Mothers-in-law are seemingly the stuff of nightmares: they are the antagonists of horror stories told between friends and coworkers, and as villains in pop-culture, right up there with evil step-mothers.
I’ve had my share of horror stories concerning the parents (especially mothers) of people I’ve dated. I dated a Filipino guy in high school, and his mother would lecture him – right in front of me – about how he should be dating a nice, Catholic, Asian girl. I am neither Catholic nor Asian. It was about as awkward as you’d expect.
My only multi-year relationship (aside from my wife) was with a Canadian-Indian son of immigrant parents. His parents refused to acknowledge me once we started dating, and for two and a half years I was not allowed at his house. He would never tell them when he was with me. His parents frequently pressured him to not only leave me, but also tried setting him up with other women.
This was all before I came out – imagine the reaction if I had been openly queer, too! So it only makes sense that wading into the queer community’s dating pool was a little intimidating, especially concerning parents of prospective partners.
I first learned of my future mother-in-law through Mo’s writing; we were only friends at the time. When we started dating, we both wondered at our reception with her family. As many queer people have experienced, sometimes friends and family are far more accepting of queerness in theory than in practice. We started talking about a visit to her home province of Nova Scotia quite early in our relationship, and it became a formulated plan not long after. We were both nervous but excited. While Mo was certain I would be a hit with her parents, I was a little worried. We were both uncertain how the rest of her family would react. We were worried that the general East Coast attitude would be even more conservative than that of Alberta.
I needn’t have worried.
We drove up to Mo’s childhood home, got out of the car, and her mother excitedly came down the steps, saying “let me meet the girl that’s stolen my daughter’s heart!” She gave me a big hug. Mo will never let either of us live down the fact that her mother hugged me first.
Mo’s parents were lovely, and Nova Scotia quickly became a home away from home; partly for its natural beauty, but mostly because of the warmth and welcoming nature of Mo’s parents and extended family. Her aunts, uncles, and cousins were quick to welcome me with hugs, and knowing smiles at Mo. Even her Catholic maternal grandparents, head of a family of four generations, beckoned me into their home with smiles, hugs, and sent me on my way with homemade jam.
Though early in our relationship, I had brought a ring to Nova Scotia to show Mo’s parents and brother, and request their blessing in asking Mo to marry me. Not knowing, of course, that Mo had also brought a ring. She proposed on our last day in Nova Scotia, to which I – understandably shocked and slightly annoyed – answered a resounding yes.
The second time we visited, Mo took me along to a family reunion, got me a matching reunion shirt signifying that I was part of her father’s clan, and I was introduced as Mo’s fiancée. At an evening singalong, Mo’s uncle sang us 45 Years, a beautiful, romantic song about love by Canadian singer-songwriter Stan Rogers (one of my faves; popular on the East Coast, so I fit right in).
We are currently visiting for the third time. Mo’s parents are officially my in-laws, and the familial feeling is stronger than ever. My mother-in-law fusses over whether there are things in the house that I can eat, as both a diabetic and a vegetarian. My father-in-law protectively sends food back at restaurants on my behalf when someone puts unwanted bacon on top of my French toast, or misses the tomatoes on my sandwich. People know who I am. I know many of Mo’s family by both name and face. I would consider myself close with both of Mo’s siblings, and I even get ribbed as being the favourite child now. I have been teased for being from the Prairies, but only good-naturedly. My parentage, religious leanings, nor my queerness have ever been questioned or considered as slights against my character.
I make their Mo happy, and she does the same for me. That is what it comes down to, and what it will likely always come down to for this family. I feel safe and welcome.
There are no monster-in-laws here.