How to Measure a Mother-in-Law: Inclusive or Exclusive?
By Jacey Eckhart
Would you rather have an inclusive mother-in-law who opens the door to family right away? Or would you rather have a more exclusive mother-in-law who opens the door to family only for the select few?
While I am knocking on the In-Law door, I’m noticing that the inclusive/exclusive axis may be one of those hidden keys to extended family happiness.
Personally, I’m all for inclusion. I always expected my own mother-in-law to fling open the door and jump up and down like a squirrel on nut crack when I rolled into town for the holidays. Why? Two words: Unconditional Love. I loved her son so much that I kept the spring in his step and the naughty gleam in his eye and his children had all their teeth. (Well, most of their teeth.)
In my family, we often like our in-laws more than our blood relations. My own ultra-inclusive mother has only one rule for in-laws: As long as you make my child happy, I’m happy.
She means it. During the holidays, she spends the same amount on in-laws as her own children (and has the receipts to prove it). Like her mother before her, she believes grandchildren from previous relationships are 100% her own grandchildren. Vegetarian? She will keep her bacon-lovin’ fingers to herself and feed your children soy dogs and seitan sticks with aplomb. Inclusivity all the way.
My in-laws were on the opposite side of the spectrum. They came from a long line of people who believe family is for blood relations only. Please present your 23 and Me DNA results at the door. My mother-in-law once introduced me as Brad’s first wife, as if I represented a youthful mistake that would soon be remedied by the presence of a much better second wife.
We were married 26 years at the time.
That made me cry at back then. Now it is hilarious to me because I am a mother-in-law and so are my friends. I’ve found people think differently about family, and it is not always as personal as we think it is. Most families fall somewhere along the inclusive to exclusive spectrum.
Super Mostly Inclusive & Mostly Super
Inclusive Inclusive Exclusive Exclusive Exclusive
On a scale of 10 to 1, which of these statements best describes your MIL?
10. MIL feels so close to you she overshared details of her sex life or finances. Oh, happy day. Not.
9. MIL calls you on the phone for fun because she genuinely likes you.
8. MIL remembers your birthday, your middle name, and your favorite restaurant. She stocks your beverage of choice.
7. MIL displays your photo in her house in which you are wearing something that is not a wedding dress.
6. MIL invites you to contribute a dish or pick the movie or watch the game.
5. Sometimes MIL treats you as a daughter! And sometimes as a stranger off the street. Depends on the day.
4. MIL limits conversation to the weather and everyone’s health. Sighs when you speak.
3. You are not included on the family group chat because “your husband will tell you what you need to know.”
2. You did not realize everyone went on family vacation until you saw the pictures on Instagram.
1. MIL and you have never met. Or have not met in a long, long, blessed time.
I bet families work best when both the mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law agree on where a family should be on the inclusivity/exclusivity spectrum. And what is the likelihood of that??
When I was a daughter-in-law, I was hoping for at least a 8 in inclusivity. My mother-in-law would have been happier with an 3 or a 2. We settled on a 4.
I plan to do better with my own son-in-law and daughter-in-law. I’m going to ask them where they would like us to be on the spectrum. Maybe if I go too far with my inclusiveness, they will lean over gently, pat my hand and remind me, “We aren’t friends like that.”
Which will be okay with me. Because this time it will be different. I promise.
Where do you think the ideal spot is for family happiness?