How My Mother-In-Law & a Broken Dish Made Me Lose My Mind

Mary Widdicks
Written by Mary Widdicks

I once had a mental breakdown over a set of ramekins.

Of course, this isn’t just a story about bakeware, or even my unnatural attachment to inanimate objects. This is really a story about stress, familial judgement, and marriage.

This is a story about my in-laws.

I learned early on that in order to survive my new family I was going to have to let certain things go. Spending large amounts of time with anyone means riding the roller coaster of their mood along with your own. My mother-in-law is a walking amusement park. I once turned down her offer of a cup of tea and was shunned for a week. I once admitted I don’t eat pork and was later served white mystery meat slathered in gravy and told it was turkey. It was not. We danced this delicate waltz, and we kept circling each other like boxers in the ring.

Eventually we settled into a familiar antipathy toward one another. She referred to me mostly in the third person, and I hid behind my children using them as a human shield to deflect her comments.

We coexisted in almost-civility for years, until they came to visit for two weeks when my youngest son was a month old. Obviously, I hadn’t been sleeping and I’d also been battling a particularly stubborn strain of thrush on both me and the baby. We were both on more medications, herbal and pharmaceutical, than I could list. There couldn’t be a worse time for a visit, but Hell hath no fury like a grandmother who isn’t invited to see her new grandchild.

If this had been a weekend visit, I might have made it out with my dignity and sanity intact. Sadly, that was not the case. My in-laws live in England and when they fly half way across the world for a visit they plan on getting their money’s worth.  

Four days into the visit the trouble started:

Mother-in-law: Is Mary ok? She seems really pale lately.
Me: *standing about a foot and a half away* I’m fine. This is just how I look.
Mother-in-law: I thought Mary was trying to be a writer. I haven’t seen her book in the shops.
Me: Well, I DID just have a baby.
Mother-in-law: I know Mary said she didn’t want the two-year-old eating sweets, but I figured that’s what grandparents were for.
Me: *grinds teeth and walks away*

I found plenty of opportunities to escape, claiming to nurse the baby or take a short nap, which sometimes meant hiding in my bedroom watching trashy television.

One day I came down from one of my naps to find the entire kitchen rearranged, my groceries discarded, and new ones put in their place. How long was I asleep? I could feel my eye start to twitch. I pulled plates out of cabinets and dumped the now horribly mixed-up contents of utensil drawers on the counter. Then I saw it: the dish that launched a thousand meltdowns.

On the floor was one of my extremely expensive, imported from Paris, pristine white ramekins, filled with wet dog food. Never mind that we don’t feed our dogs canned food. I couldn’t focus on the health of our pets at that moment. I had tunnel vision and it was starting to turn red.

I’d mentioned to my Mother-in-law in the past how special these dishes were to me. We’d even had little spats over that they weren’t really meant for daily bowl use, and they should not, under any circumstances, be put in the dishwasher. I’d hidden them on the top shelf in the highest cabinet in the kitchen to keep them out of her reach.

My Mother-In-Law doesn’t stand a hair over five feet. How the %*&# did she find them?!

I lost the ability to form rational thought. I grabbed the dish and started washing it angrily. In fact, I was scrubbing it a little too angrily. Postpartum hormones, sleep deprivation, and blind rage are not a good dish-washing combination. The ramekin slipped from my hands and shattered against the sink.

I’d lost. I’d lost my dish, I’d lost my kitchen, and I’d lost my mind. I slumped down on the floor in front of the sink, water still running, and I cried big, body-racking sobs of despair. Between a demanding newborn, a vicious yeast infestation, an attention-starved toddler and a meddling Mother-in-law, that dish was the last piece of control I had left over my life. And I broke it.

My husband and his parents came home from the park to find me crumpled on the floor muttering about dog food and ramekins. My husband quickly ushered me into the bathroom. When I finally calmed down enough to explain to him what happened, he laughed. Is that all? At the time I wanted to punch him in the nose, but looking back it was exactly what I needed to hear.

They were just dishes, and my in-laws were just visiting. My house was still my house and my life was still my life. The dogs could go on a diet. The only thing truly broken was a piece of glass. I’d like to say that I emerged from the bathroom a wiser, more Zen version of myself. Unfortunately, that was not the case. I hid there another fifteen minutes before skulking back into the kitchen and loudly rearranging my kitchen. 

Once the kitchen was returned to glory, I felt better. I even resisted the urge to use the ramekins make vindictive revenge soufflés for dinner for everyone except her. 

Sadly, I have to admit, I haven’t used my precious dishes even once since the incident occurred. I only thought of it today because my in-laws are arriving for their annual visit next week. Almost a full year postpartum and much more rested, I’m sure I’ll be in a much better place to deal with the stress of the next British Invasion.  I bet even the Beatles were less demanding houseguests.

Of course, I boxed up the remaining three ramekins and hid them in my closet. Just in case. 

About the author

Mary Widdicks

Mary Widdicks

Mary Widdicks is a 31-year-old mom to two boys and is expecting the birth of her first daughter in February, 2015. Being outnumbered in the family means that sometimes her voice gets drowned out by fart jokes and belching contests. She started Outmanned so she’d have a place to escape the testosterone and share her hilarious life with the rest of the world. Mary’s writing has been featured on popular parenting sites such as Mamapedia, Mamalode, In the Powder Room, Pregnant Chicken and Scary Mommy. She has also been honored as a 2014 Voice of the Year by BlogHer, and Badass Blogger of the Year for 2014 by The Indie Chicks.

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32 Comments

  • I’m impressed that you were able to hold it together like that – “demanding newborn” was more than enough to make me loose it more than once. Forget all the rest of the stressors…

  • Wow – she is harsh! This was definitely your bravest post — espeically if your MIL reads your blog! The discussion where she keeps talking about you in the 3rd person would have put me over the top. I expect several new blog posts after the annual visit!

  • The broken dish is not the issue. Your MIL is passive aggressive and vindictive. For Christmas I suggest you send her leaflet to her nearest mental health clinic suggesting she seek some therapy to help her deal with her jealousy et al.

  • 2 1/2 years into my marriage my mother in law informed me at a family dinner that she came first and I came second. WTF!! That was 18 years ago. Next week she is coming to stay with us for a month. Prayers accepted!!

  • This is a brilliant blog, I commend you on not resorting to physical violence. Reading your story made me think of my first week home with my newborn baby. He wasn’t sleeping well, and had breathing/mucous issues so no one was well rested. My in-laws said they’d stay at a hotel but instead they showed up on our door step with their suitcases. My MIL starts snapping pics and I look like crap on a cracker and need to pee like yesterday! So she grabs my son out of my arms while I rush to the bathroom. While I’m gone my in-laws, husband, and son have a photo shoot in my basement and I wasn’t even included!!! And the one and only pic she took of me is one with my eyes closed while burping my baby. I still refuse to hang that bloody picture because it still pisses me off.

  • I, god, I had to read this twice. I am speechless. I have a foul foul mouth and yet I rarely use this word but it seems appropirate here. this woman sounds like a total c*nt.

    I seldom make excuses for husbands, but I imagine that by the state of you, he expected to hear some huge story of loss and was likely just relieved. Or I should hope that’s how he is spinning it. That said, along with the witholding of sex, I’d suggest you explain to him that unless his mother can learn to play civil – I mean you said they live in England, surely she is well versed in politeness and bighting one’s tongue – then next time they come for one of their transatlantic jaunts, they can book a nice AirB&B in the vicinity but are no longer welcome to stay at yours. You are queen of your house, don’t you forget it!

  • My MIL lives out of town, too, and comes for the weekend every couple months. There is something insane about sharing your house that intimately with a person who sees you as the One Who Took Her Son Away. I honestly think it would be better if she lived closer and we just had to eat dinner with her once a week. But my husband is convinced she’d be dropping by every day, all day, so I think it’s a no-win situation!

    Funny stuff here. Good luck with the next visit!

  • I sympathize! My mother in law decided while watching our kids one day that my shelf was “a bit dusty” and managed to knock our cake topper from our wedding cake off and it shattered into a billion pieces…. I know I know…it’s just “stuff”… But REALLY!,!

  • My MIL moved in unexpectedly 5 months ago and has moved my kitchen around, put my stuff away and put her decorations out, criticized me every day, and let her dogs pee everywhere without cleaning it up. I, and my husband, are trying to get her to move out w/o ruining the relationship. And I’m 3 months pregnant. Pray for us. I figure that if we make it through this we will survive anything. 🙂

  • My husband’s parents had both died the year before I met him and I’ve always felt a little cheated that I did not have a mother-in-law because I imagined we would be fast friends. Your story has reminded me that the my MIL fantasy may not have been reality. Your MIL sounds like a piece of work and I’m sure you are grateful you live across the pond from her, or else there would be real trouble.

  • Wow, and I thought mine was bad! Yours takes the ramekin! All I can think of is – why? Just why? That is cruel and unusual punishment and she is lucky you had the time to sit and sob for a few before they arrived home because me thinks it may have come to fisticuffs had you not been able to relieve some of the anger and rage she purposely filled you with.

    Yes, please post a follow-up after the upcoming ‘invation’ and good luck!
    Mary_Mclaurine recently posted…THE HALLMARK HELL WE CALL MOTHER’S DAY!My Profile

  • I feel for you!!! My mother I law is extremely invasive and it causes my blood to rise just thinking about her! It’s so not that easy as “grin and bear it”. I need to detox when she leaves and suppress the desire to burn everything she left behind. Mine is so bad she marks her territory on everything she leaves behind. Every book every toy EVERYTHING, has her tag on it! She even has a box in the basement of clothes so she can have them next time she comes. Grrrrr. everytime we are calm who guy to talk it just falls on deaf ears. So irritating!

  • I too have had a MIL from hell. I have two boys who are now away at college. One thing I learned from my MIL was
    WHAT NOT TO BE!!! I all ways said my boys could come home with a person would 3 heads and I would welcome them with a smile. Hang in there 🙂