In-Laws Shouldn’t Be Outlawed

Friday evening, I stopped at the bank after work, and the teller asked me if I had any weekend plans.

“My mother-in-law is coming for a visit!” I replied.

“Oh,” she said, and fixed me with a pitying stare. “I’m sorry. Unless that’s a good thing?”

In that moment, I realized that mothers-in-law get a bad rap. I mean, I guess I already knew that. Popular culture portrays them as being difficult, stubborn, or mean. Wikipedia says,

In comedies, the mother-in-law is sometimes shown as the bane of the husband, who is married to the mother-in-law’s daughter. Mothers-in-law are often stereotyped in mother-in-law jokes.

Ernie K. Doe had a hit song in 1961 called “Mother In Law” that compares them to Satan and includes the lyrics, She thinks her advice is the Constitution/but if she would leave that would be the solution. Ouch. And of course, who can forget Everybody Loves Raymond? Poor Deborah really did have to put up with a beast of a woman in Doris Roberts’ Marie Barone. Wikipedia describes her character as being “intrusive, controlling, manipulative and over-nurturing.” I’d say that’s about right.

My own experience with mothers-in-law has been a mixed bag. I got along great with my first one. For years, she could do no wrong in my eyes, and I treasured our relationship.

And then she moved in with us.

Granted, she moved to a brand new state with no job and no prospects on the horizon. At the very same time that I lost my job. The smart thing would have been to call off the move, at least until I got back on my feet, but plans had been forged and commitments made. Let’s just say spending that much time together in close quarters would probably drive anybody crazy. Eventually I had to make a stand and declare to my then-wife “it’s either me or her.” Yeah, things got that uncomfortable, and our close relationship took a hit. We patched things up afterwards, but it was never quite the same, and then when her daughter and I divorced a few years later things of course were never the same. Having said that, I think she’s a good person, and we maintain a friendship to this day, at least over Facebook. We email occasionally, though it’s been awhile. She gave me a recipe my ex-wife refused to share. I’m still friends with her son, my former brother-in-law. I don’t think there are any hard feelings on either end, and I wish her the best.

Uh-oh. Look who's come to visit! (How the typical MIL is portrayed). Courtesy of
Uh-oh. Look who’s come to visit! (How the typical MIL is portrayed). Courtesy of

And as for Tara’s mom, Tracy? We get along great, and I think the world of her! I was happy to have her come down for a visit, and when those plans almost fell apart last week, I think I was more upset than Tara. You have to understand, I have known Tracy almost as long as I’ve known Tara. We all met in the blogosphere some ten years ago, and while Tracy stopped writing soon after, she was always kind of a “fan” of mine. That sounds funny to say, but it’s true. She followed this blog long before anybody else, was one of the first to buy my book, and we’d been Facebook friends for years. It’s really a unique situation, and makes for a great story. And one time a few years ago, when Tara was still living in Ely but visiting her in Seattle, she had plans to meet up with “a friend” and Tracy assumed it was me (it was not). I like to think that she always hoped we’d end up together somehow.

So, I told the bank teller that I was looking forward to her visit. And I added, “We’re newlyweds. We’ve only been married three weeks.”

A knowing look filled her eyes then, and she nodded her head, as if that explained my lack of MIL animosity. Whatever!

Her visit was short but sweet. She got in around 9 PM on Friday night, and we spent a couple of hours talking and catching up. Saturday, she wanted an “authentic Portland experience,” much like my friend Monica asked for when she and her husband visited right before Labor Day. I love playing PDX tour guide! The ironic thing is, Tracy used to live in the same town as we do ten years ago, but never got the chance to get out and explore much. We started with a trip to Target (not exactly a typical Portland stop, but there’s no sales tax in Oregon, so that’s always a big draw). That was followed by a visit to the food cart pod on 9th and Alder downtown, where we sampled cuisine from Romania, Greece, Scotland, and China while hanging out in O’Bryant Square, enjoying the clear weather, 70-degree temps, and changing leaves. Then it was on to Powell’s Books (can’t believe she’d never been there before!) for 90 minutes, before we drove across town to House of Vintage on Hawthorne Boulevard. We capped the day off with fish tacos at our house, joined by my parents. Really a perfect day, and a great dinner; I love the fact that my parents can co-mingle comfortably with hers. That’s something else I never really had in my first marriage. This may be the second time around for both of us, but there are an awful lot of firsts, making it all feel new again.

Sunday we went out for breakfast, and then Tracy drove home as work beckoned the next day and she had things to do. We did, too: things that included watching the Broncos win a nailbiter of a game against the Cowboys, and catching a movie (Gravity in 3-D) that was nothing short of spectacular. All in all, a great weekend!

How was yours? And if you are (or were) married, how do (did) you get along with your in-laws?


Published by Mark Petruska

I'm a professional writer and editor living my best life in south central Wisconsin.

20 thoughts on “In-Laws Shouldn’t Be Outlawed

  1. Mark, I freakin’ LOVED the vintage video clip! God, it’s been forever since I’ve heard that song.

    I think it’s so awesome that you and Tracy get along so well. But I could tell, just from your comments to each other on this blog.

    As far as in-laws go, my mothers father and mother, my father got along with famously (lovely people they were). However….my fathers mother (not his father) was an EXTREMELY difficult woman to get along with. So my mother had major challenges and conflicts with her. But NO ONE could get along with my grandmother.

    And when I was with a partner, I got along great with his father, but NOT with his mother. She was a wonderful cook, but that’s all I can say “good” about her.

    Tee, hee!


    1. I never really paid attention to the lyrics in that song until researching this post. All I can say is, Ernie K. Doe must have had a real battle axe of a MIL! I’m guessing that tune did nothing to win her good graces.

      It took me a while to decipher who got along and didn’t get along with whom in your complicated family tree, lol – but I think I’ve got it now.


  2. I got along extremely well with my former mother-in-law! In fact, I still do. And after our divorce, when SHE got married….I was there along with the rest of her family, but my ex and his wife weren’t. Of course, our son is also her favorite grandchild, so that helps. 🙂


    1. That’s pretty telling! It’s always nice when you can maintain a friendship like that after a divorce. My ex’s father is still very fond of me. I know he likes me better than his current son-in-law, for whatever that’s worth.


  3. My former mother-in-law is the one person in my ex’s family that I really miss. (His dad is a nice man, but we just never really hit it off.)

    PS I have a friend in PDX for work right now and I have intense jealousy – you have made it sound so terrific and someday I hope to go out there and see all the places you’ve made famous. 😀


    1. Lucky coworker! Hope (s)he’s enjoying it out here. Let us know if you ever do make it out this way – we’ll treat you to a cocktail. Or a bacon maple doughnut. Or a bacon maple doughnut cocktail.


    1. She’s the one who struck up the conversation with me! I’m sure she asks all her customers the same question every Friday, though. But probably doesn’t get a lot of “MIL” responses.


  4. Your father and I are very lucky.We both have/had great mother-in-laws!My mother-in-law left us too soon and we miss her every day.


  5. Wowzer!! I wasn’t expecting this at all but it sure made me smile and even tear-up a bit. Okay, I didn’t really tear-up but still…had this not made me so happy, I would have!!

    I love having you as part of my family. Even before you made it legit. I have ALWAYS loved your writing and I do believe I will until I am no longer of this earth. That being said, I don’t think there is one thing you have written that I didn’t like and that is pretty great.

    I had such a joyous and relaxing time with you and Tara and your parents. I enjoy being with them immensely and Thanksgiving with everyone is looking better and better. How could we not come down?!?

    I love the fact that Tara and Esther have the best mother-in-law EVER and truthfully, so do YOU!

    Love you both!!


    1. I had a feeling you might like this post, lol. Trust me, I’ve always appreciated your positive comments over the years – even before your daughter and I got together. I found your loyalty touching. I just never imagined that one day we’d actually be related by marriage!!


  6. Aww, what a lovely blog post to your MIL. Sounds like you had fun showing them around Portland and it is SUPER NICE when both sets of parents get along. 🙂

    My weekend was lovely. I did an online writing conference, and on Sunday went apple picking and pumpkin shopping! Some of my favorite fall activities!


  7. My first MIL was a harrigan & treated me dreadfully, trying to embarrass me at my own wedding, etc. With Kelvin’s mother I lucked out, but unfortunately lost her to a stroke way too early. So I have seen both sides of the street. My parents are still amenable to my first husband (after all he never did anything bad to them) & attended my first FIL’s funeral to the great consternation of my first MIL. I even sent my ex-husband a sympathy card when his father died much to the surprise of my daughter who is convinced I hate her father. I don’t hate him anymore & I’m not sure I ever did – I was just incredibly angry with him when he stole some of my security from me with lies. But it was 25 years ago, time has mellowed me out. Not so with my first MIL – she practically spits if my daughter tries to say a kind word about me.


    1. I have to admit, you’ve got me stumped. I looked up “harrigan” but could only find references to a song, a movie, and a TV series. But the most interesting definition of all comes from

      “A legendary sexual maneuver involving a fully mature dwarf, a dollop of margarine, an amputee, and the anus.”

      I kid you not. Whoa, now. I doubt that’s what you meant, lol!


  8. I know that in-laws get a bad rap. But I get along well with my father-in-law, and Sara appreciates my mother. Think about it this way–isn’t it great to have in-laws. I mean, that means you have a spouse, right?

    Hugs from Ecuador,


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