Imaginary monster: New mum prepares for war with mum-in-law

Imaginary monster: New mum prepares for war with mum-in-law

This new mother was geared up for battles with the proverbial tyrannical mum-in-law.

There's a hairdryer in your bathroom drawer," said my mother-in-law.

It was about 10.30pm. We had just flown to Perth from Melbourne for a friend's wedding, and we were staying with my husband's parents. I was nearly seven months pregnant, and about to take a shower to wash off the aircraft stink.

"Oh, don't worry," I replied. "I'm not going to wash my hair, I'll do that tomorrow."

"But what about drying your elbows and knees?!"

Silence followed, then my husband and I burst out laughing.

"Uh, no. I don't think I'll be doing that," I responded incredulously. My mother-in-law didn't push the subject, and the hairdryer lay unused in the top drawer that night.

I get along very well with my husband's family. It has been nearly 11 years since I first met them, and they have welcomed me into the fold with open arms. (Either that, or I am really thick-skinned!)

But when I became pregnant, my feelings quickly shifted from initial excitement to dread at my mother-in-law's impending visit.

She had decided to stay with us for the first six weeks after the birth of her first grandchild. I became convinced that I would soon be living and breathing every single horror story ever told about mothers-in-law.

Living in Australia didn't help my hormonal imagination. My Australian colleagues and friends were aghast when I mentioned the length of my in-laws' impending visit.

At my Pilates class, my instructor recounted how she was horrified when another client told her that her in-laws would be staying for two weeks.

I didn't have the heart - or energy - to tell her the truth, or explain how trying to limit a mother-in-law's stay in Asian families would be the equivalent of initiating World War III.

To add to this, I wasn't a real believer of the benefits of a confinement period. I rebelled against the idea of being told what I could and couldn't do, especially when I couldn't find the logic in some of the practices.

I knew that washing my hair, going out and getting some fresh air every day, and eating what I felt like would be necessary for my mental health. So anticipating my mother-in-law's restrictions grated at me.

I bristled at any mention of Chinese postpartum traditions. In my mind, my mother-in-law's well-intentioned comment about blow-drying my joints defined the person she would become once the baby arrived. I just knew she was going to be impossible to deal with.

I worked myself up over how I thought the six weeks post-partum was going to play out. I imagined the battles I would have to fight, and strategised about how I would approach each scenario. I'd never faced any conflict with my mother-in-law, so it was unchartered territory.

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