I’d like to submit a story that ends happily. It is about a visit from my husband’s family a few months ago. DH and I celebrated the first birthday of our son and were happy that my MIL and SIL were both able to visit for the occasion. MIL and I have an interesting relationship – not bad, not particularly close, but we have our differences because of differing views on family, strong personalities on both sides, and those types of typical family conflicts. When I had my son, these tensions quickly surfaced and I quickly made clear that while we were happy for her to visit (the 6 times a year she kind of demanded) that DH and I decided how our son would be raised and cared for. DH and his mom also have tensions, mostly based on the fact that they have not really worked on establishing the adult parent/child relationship. Still, MIL loves us and our son and she is the only surviving grandparent, so we all agree that relationship is important.
SIL and MIL come into town and, as expected, we have a bit of family drama. Being the direct kind of person I am, I decide to address the elephant in the room the night before they are expected to fly home. The conversation starts with me explaining that DH and I are trying to foster an environment in our home where we can be open with each other and family, show love and grace, etc. I then acknowledge the issue and we have a good, albeit tough, discussion about how everyone feels, what may be at the root of the weekend drama, etc. We walk away with some things to think about but generally better for the conversation. And there it would end…. Or so we thought.
Overnight, SIL suffered a common (for her) but problematic medical incident that required an ER visit on the way to the airport. What we thought would be a few hours in the ER turned into a 3 week hospital stay, much of which was in the ICU. It became clear early on that she was not under much real threat to her health but they needed her in the ICU for close supervision. Phew! So, once any real threat was gone, we could turn to the minor (in the grand scheme of things) annoyance of having anyone stay for such a long period of time. Of course, we did not know it would be 3 weeks – all parties involved assumed “maybe SIL will be released tomorrow” for most of the time. MIL needed to rent a car. She was originally going to stay at a hotel near the hospital because we lived some distance away. Thankfully, that did not pan out because the cost and idea of her not staying with us was ridiculous. So, she stayed with us the entire time SIL was in the hospital.
What can I say? Even if you have the greatest relationship, a 3 week unscheduled stay is difficult for everyone. We were not expecting to host for 3 weeks and MIL certainly had not prepared her affairs at home to be gone that long, let alone poor SIL in the hospital for 3 weeks. I prayed A LOT. It turns out that the talk we had before they left resulted in a couple more good conversations during the three weeks, including an opportunity for me to stop trying to “help” DH and MIL in their relationship. MIL was actually quite a gem at home – helped with babysitting, loved time with her grandson, immediately pitched in with household chores, including buying the foods she would normally eat at home. I thought of writing to this site a couple times for advice on how to handle an unexpected transition from guest to house-mate, but it actually worked out well, by God’s grace. In the end, MIL and SIL were anxious to get home, SIL got more understanding of her condition as a result of the stay in an excellent facility, and we got our home back. And, of course, our little boy got a lot of time with his grandmother, which we captured in picture and video. None of us want to go through that again, but it definitely went far better than I ever imagined it could, if you had asked me in advance what I thought of a 3 week visit with my MIL.
Just like you, I am definitely the kind of person who sees the elephant in the room and wants to talk about it if I perceive it as being an obstacle to good relationships. Done graciously with some humility, it gets results such as you have seen. Bravo for your realization that you cannot fix the problems between your husband and his mother….that is a battle they will have to wrestle with each other.