17 different women, 36 crazy children, 0 babies in utero
Adventures, Advice and Questions from a group of Mormon women who met in Queens, NY and have now scattered all over the place.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

My Very Own Mama Solis

A friend recently suggested that I blog about life in a multiracial marriage. "Don't you guys have lots of cultural issues to deal with?" she asked.

DH grew up in Boyle Heights, the heart of gang-infested East LA. His parents came to the United States as undocumented workers in the 1970's. His father worked the fields as a day laborer before landing a job as a garbage collector. His mother worked in a hot, grimy sweatshop in the garment district of Los Angeles. My DH didn't learn English until he went to public school and still speaks only Spanish with his family. Eight kids in his middle school were killed in gang related violence during his 8th grade year.

I grew up in a tree-infested Portland neighborhood. My dad worked in finance and my mom was trained as an elementary school teacher and made sure all of her kids were reading before they entered kindergarten. The only Spanish I ever heard as a young child was when I tuned into Sesame Street with my bowl of Cheerios on lazy, preschool mornings. When I was twelve, my rabbit died while we were vacationing in Hawaii.

We practically had identical childhoods.

Really, we have little cultural (but occasional other forms of) conflict in our marriage. This is probably because DH left East LA at the age of 14 to accept a scholarship at an elite East Coast boarding school. He quickly lost his Spanish accent, began watching Seinfeld episodes and shopping at LL Bean, all in an effort to survive the snobbery of the masses of wealthy white kids at his school. He pretty much "gets" white people.

The greatest source of cultural-related conflict in my life does, however, stem from my marriage. That would be my mother-in-law. A woman, according to Mexican culture, I should revere, but in reality, I just don't.

Here are some of the issues I've faced with my very own Mama Solis*:

*For those unfamiliar with the show Desperate Housewives, Mama Solis is the overbearing and often sinister mother-in-law of Gabrielle, one of the show's main characters.

-Lack of acceptance. I was not who she had in mind for a daughter-in-law and she let me know it. She had some strong preconceived ideas of white women. She considered them to be lazy, poor housekeepers and cooks, money-hungry, selfish and sloppy dressers. I only fit some of those categories.

-Lack of boundaries. A daily struggle for both DH and I are her multiple daily "que haces?" calls (aka I want to know what you're doing but I have no particular purpose to call, I'm just bored...). Mama Solis' lack of boundaries can be entertaining. For example, on her last visit to our DC area home, I came home from work to find her oversized granny undies and bras hanging from the branches of my trees in our fairly public backyard.

And then there was the honeymoon incident. Mama Solis and one of DH's aunties showed up to the B&B where DH and I were staying, early in the morning after our wedding night. Mortified, we quickly changed clothes and let them in. Then Mama Solis and the auntie proceeded to take pictures of each other resting on our still unmade bed. The same bed that we had just, you know, for the very first time a few hours earlier. It was one of those, "Is this really happening?" moments. Our worst fears were confirmed when we saw those pictures displayed in a photo album the next Christmas.

-Unsolicited advice. I realize that this is a universal source of conflict between daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law. However, Mama Solis has an especially tactless in-your-face how-could-you-be-so-stupid approach for dispensing this advice. An approach that makes me wonder every day why my DH isn't in therapy and then wonder if maybe he should be.

-Unclear expectations. With the language barrier and my general cluelessness of hispanic cultural nuances, I never know what exactly I am supposed to be doing to stay in her good graces. When she tells me to go rest after a meal does she really want me to do that or does she really want me to do the dishes? I tend to error on the side of working (to avoid being labeled "lazy") in these cases.

Now before you start to wonder why I married into this family, I have to say that things have improved drastically from our first visit, when she would barely speak or look at me. In fact, during our last recent visit to Los Angeles, I kept teasing DH that his mom and I were "best friends."

"My worst nightmare," he replied.

Here are some of the things I have learned to appreciate about Mama Solis and my crazy Mexican in-laws in our five years together:

-Unlimited babysitting. When we are visiting, Mama Solis and DH's aunties are really great about taking the kids off our hands. They even get up with them in the middle of the night....Heaven!

-Being skinny is bad. If I have dropped any amount of weight since our last visit, I am declared "too skinny." Trust me, I've never been too skinny. My feminist self hates the rest of me for enjoying this.

-Unlimited quantities of mexican food. To combat my "skin and bones", I am fed large vats of fresh, homemade Mexican food every day. Food I don't have to make myself, but I do have to eat.....Also Heaven, until I have to return home and work it all off at the gym.

-Loads of affection. Mama Solis likes to hold my hand when we are talking or walking somewhere. At first this weirded me out, but I like the closeness and the physical affection DH's family shows. I barely ever remember hugging my own parents when I was growing up.

In the words of the real Mama Solis, "Families should always hug, no matter how they really feel about each other."

-Visiting their home in East LA. Mama Solis' neighborhood is really unique, full of color and character, and safer than it used to be (unless it is New Years Eve or Oscar de la Hoya is fighting on TV or the Mexican national soccer team is playing an important game, and then there will be lots of people shooting guns out on the streets.) I have to say that, even after living in Queens, it feels really strange to be the only white person....ever....out in the neighborhood. I am never as aware of race as I am during these visits.

Recently, I was asked for advice on how to deal with a mother-in-law similar to my own. My friend was marrying into a fierce and proud Italian family. Here was my advice to her, although I admitted that my relationship with Mama Solis is very much a work in progress.

-Have children. Ok, this is a really horrible reason to have kids, but my babies deflected attention away from me and improved Mama Solis' mood considerably.

-Learn her language. I already knew Spanish, but it was pretty rough and ugly from lack of use. I have been working to improve my skills...not just for her...but for myself. And I speak to her, even if I know I am going to mangle a sentence. I've learned its better to just try and communicate.

-Find common ground. For Mama Solis and I, it's in the kitchen. Each visit, I try and learn a new dish even though I usually don't remember how to cook it once I'm home. I think she feels like I value her talents, and I genuinely do enjoy working with her and DH's aunties in the kitchen.

-Don't take it personally. I've gotten to the point where unless I am over-tired and stressed, I just let her words bounce off me. I can usually attribute Mama Solis' criticism to the following: her own tiredness, lack of self-esteem, and boredom in her life.

-Be strong. Mama Solis has backed down considerably since she realizes I no longer care to please her. When DH and I were first married, I would do whatever she wanted to avoid conflict. I soon realized that she enjoyed the control she had over me and it wasn't going to stop unless I stood up to her. There wasn't any particularly ugly incident, but rather I gradually and consistently (and hopefully respectfully) let her know that she was not always going to get her way.

As you can see, I've figured out all the sanity-saving tricks in dealing with a crazy mother-in-law....NOT!!! Any further advice from YOU on how to get along with mothers-in-law is appreciated, both for my friend as well as myself.


  • I can't believe they showed up on your wedding night! If that had been me, that would have been the END of the relationship their. Good thing my in laws are reserved, quiet and unaffected by anything. I know I married the right man because I've had it easy compared to you!
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 9/19/2006 02:09:00 PM  

  • I thoroughly enjoyed this post.

    I too can't believe they showed up on your wedding night. I am afraid that I may turn into mama solis myself. My daughter just got married a few months ago. I'm kind of nosy and tend to voice my opinion (unsolicited of course). The whole boundaries thing is hard to adjust to. I'm trying to be aware of it all though because I have a wonderfule mother in law who has always been very respectful of the boundaries and the fact that this is my family, my kids, my marriage, etc.

    I sure hope I can do the same for my daughter.
    posted by Anonymous Dorice at 9/19/2006 02:21:00 PM  

  • I loved reading this post too! Thanks for taking the time to write it.

    And I can attest to the fact that Mama Solis' food is excellent and I loved how she sent me home with loads more for my dh. I love that about the Mexican culture - there can never be enough food. My dad (who was born in Mexico) does the same sort of things when it comes to food.

    I feel really lucky to have the relationship with my mother-in-law that I have. When we were dating, there were time when I felt like she would have preferred her son be with someone different, but as soon as we were married, all I felt was love and support from her. She also really helped me through a hard time I was having with my own mother right after I got married which I have always appreciated.

    I can't believe the honeymoon incident either. That would have been hard for me to recover from.
    posted by Blogger TftCarrie at 9/19/2006 03:03:00 PM  

  • and i thought my dad calling me to say he would be driving through vegas if we wanted to go to lunch while we were honeymooning was rude...
    posted by Blogger brenbot at 9/19/2006 04:21:00 PM  

  • Jen, I have a great in-law situation and have nothing to add, but thanks for your post. I love hearing your stories about your in-laws. I was just smiling the other day thinking about your Christmas trip with the little boy suits and the tamales.
    posted by Blogger Michelle at 9/19/2006 06:57:00 PM  

  • Great post, Jen.

    The "Honeymoon Incident" would have been ALL the nails in the coffin for me...that is just unreal!
    posted by Blogger chloe at 9/19/2006 08:31:00 PM  

  • I knew there was a reason why the best kept secret of my wedding was where we were staying for the honeymoon. No one knew where we were staying except us. My husband thought I was being paranoid, but I just knew that *someone* would do something to invade our privacy just to see us squirm.

    I should say that this has made me feel very grateful for my mother in law who is an absolute saint.
    posted by Blogger Starfoxy at 9/19/2006 10:23:00 PM  

  • Jen - this post is so great. Very entertaining. I laughed out loud at the visual of your MIL's underwear hanging from the trees. Crazy! I also have a pretty good relationship with my in-laws, but one piece of advice I could give would be to have a sense of humor about things (which you seem to have captured in this post). If you can laugh about this sort of stuff, and not take it too seriously (although sometimes I'm sure that's hard to do) it may make things a little easier.
    posted by Blogger Beth at 9/19/2006 11:08:00 PM  

  • Thanks everyone for their comments. I'm glad to hear that the majority of us have good relationships with the MIL. It sort-of debunks the whole stereotype of mothers and daughters-in-law never getting along....I guess except for in my case.

    In defense of Mama Solis, she lives in LA and we are on the East Coast. So while the visits get stressful and the phone calls tiring, I really don't have to deal with her very often.

    Also a shout out to my DH, who often takes the brunt of her criticism and anger so I don't have to. I'll seriously never know how he turned out with good mental health and good self esteem after growing up with her.

    Regarding the honeymoon incident, I seriously thought maybe it was some traditional Mexican wedding ritual that I didn't know about....
    posted by Blogger Jen at 9/20/2006 06:30:00 AM  

  • Your writing style is so entertaining! Loved this post.
    You deserve an award for what you put up with. The way I have dealt with my MIL is to look at the intention rather than the action. She has nothing but good intentions...so I leave it at that. And since we have moved closer to my in-laws I feel like my relationship with them has grown very strong.
    My sis-in-law just met a girl whose mother CANCELLED her wedding, without telling her. Sent out cards saying the wedding was off! OUTRAGEOUS! Her and her husband had to send out cards saying the wedding was still on and that her parents had done that without telling her...unbelievable.
    Mama Solis' food sounds like a wonderful treat. I think I'll have Mexican food tonight...I'm craving it!
    posted by Blogger Melissa at 9/20/2006 09:49:00 AM  

  • My MIL faked a heart attack to keep from talking to me, hides my laundry when she's over, says we're going to hell for being Mormon, stayed at our house while we were on our honeymoon, and didn't leave when we got back, and so on...

    But the photograph on your newly used bedsheets?? You may have just taken the Mother-In-Law crown from me!
    posted by Anonymous tracy m at 9/20/2006 02:52:00 PM  

  • Oh man, LOL! I can't get enough of the mama Solis stories. Thank you for posting!

    I will not even comment on my relationship with my MIL. It is too dramatic. Let's just say there is no relationship! Sad but true! Kudos for all you who have good relationships. It is important!!
    posted by Blogger Zinone at 9/20/2006 07:28:00 PM  

  • Love this post! OK I think many of us can relate. Although my inlaws are of the same race as I, I too have the same issues with my inlaws. ie...Never good enough, no boundries, unsolisited advice.

    Although my husband and I were both raised in loving, church going family's... I really cannot relate with his very large, prideful, and loud family.

    I need all the advise I can get. It is a constant struggle in our marrage and both of us are trying to give it time. Thankfully my husband gets the "dysfunctions" of his mother and a few siblings and we are working together to find a "happy medium" but really...what do you do???

    My only good advice... I remind myself every day that they raised a wonderful son who now is a wonderful husband to me... and for that I am forever indebted to them.
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 9/20/2006 11:11:00 PM  

  • I have a so-so relationship with my MIL. For the first 8 years of our marriage, our relationship was non-existent - could be a good thing or a bad thing. I always felt DH's family had no interest in getting to know me or was upset that he married a Mormon in the Temple (in-laws are not Mormon and they were not happy about the Temple marriage thing).

    Once we had a baby, our relationship has definitely gotten better, except when she tried to give my 2 month old water between every bottle and thought honey was okay still (NOT!! but we are past that). Now our relationship focuses on her grandchild and not me. Did find it funny when DH told me that his mom admires me because I stay at home and that his sister gets lectures about that all the time (we are both good mothers and it doesn't matter that she works, IMO). Also it helps to be 3000 miles from her and her opinions.

    So my advice for those with MIL issues, 1) wait until you have children; 2) live far away; 3) don't solicit advice because you may not like what you hear; and, 4) focus on just the good stuff and ignore everything else.
    posted by Blogger Elise at 9/21/2006 12:12:00 AM  

  • Should you NOT marry someone based on the your future M-I-L? I did not know it at the time, but mine read my diary when I went to visit/meet her for the first time, after I had gotten engaged. I think if I had found that out BEFORE the wedding, it might have been a deal breaker.
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 9/21/2006 03:51:00 PM  

  • Re Anon: I would only recommend not marrying someone for their family if that person was unwilling to leave their family behind for you, or if it's pretty obvious that the offensive behaviors in your in-laws is something your spouse would do too.

    This reminds me of that Ensign article awhile back with advice for married couples. One of the first headers was "Leave," then it cited Genesis where Adam says that men should leave their families and cleave unto their wives. It went on to say that unwillingness to physically or emotionally leave your birth family behind is just plain bad for marriages.
    posted by Blogger Starfoxy at 9/21/2006 07:12:00 PM  

  • I enjoyed the post. Well, about the wedding night, yes that was very invasive and rude, but hopefully you can one day laugh about it. Everyone is a product of their culture and upbringing. And your mother in law is definately included in this.

    I am fortunate to have wonderful in laws. My mother in law has always been loving, supportive and non interfering. So I am certainly blessed in this. Unfortunately we DO live far away, but that wasn't/isn't to get away from family. I wish they lived here (and they wish we lived there).
    posted by Blogger Mary Siever at 9/24/2006 06:30:00 AM  

  • Just makes me more grateful for my mother-in-law.
    posted by Blogger Stephen M (Ethesis) at 9/24/2006 05:09:00 PM  

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