of bad advice for women, one of them is that as soon as they are old enough, women should randomly pick a surname of someone they don’t know and change their name to that because to keep their fathers’ names or take their husbands’ names is sexist and implies that the woman is owned by the men in her life.  In her view it is better if the woman is just disconnected from everything and everyone, I guess.

“Jeffers” first popped on my radar one morning back in the early 2000s when I was watching the Today! show (back when we still had TV) while feeding one of our daughters.  There was some segment on the Mommy Wars with careerists squared off against the stay-home mom crowd.  I’ve always found that debate tiresome, but I watched it idly.  Jeffers asserted that women should NOT have children but if they are stupid enough to have them, they should never, ever have more than one, because it would limit their career success, and their careers should be the most important thing in the world to them. I thought, “What an awful woman.”

But a week or so later I was at the library when I saw a book she’d published in 2000 entitled, I’m Okay, You’re a Brat.  The book claimed that it would debunk harmful myths about raising children, so on a whim I grabbed it and read it.  It was an absolutely disgusting piece of trash, it turns out.  The book grumbles over all the challenges of raising children, but the real gist is that “Jeffers” did not like being a mother and therefore believed that most women probably dislike being mothers and instead should devote their entire lives to their “careers”.

But one anecdote she told in the book horrified and disgusted me at the time and has stuck with me these some ten years or so.  At one point, Jeffers’ son came to her and told her that he and his wife were thinking about having a child and asked her if they should do it.  I wish I could find the direct quote of what she said to him, but the gist of it was that she told him that he and his wife were fools to even consider having children, that they absolutely should not, that they would hate every minute of it, and if they had children, to understand that they should never imagine that she would want to take care of their child for them for even a moment.

Now, I don’t know why a man would go to his mama to ask her whether or not he ought to have kids; one would hope that by the time he is a husband, he is a big enough boy to make decisions like that for himself.  But for heaven’s sake, what kind of mother would give that kind of advice to her son?  It’s none of her business whether her son and his wife have children or not!  I felt sorry for Jeffers’ daughter-in-law, and I would say Jeffers epitomized the Monster-in-law in that example.

My advice to young single women would be Don’t marry a man who can’t seem to make decisions without asking his mommy first.  My advice to mothers would be Don’t raise your son to be the kind of man who runs to Mommy for advice before he makes decisions for his family.  And my advice to wives would be Don’t set yourself up as some kind of authority over your husband such that he feels like he needs to get female permission before he makes decisions for his family (go to Dalrock’s blog and search “mother-in-law” for a good post on that topic).

In terms of how to treat a potential daughter-in-law when first meeting her, though, I think Mychael pretty much has it right when she says:

I have told Scott that what I would like to do is really pour on the sweetness and submissive attitude toward him, in the girls presence so she can internalize “this is what my guys mom treats his dad like. Does he expect that of me?”

And then maybe give the girl a chance to ponder that.  It may be the first time she’s seen a woman who treats her husband with a sweet, respectful attitude and she may very well be intrigued but unsure.  Gently influencing her (potential) future daughter-in-law with her good example is likely to be the most helpful thing a mother-in-law can do.

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Christmas Conversations: horrifying scotch and industrial accidents edition.

I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas. We spent Christmas Eve at one of Phil’s brother’s houses and then after opening gifts at home on Christmas morning, we drove to Grand Rapids to visit my family.

My brother bought my father a bottle of Woodford Reserve bourbon and though I don’t usually like the hard stuff, I took a little thimbleful. Wow, it was delicious with sort of a coconutty flavor and even a few sips made me feel a bit giddy. And then my husband opened his gift from my brother – it was a bottle of Laphroaig scotch. Great, I thought, that bourbon was nice so I’ll have a little sip of this scotch, too!

Dear lord.

Horrifying.

Have you ever tasted Laphroaig, which is considered to be a very nice scotch – after all, Prince Charles spent his sixtieth birthday at their distillery?

HRHNosing

My brother poured glasses of it for us, and we all raised them to our lips and sipped. Shock registered on everyone’s faces, and I gasped, “It…it tastes like bandaids!”

“It’s more like Chloroseptic,” my brother remarked. “But…I kind of like it.”

“This can’t be right. It’s horrible. It must be like spoiled or something,” I insisted. “I’m looking it up on google to see what it’s supposed to taste like.” According to the company website, this is how it should taste:

  • COLOUR : Full sparkling gold
  • NOSE: Huge smoke, seaweedy, “medicinal”, with a hint of sweetness
  • BODY: Full bodied
  • PALATE: Suprising sweetness with hints of salt and layers of peatiness
  • FINISH: Lingering

Yeah, let me tell you about that lingering medicinal nose…Here are several examples that I found of Laphroaig’s own ads:

laphroaig-opinions-2014_4    laphroaig-opinions-2014_11

 

Tastes like burning hospital? The definition of medicinal? At $50-$60 per bottle?

I poured the rest of my glass into the sink while the menfolk manfully drained their glasses, declaring in a manly way that they sort of liked that medicinal band-aid booze. I ate a piece of Christmas fudge and shook my head in bafflement at the tastes of men.

Later, stretched out on the hotel sofa, I tweeted:

The responses, all from men, were entertaining:

17h17 hours ago  It’s an acquired taste. Very peaty.

17h17 hours ago  Disagree on both counts. Send it to me. That’s my drink.

Matthew 7:6

For those who don’t know, Matthew 7:6 says Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces. In other words, I laughed to myself, I’m a hopeless plebe for not savoring that burning hospital beverage.

17h17 hours ago  What it tastes like, my friends, is mother’s milk.

I’m a fan. It’s more of a rubbery taste. Oddly, Roibos tea has some of the same flavors.

I tell people it tastes like old man feet.

But what makes a man like to drink something that tastes like old man feet? And what made my brother exclaim that he liked that Chloroseptic-flavored libation? And what made all the other men decide that they, too, liked it? Another tweeter explained:

Men like to drink painfully bad drinks. It’s some quirk in our brains.

Well, that does seem like the explanation that best fits the evidence.

Anyway, have I ever mentioned that I come from a blue collar sort of family? Well, I do. My father worked in factories my entire childhood and made a good living doing it, but when the recession of the early 1980s really took hold, many manufacturing jobs went south and my father lost his job and couldn’t find another. Those were lean, cold, dark years of government cheese (my parents never accepted government handouts, but my mother volunteered to distribute government surplus staples to poor senior citizens and was encouraged to take home any remaining leftover items, which thankfully she did because sometimes it was all we had to eat) and intermittent electricity. My father found work on one of the nearby dairy farms getting cows into the milking buildings and back into the barns or fields early in the morning in the bitter cold, but he was also accepted into a program that helped men get job training. He chose to go into tool and dye making and eventually earned his journeyman’s card and finally even completed a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering.

But he still works in a factory, just now he has a good job there. He designs and builds and maintains the machines that the factory workers operate and when those machines break, he makes the pieces to fix them. At least, I think this is what he does, but when he talks about his job, I don’t really understand exactly because it’s all very technical.

My brother, though he is the smartest person I know, never went to college and also works in a factory doing similar work as my father but in a less technical fashion – he sets up and keeps running the production line machines used at a factory that makes granola, breakfast cereal, and other snacks. It’s semi-skilled work.

It’s also incredibly dangerous. As is my father’s job. As is my brother-in-law’s job on an oil rig in the middle of the gulf.

As the men I hold dearest in this world sipped their revolting scotch on Christmas evening, they got to talking about their jobs, and oh how I wish, wish, wish I’d recorded that conversation. I’m going to relate it to you from memory as best I can (and since I was quite sober, with my drink gone down the drain, I remember it fairly well).

But first, let’s take a sidebar moment to discuss male privilege. Here is how the gods of the internet define male privilege:

Male privilege is a term for social, economic, and political advantages or rights that are made available to men solely on the basis of their sex. A man’s access to these benefits may also depend on other characteristics such as race, sexual orientation and social class.

Last year, a YouTube video by Stephen Parkhurst entitled “White Guys: We Suck and We’re Sorry” went viral; it’s since been removed but was described thus (highlighting mine):

The four white dudes featured apologize for their lack of empathy while insisting that it’s not really their fault. “If you knew how easy it is to be a straight white man in America, you’d get why we might be a bit resistant to change. Cut us some slack,” they beg.

Meanwhile, MIT’s Male Privilege Checklist includes this item:

If I have children with a wife or girlfriend, and it turns out that one of us needs to make career sacrifices to raise the kids, chances are we’ll both assume the career sacrificed should be hers.

I find the use of the word “sacrifice” interesting here. It’s a sacrifice for the woman to stay home but it’s not a sacrifice for the man to go to work and earn money to support her and the baby?

So let’s talk about sacrifice. When I was six years old, my father worked in one of Grand Rapids’ many furniture factories (most of which no longer exist, but GR used to be known for its excellent quality furniture). One day I came home from school to find my father at the table with a bandaged hand. His middle finger had been severed at the distal joint; he counted himself lucky because he was able to pick the severed digit out of the machine, put it in a paper bag, and walk to hospital, where they sewed it back on. By some miracle, it didn’t turn gangrenous and so he doesn’t have a missing middle finger tip, but he has no motion or feeling in that joint or the tip of his finger.

Hey feminists, is having your finger whacked off in an industrial accident a privilege or a sacrifice?

But back to that Laphroaig-lubricated conversation:

My brother related how last year, a young man at his factory had been killed in a horrific accident. The factory has large (as in room-sized) poppers for making popcorn based snacks. These poppers keep the contents of the machine moving by using large blades that sweep around the inside; the young man climbed inside the machine while it was off to repair something and somehow the machine got turned back on.

My father then told a story about nearly losing his life a few years ago when he climbed inside a dye-making machine to check something and once again someone turned on the machine. According to my father, he had a weird sixth sense moment where he knew something was about to happen and he crouched back in the machine just as an enormous dye came shooting past at a high rate of speed; had it hit him, he would be dead.

And this conversation made me recall a story our pastor at NorthRidge Church, Brad Powell, told a few years ago during a sermon. Before he was a pastor, he was a college student with bills to pay, so he got an afternoon job in a Little Debbies factory. One evening at the end of his shift, he was hurrying to get out of work and he climbed inside one of the giant mixers to clean it but forgot to hit the electricity kill switch first. Somehow the machine got turned on; by God’s grace he was not killed as the giant mixing arms began moving.

According to the USA Bureau of Labor Statistics in its “Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries Charts 1992-2007”, men account for 92% of all industrial accident deaths.

Is this that male privilege we were talking about?

Here in Michigan, it seems that 2014 was a particularly bad year for deadly male privilege incidents:

May 10 – Man dies after getting trapped in Zeeland factory conveyer belt

June 27 – Wyoming man killed in accident at plastics plant

November 2 – West Michigan man, 54, killed in accident at loading dock of Continental Dairy in Coopersville

So what about the young man killed in the popper? Alas, my brother’s factory is owned by a company that is owned by a multi-billion dollar global conglomerate, and you better believe they have policies in place to cover their own butts. According to my brother, every job and every machine in the plant has written policies in place; if you accidentally get your hand caught in the machine, there’s a policy that explains exactly why it was your own fault and thus the company doesn’t owe you a thing.

Most women in the world have men in their lives whom they love, whether he is their husband, father, brother or son. Let us each acknowledge that it is not a privilege for a man to work to support his family; it is an expression of his love and his commitment to his familial duty. We women should not let feminists distract us with their bitter jealousy over imagined male privilege. If we want to be activists, let us be activists for improved workplace safety. Let us be activists to force greedy global companies to do their duty to hard-working blue collar men who are injured on the job. Let us raise money for the survivors of workplace accidents or the families of men who were killed on the job. Otherwise, let us honor and respect men for the sacrifices they make and stop with this male privilege nonsense.

Feminist Grinches turn the holidays ugly.

How-the-Grinch-Stole-Christmas-dr-seuss-963113_1024_768

In The feminist version of King Midas: everything they touch turns ugly, I wrote:

…feminists turn everything they touch – be it paid work or home-keeping – into miserly ugliness.

But Mrs. Sn0rkmaiden retorted:

I don’t know a single feminist, or any woman for that matter in real life or online who begrudges nurturing their families

I grumbled to myself because I knew that I ought to find specific examples to support my rebuttal, but I was busy and tired and feeling lazy and so I didn’t.

Lo and behold, when I sat down to take a little coffee break just now, I found a link on Dalrock’s blog to a recent article by Jessica Valenti, who is arguably the face of modern feminism, and to whom I must now express my heartfelt thanks for providing me in such a timely manner with the perfect example to support the characterization of feminism as ugly, selfish, and just plain Grinchy.  In No, I will NOT wrap all the presents. Why are women still responsible for the holiday joy? Mrs. Valenti writes:

We all know that women do the majority of domestic work like child care, housework and cooking. But the holidays bring on a whole new set of gendered expectations that make the season less about simply enjoying fun and family and more about enduring consumerism, chores and resentment so that everyone else can enjoy rockin’ around the Christmas tree. (I bet even Mrs Claus gets upset that Santa works one night a year but she’s dealing with hungry elves 24/7. That would be almost enough to make you want to over-indulge in eggnog and hurl yourself in front of a reindeer-pulled sleigh.)

Being the holiday point-person can be drudgery. Making lists, wrapping presents, finding sales to indulge a particularly demanding relative’s requests to Santa … baby, let’s just say the brisk winter weather starts to feel bitter cold outside.

…And it’s not enough that women actually manage to finish all of these chores – we’re also expected to plaster Christmas grins on our faces the whole time, lest the masses think we’re not thrilled with all the wrapping-paper-inflicted paper cuts.

Last month, for example, former Growing Pains star and current evangelist pain in the ass Kirk Cameron posted a video telling women to make sure to show their “joy” when performing their womanly duties:

Let your children, your family, see your joy in the way that you decorate your home this Christmas, in the food that you cook, the songs you sing, the stories you tell, and the traditions you keep.

That was enough to make me want to sing The Most Offensive Christmas Song Ever. I hope Cameron gets nothing for Christmas this year – or better yet, a copy of The Feminine Mystique.

Dear me, we wouldn’t want women to find and express joy in serving our families, now would we! No doubt it is much better to be a sarcastic, complaining bitch.  Surely that will motivate our husbands to lend a hand.

Actually, gentle reader, what your husband wants is probably the same as what mine has expressed a preference for: to be asked.

That’s all most men want. To be asked politely to lend a hand when we are up to our elbows in powdered sugar and need someone to run around the corner to the neighbor’s farm (or to the grocery store) for more eggs.  They don’t want to hear another complaining rendition of Saints and Martyrs, Christmas Cookie Edition; they just want to be asked. Because they didn’t request that we make ten different kinds of cookies, but if we want to do so, they’ll usually happily lend a hand if only they are asked politely.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to “plaster a Christmas grin” on my face and go finish preparing for our Christmas party, but before I go, let us enjoy listening to my current favorite version of “Mary, Did You Know?”:

The feminist version of King Midas: everything they touch turns ugly.

Recall that in a recent post, I explained that I was working full-time for pay not as a way to serve my own ego – not so that I could “have the chance” to be a speech pathologist – but rather to provide financial resources to my family that my husband and I agree are needed at present in order to achieve a long-term family goal. I encouraged other women to view paid work not as a selfish means of self-gratification but rather as a selfless way of serving their families.

This clearly rubbed a feminist reader named Linda the wrong way. She can’t criticize me for working, since according to feminists that is the ideal state for women, but she could and did criticize me for not being selfish enough about my work and not engendered a self-centered Me first! attitude in our daughters regarding their future paid employment. Linda writes not as a serious point of discussion but rather as snarky sarcasm, which seems to be the most common form of feminist discourse:

Sunshine’s daughters can help out their husbands financially by working at jobs that don’t require a college degree.

Sunshine’s daughters cannot become speech therapists, since that requires a college degree and she’d like them to marry in their teens and begin having children.

Only Sunshine can be a speech therapist, because she got to delay marriage and childbearing till she had a marketable degree.

However, there are lots of jobs out there that are easy to get and don’t require college degrees. Sunshine’s daughters will get those instead.

Sunshine’s daughters will be OK with all this and won’t call their mom a hypocrite. They will never ask why she had the chance to become a speech pathologist and they did not.

Of course, I’ve never said my girls cannot attend college, only that they must live at home if they are unmarried while they attend school. I’ve also noted that college degrees probably are not worth the money for most people, not just women, and that our daughters will only attend college if they have a clear plan in mind for what they want to do with that degree; otherwise it just isn’t worth the expense.

Nevertheless, in the ugly feminist mindset it is not even conceivable that a woman would make choices based on what would best serve her family. Notice that in Linda’s comment, what really sticks in her craw is that I am getting chances to do something and my daughters might not get those chances…as if it were all about me rather than all about serving my family.

Why is it that whether a woman works or stays home, feminists are obsessed with making sure that she keep the focus firmly on herself? Although he was speaking only of home-keeping, Dalrock really hit the nail on the head about feminist ugliness when it comes to serving husbands and children:

Serving others in the mind of a feminist is an indignity, so cooking, cleaning, or any other act of service and love is the object of revulsion.  Women now actually compete to show off their miserliness in caring for others, each trying to outdo the rest in proving they are the greatest scrooge with love.  It has gone so far that large numbers of women are quite proud of the fact that they have never learned to cook or otherwise care for others.   Their miserliness is a badge of honor.  Not all women have adopted this extremely ugly worldview, but the ones who are going against the grain of the culture here understand better than anyone how uncommon their loving and caring attitudes really are today.

The ugliness of the feminist mind-frame towards cooking, cleaning, and caring for others is so profound that it is difficult to process.  These women are so obsessed with not showing Christian love that they make it a priority not to serve their own families.  Cooking, cleaning, and caring for their own husbands and children is a concept which is repulsive to them.  Acts of service to others are in their twisted minds traps to be avoided, and many go so far as to order their entire lives around avoiding showing love to others, especially their families.  These women are so gripped by miserliness they have made it a priority not to show love to their own children.  When they find themselves unable to avoid an act of service and love to their families altogether, they first steel their hearts with resentment, turning their hearts to stone to avoid the feelings of selfless love they live in constant terror of developing.

I work full time at present because that is how I can best serve my family. That doesn’t mean I don’t like my work – I do like it, in fact, and strive to do it well – but the response of a feminist like Linda to the idea that I might do this for my family regardless of my own preferences (and that I am training our daughters to view work in the same way) demonstrates that feminists turn everything they touch – be it paid work or home-keeping – into miserly ugliness.