A message popped up on my Facebook Messenger a few days ago and I felt relieved.
Finally, I had an answer to a question that had nagged at me for weeks: What had a woman I had never met given her mother-in-law as a gift?
I had sent the woman a message after reading a post she had written on a site for moms that had sparked one of the most entertaining, real-talk conversations I had seen in a while.
When I joined the group a few months ago, I saw it as a place to ask questions about schools and other childhood activities in my area. I hadn’t expected to become invested in any of the women’s lives on there. But then suddenly there I was, messaging a stranger because her post ended without an update and it felt as if someone had ripped the last page from my book. I needed to know how it ended, even if this wasn’t exactly a serious novel.
The woman had asked the group: “Any suggestions on what to get the mother-in-law you despise? Begrudgingly, looking to pry about $10-15 from my cold, cracked, overwashed hands. I’m all for gag gifts but I feel if I give her a bible or some duck tape for her fingers (so she won’t text us drama) that somehow I’ll be the only one finding it humorous.”
I am fortunate to have a wonderful mother-in-law. She is thoughtful and generous, and just the other day, my oldest son, minutes before he fell asleep for the night, requested I call her and get her banana bread recipe.
But many other women, if the responses on that mom site are any indication, cannot say the same.
Their answers were a glimpse into their overworked, underappreciated, work-life-balance-is-a-mean-myth souls.
“Get a butter curler,” one woman wrote. “It’s so delightfully useless you only buy it for someone you despise.”
“Ooh ohh or a lime squeezer/juicer thing . . . they are bulky and would take up a lot of room in the drawer,” another woman suggested.
One woman went straight for the non-subtle and suggested a “Poop emoji toilet plunger!” She explained, “It’s practical.”
When you’re pregnant, people warn you about the basic worries you’re in for: babies who fight sleep, the nightmare of potty training, the expense of child care. What they don’t tell you – and what you couldn’t understand anyway until feeling the weight of that tiny creature in your arms – is how you will spend the rest of your life wishing you could do more, be more and know more for that child.
You will wish you had a medical degree on those nights when a rash shows up and you have no idea if you should rush to the emergency room or pull out the calamine lotion. You will wish you had taken a child psychology class instead of Zen Buddhism in college when your kid starts asking about death. You will spend hours researching the benefits of Montessori programs versus language-immersion ones versus traditional schooling and then still feel you know nothing. This is true whether you have a PhD or GED.
Growing up in a Mexican American family, I often heard my mom use the same word whenever she greeted other women: “comadre.” If you look online for an English translation, you’ll find definitions such as “godmother,” “midwife” and “female friend.”
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The word means all those things, but the simplest and most accurate interpretation of it is “co-mother.” It’s an acknowledgment that other women in your life, even if they don’t have their own children, help raise yours.
This is not a dismissal of the critical roles dads play in the lives of their children. This is just a recognition of the special circles mothers form, in life and online, to find the support that makes them feel less inadequate at a time when demands on them at work and at home can seem overwhelming. Mothers are more than twice as likely as fathers to say they turn to online message boards, listservs and social media for parenting advice, according to the Pew Research Center.
Private site for Virginia moms
On that Virginia mom site, which is private and requires an approval of membership, serious conversations often take place. Mothers write about not being able to afford a ride to work. They thank one another when they find the strength to leave abusive relationships. They ask for medical advice in the middle of the night when their doctors’ offices are closed but they know another mother – or several dozen – will still be awake.
And yes, sometimes they just come together to share a needed laugh.
More than 130 women replied to that mother-in-law post. It may have started because of a strained relationship between two women, but it soon became a gathering of many women, co-mothers supporting one another through their keyboards. Their comments held no judgment, and their gift suggestions ranged from the practical – framed photos and fuzzy socks – to the hilariously savage. Among them were:
“Bath bomb with glitter. It’s a pain to get your tub clean.”
“A $10 donation in MIL name. To a charity w/ a never ending solicitation policy.”
“Gloves to keep her hands warm. Make sure they are bulky so she can’t text.”
“A basket full of anti-aging creams to remind her she’s old and a mirror to reflect those wrinkles.”
“A picture of your front door . . . closed.”
“Get good coffee so you can have some next time you’re over there. Hateful [witches] never have good coffee.”
With all that to pick from, maybe you can understand why I was left wondering what the original poster ended up giving her mother-in-law. In her message to me, which she gave me permission to share with you, she said her family went with an experience, of sorts.
“My husband took her out for a burger,” she wrote. “We got her calories for Christmas.”
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