When our son’s firstborn arrived in Seattle, two years ago, Wort wanted us to fly up immediately to see the baby. I demurred, saying we’d wait until his wife, Cookie, felt like having company. “But her mother’s here with us,” he said. Wort couldn’t wrap his mind around the fact that mothers-in-law are not the same as mothers. Cookie didn’t extend an invitation, so after two months we solved the dilemma by staying in a hotel when we came to see the baby. Since that time, we’ve gotten better acquainted with Cookie. I spent ten days helping her after the birth of baby number two and I think she enjoyed my stay. But George and I still limit our visits to a long weekend—respecting the old adage, “Company like fish, smells after three days.”
When I help out with my daughter’s children, I know Lolly will forgive me if I put the dishes away in the wrong places—I’m her mother. She has to forgive me. When I use my haphazard methods of child control rather than her psychologically-correct methods, Lolly doesn’t expect any better. But a daughter-in-law probably has higher expectations of competency and a lower level of tolerance for mishaps during a visit.
Contemplating a worst case scenario, Lolly and Doc have considered who they want to raise their children. (Of course, the answer to that is, “No one else”—but we’re talking worst-case scenario). Since they descend from families of late-bloomers, Lolly and Doc realize the grandparents would likely not live long enough to see the kids through high school, so their logical choice is siblings. Lolly opts for her sisters who are childless and who both adore her kids. Doc opts for his brother’s family because they are active Mormons and would take the kids to church—something they couldn’t expect from Lolly’s sisters. Doc fails to understand that even a woman with the best of hearts would feel overwhelmed with four more kids dropped into her family—and that his brother’s wife couldn’t be expected to feel the same about these nieces and nephews as her own children. Children taken to church every Sunday but who are raised without love will not grow into healthy adults.
My 86-year-old aunt, blind and suffering from advanced dementia, resides unhappily in a nursing home. Her only son lives six hours away. After Aunt Lucy’s bishop took her to their ward Christmas party, he advised my cousin to take his mother home and enjoy her while she’s still alive. This good bishop has no idea of the care Aunt Lucy needs 24/7 or the burden her care would place on the daughter-in-law Aunt Lucy has never liked. Taking Aunt Lucy to a party provides no window into what Aunt Lucy’s care would do to my cousin’s marriage.
Most American husbands help with child care and household tasks, and most American wives work outside the home at least part time. Still, the major responsibility for care giving falls on the wife. And even the best of husbands fails to understand what a burden that can be—especially if the care giving extends to relatives by marriage. Guys: Before making statements or decisions about care giving, check with the woman who will shoulder the responsibility—or better still, spend a week as sole care giver in the situation.