Good in-laws, bad in-laws

Today is my mother-in-law’s 67th birthday. Since she’s in Melbourne, time-wise, she is ahead of us, so we called her on Whatsapp video last night to wish her a happy birthday. Pookster was acting a bit faux-shy, and despite our practicing saying “Happy birthday, Suma!” the night before, Kaia didn’t really carry this through on the call.

Earlier in the day, I was rummaging through a drawer I rarely go into, and I found a bunch of random knick-knacks that Chris’s mom had gifted me over the years. Some were from travels, while others were gifts just-because. Amongst these items were a maple leaf painted case to store tiny items, a carved moose envelope opener, and an outdoor-themed notepad. She had also given me a number of kitchen items, ranging from a collapsible cloth bread “basket” she got in Portugal, cute character designed bag clamps from Korea, and a set of French cheese knives she picked up while in France. Everywhere she went, she seemed to think of me and get me something, even if it seemed completely random or impractical; it’s the thought that counts at the end of the day. She never had to get me anything, ever. I always thought it was cute… even if I never used most of the items in a practical way.

I told Chris about how I found the moose envelope opener. “It’s such a random thing to give!” I exclaimed, smirking and then laughing. “Who uses letter openers anymore?”

“Well, the drawer full of stuff I’ve gotten from your parents…. well, it’s empty except for one San Francisco hat,” Chris retorted.

Part of me chuckled when he said this, but part of me just felt annoyed. Chris and I have been together over 12 years now. My parents are really so divorced from reality that they have no idea how little regard they have had for their one son-in-law. My parents have never wished Chris a happy birthday or a merry Christmas. They have never given him any gifts whatsoever, other than the San Francisco Giants hat they gave him the very first time they all met. While they have paid for some meals for him, there was always a hidden cost: getting angry at me later for him NOT paying the bill, accusing him of “taking them for granted,” or insisting whatever Chris had paid for them was insignificant or “nothing” compared to whatever they’d made up in their head that they’d done for him. They never call, text, or email him to say anything at all, or even just to check in to see how he’s doing. Yet my mom remains delusional, saying that Chris’s parents “do shit” for me and that they treat Chris far better than his parents will ever treat me. Nothing could be farther from the truth: as far as I am concerned, Chris pretty much doesn’t have parents-in-law considering they have pretty much no interaction ever.

While Chris gets annoyed by this, occasionally, his mom will text or email me directly to check in with me to see how things are going, how Kaia is, and how work is going for both of us. And she doesn’t just ask high level and generic “how are you?” questions, but instead, she asks specific questions, like about Kaia’s school applications, my work promotion and what that means for my job, or Chris’s job search. When people ask you specific, detailed questions about your life, it’s because there’s real concern and love; otherwise, why would they take the time to ask, or, why would they even care to hear about it at all? Chris gets annoyed because he thinks it’s a bit intrusive or nosy, but what he doesn’t seem to recognize is that his mom doesn’t have to check in with me… at all. She doesn’t need to reach out to me directly without him involved. She has no obligation to have a separate relationship with me. She does all this because she genuinely wants to and cares (plus, she wants in on information that Chris doesn’t willingly share, but that’s another story). These are all the things Chris’s parents do for me that my parents would never do for him. I think it’s something to be happy about and grateful for.

There are the good in-laws, and there are the bad in-laws. Chris’s parents are the ones to model behavior from. My parents are an example of how not to be an in-law.

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