I’m a good daughter-in-law. I visit the parents-in-law regularly. I push my husband (when he needs it, which isn’t often) to interact with them, or think of solutions to their problems. I try to figure out how to make their lives easier. I smile and nod and listen to their stories. Yes, I moan and complain here and to my friends that my husband and I are stuck looking after them, and that my husband doesn’t feel he can leave the country because then there’d be no-one to take care of them. (All their other children live overseas and show no guilt about it, and no intentions of returning, or even of visiting regularly.) And actually, I'm quite proud that my husband feels that way, even if I wish he didn't. But I have never let my parents-in-law know how I feel, and I never will. That just wouldn’t be fair. They are both in their 80s, and things are getting worse not better. They need to feel secure, at least, in our presence when their future is increasingly insecure.
My mother-in-law is almost 89. She’s been very lucky with her health, both physical and mental. But she’s old, and she's never been very sensitive (even though she thinks she is), and age doesn't help that. So I can’t really allow myself to get angry with her, and I certainly know I can’t begin to educate her or change her views. As much as I want to sometimes. As much as she makes me want to scream sometimes.
So today, we visit and the first thing she does is point out the photos of the nieces and nephews on holiday in Malaysia swimming with baby elephants. That was okay – we’d been emailed the photo, and so didn’t have to discuss it with her, or hear her rave about how beautiful the boys are, what beautiful children they are, so stunning, she’s never seen anything like it, their eyelashes, have you seen them? Not this time. Then she whips out the photo of her great-niece (one who has never given us the time of day) with her 3 year old daughter and new-born baby. I bite my tongue, and find something else to do (I’m such a coward) whilst my poor husband has to look at the photo. He shrugs, easily, deliberately disinterested. “A baby. They all look the same.” Somehow, it isn’t impolite from him. Guys can get away with so much. I wanted to hug him.