It’s a cliché that is played out in a thousand romantic comedies. Mother-in-laws and wives do not get along. There is an expectation that there will be friction, clashes, the butting-of-female-heads.
Perhaps one obvious point of difference is that mothers tend to view their sons through rose-coloured glasses (I know, I do it with my own son), whereas wives most definitely do not.
My mother-in-law lives in Adelaide, so the only time we really spend together is spent in close quarters. Either in her two-bedroom house, or our two-bedroom flat. Recently, she came to stay for two weeks to help us over the April school holidays.
In respect to her privacy, I’ll call her Nona in this article.
I knew there would be fabulous Italian meals and my kids would love having her here, but there were a few things that happened I didn’t expect.
1. Walking out the front door, alone
Any parent who has to leave the house with children will know that walking out the front door without them can feel like you've sprouted wings. Oh, the freedom to just pick up your bag and keys and holler a good-bye! To drive to work without fighting, crying children in the back! To listen to your favourite podcast! To arrive on time and not feel like you’ve already lived one day before you start work.
When Nona stayed with us, I felt like I was on holidays.
2. Reconnecting with my partner
While Nona had come to help with the kids, she made it very clear that she wanted my husband and I to have time alone.
Having her there to be with the kids gave us both space. Space to actually talk to each other without interruption. Time to take a breath and see each other as a lover, not just a fellow-parent slogging it out in the trenches. Space where we weren’t pulled in several directions from work, kids and keeping the house running.There is a relief in reconnecting this way, in remembering that you really love each other.
3. A tidier house
Our apartment is small, and over the weeks the mess expands and multiplies like a malicious virus. The toy room spreads its tentacles and it's common to find a Lego piece in the bread box, or a Shopkin with the toothbrushes.
Nona has a voracious appetite for tidying and cleaning. When we were staying in Adelaide one Christmas, she announced she was going to clean up her cupboards in the garage. It was 9pm. Our apartment fills her with a mixture of dismay and joy; dismay that we don’t have enough space, and joy that she'll find a solution for each of our storage issues. She’s like an Eveready battery bunny; always looking for something new to fix, tidy or clean. By the time she leaves we’re always more organised and it feels like we have more room.
4. I appreciate my kids more
Having two weeks with Nona gives me license to get more done than I normally could. I see my friends more, get to yoga more regularly. I spend more time outside of our home than I usually would – partly to give more space to everyone, and partly to make use of the time while I have it.
In the morning I would listen from my bedroom, as the kids clambered in to bed with Nona. You could hear all three of them telling stories and giggling together. It was a lovely sound, and a reminder of how special she is to them, but also how special it is to have that time with them – snuggling in the morning. By the time Nona was leaving I missed my own snuggles in the morning and being with them constantly. It made me appreciate them in a new way.
5. Our apartment feels bigger
Now Nona has gone our apartment feels bigger. It used to feel just right with four. When Nona was here it was a tight fit. It was noisy, chaotic and filled with the smells of delicious cooking. I value my own space after a big day at work, and I would often spend nights in our bedroom, while my husband and Nona sat out in the lounge room chatting. After she left the flat felt bigger, but with a kind of emptiness that hadn’t been there before. It’s like we had our own Mary Poppins come to visit, only she’s related, and we’ll see her again come Christmas time.
But just like Mary Poppins, Nona has her own kind of magic. And how many people have a mother-in-law like that?
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