How to Measure a Mother-in-Law: Little Helper, Momsplainer, or Heinous Judger
By Jacey Eckhart
My son calls it “momsplaining.” I call it my magical ability to be a Little Helper in the mother-in-law world. This month in the Next Door Project, I am knocking on the Mother-in-Law Door. I find I don’t only want to be measured only by my inclusiveness or exclusiveness. I also think I should get some credit for where I stand on the Little Helper to Heinous Judger scale.
After all, I spent the past 31 years learning mom skills like how to run a household. How to earn some money without losing my mind. How to keep one gorgeous creature head-over-heels in love with me. And the biggie—how to raise kids nice enough to marry.
Why did I spend so much time learning all this if not to share it oh-so generously with the next generation??
I asked my son, Sam the Soldier, about it because people in this family tell him things they do not tell me.
“You know how you hate ‘mansplaining’ and how condescending that is?” he said in his SUV on a recent visit. “Well, you moms all have your ‘momsplaining.’ Just because you know how to run your life and your household doesn’t mean you know how to run mine.”
Whaaaa?? Pretty sure that how to cook a perfect chicken breast has not changed. Kitchen cleanup requires a system, not a Siri. Doesn’t he know patent attorneys pound on my door begging for my secret to the perfect Christmas tree? Besides, did my son not read my paragraph about wanting to be a Little Helper?!!
Riding along with Sam, I suddenly felt like Ma Bell. I felt like an IBM Selectric. I felt like an outtake from that 1977 Kodak film commercial “The Times of Your Life.” Sob!!! (Notice how the helmet-headed mother in her Adorn hairspray is probably my age. Gosh, we are looking awesome, girls. Pass the forming cream!)
Okay, now that I’m done having my little nostalgic moment, let’s get back to that Next Door of successful Mother-in-law-hood. As much as I acknowledge that the whole MIL/DIL thing is a two-way street, I don’t wanna be chalked up as a Momsplainer. I definitely do not want to qualify as a Heinous Judger. I want to be a Little Helper. Can’t the next generation hear me knocking and let me in?
Well, no. This is why mother-in-law articles always remind you that no one wants your advice. Somehow, the stuff we moms say to help gets coated with criticism and condescension on the way to the ears of our adult offspring and their mates, whether we want it to or not. My own mother-in-law could freeze a room telling me the correct direction to pass the gravy.
The point is, it doesn’t matter how helpful we are trying to be when passing on our prodigious mom skills. What matters is the way the in-laws take it. Getting to Little Helper status is going to take some communication skills—the icky kind where we actually have to say what we think instead of getting in a snit. Which is a shame because I snit so beautifully. Ask my MIL.
So I’m using a scale of one to ten to ask my kids and my in-laws if what I am doing qualifies as Little Helper, Momsplainer, or Heinous Judger. Maybe it will involve saying, “I see you only own five forks. I’d love to be your Little Helper and buy you some new flatware. Or are you happy with the way things are so that would be Momsplaining? Or (oh no) Heinous Judging? What would help you most?”
I have no idea if this will work. All I know is that I don’t want to waste one more minute on the outside of the Mother-in-Law Door. Because these are the times of our lives.
Hey! Because I am your Little Helper too, I made this handy dandy worksheet so that you can figure out where you stand in your MIL quest.