I called it "Got MIL?" and in hindsight, posting it was not my most prudent move.
It was an essay that discussed, at some discomfiting length, my relationship with my mother-in-law. It was not an essay that was particularly flattering to my mother-in-law, because she was -- is -- not a particularly easy mother-in-law.
But -- as I later told my brothers- and sister-in-law (who, yes, found the post; this is how this story ends) -- I believed that it was my story to tell. It was about my experience with her, my responses to the things that she said to me, my discomfort in struggling to accommodate her while she visited, for the first time, her newborn grandson.
At the time, I was struggling with post-partum depression. I could barely cope. When faced with that weekend -- with trying to recover from that weekend -- I turned to my favored form of therapy: spilling my guts to the Internet.
The essay began like this:
Yeah, so. My MIL. She makes me crazy. Like, total-batsh**-pass-the-vodka-where're-mah-pills crazy. I know. I am completely and utterly unique in my experience of my mother-in-law. Everyone else has sweet and adorable mothers-in-law who celebrate them and thank them for loving their children and bearing their grandchildren and who bake them cookies and say things like "Oh, heavens, my darling son/daughter would have been lost -- LOST -- without you" and who also maybe give them money.
Mine says things like, "My, but the baby has a big nose. Not our family nose at all! He must get it from you." And then, just as I'm about to fire off some deliciously outraged retort, this: "How nice! His nose will be distinguished! Not delicate, like Emilia's. Prominent, like yours!"
Or: "Oh, how charming that you have no problem being untidy! It must be so liberating!"
Or: "Oh, how nice that you let Kyle do all the cooking! How lovely for him to get to work on dinner while you hold the baby and do your blog! Is that what you call it? A blog?"
Or: "Oh, you must really be feeding the baby a lot! He's so fat! He won't walk until he's nearly two, I'm sure! But how lovely for you! He'll be SLOW!"
And then she sashays away, her work done.
In my defense, I tried to hide the post. I believed in my right to write it, but I also knew that my in-laws (my brothers-in-law and sister-in-law; my MIL does not partake of this thing that we call the Internet, and so I did not worry that she would see it) would not like to read it. My husband, I wasn't sure about; he understands my frustrations concerning his mother, but it's a subject that we try to avoid. I figured that he wouldn't begrudge me the opportunity to vent, but that he would prefer that I not broadcast my complaints from my virtual front porch
So I hid it, or tried to. I maintain an anonymous site -- the Basement
-- for women to post their confessions and their secrets and their rants, but I knew that my family would see it there, and recognize my voice, even if I posted anonymously. So, I went as covert as I knew how: I posted it at a friend's blog, during a week that I was ostensibly "on hiatus" from blogging. I asked that she not link back to me, or talk up the post in any way.
They found it anyway. Not that week, not that month, even -- but they found it. And they weren't happy.
My sister-in-law sent me an email that was, at least, somewhat understanding ("I know that Mom is difficult, but ..."). My husband said, "You should probably expect to hear from my brothers, too." One brother-in-law sent me an email that was a little less understanding ("How could you do that? Writing such things about your family is irresponsible ...") and then another one and another, and I decided not to open any more emails from in-laws.
I apologized to them. I told them that I understood how it could be hurtful to read someone's complaints about their mother. I told them that I should not have posted it under my own name. I told them that I would have it taken it down, and I did.
By then, however, it had been up for a long time, and it had been quoted and re-quoted and excerpted all over the place, and there was nothing that I could do about it. It had taken on a life on its own, one that would last forever, in Internet years -- those unforgiving, unflinching Internet years -- and I would have to say I'm sorry many, many more times.
A recent New York Times article
cites cyber-scholar Viktor Mayer-Schönberger as saying that "a society in which everything is recorded will forever tether us to all our past actions, making it impossible, in practice, to escape them ..." and that "without some form of forgetting, forgiving becomes a difficult undertaking." He's right. I would never be able to escape the story that I'd released, and so would never really be able to put it fully behind me, and my family.
I asked for forgiveness anyway. I said that I was sorry. I said that I was sorry that I hadn't been more discreet, and that it was out there, with my name attached to it, for the world to see, and that it would remain there, probably, for as long as there was an Internet.
But I also said this: that I wasn't sorry that I had written it in the first place. I wasn't sorry, I said, because I believed -- and still do -- very firmly in the importance of women sharing these kinds of stories, these difficult stories that we are so often told not to tell, not to share. How would I, a new mom struggling with depression, fighting through that depression to find her place in her expanding family, know that I was not alone in that experience if other women were not telling those stories? How would I know that I was not the only woman to have a difficult relationship with her mother-in-law? How would I know that a new baby can aggravate that already-challenging relationship? How would I know that it is not just me, if we never told these stories, if we kept them hidden behind the heavy curtain of familial privacy, inside the quiet domain of the private sphere?
Yes, I had an obligation to protect my family by whatever means possible -- change names, post anonymously, give them advance warning -- but my obligations to my family do not extend to fully silencing myself, I don't think. Because if we accept this as one of our duties, as women, to family -- to keep quiet, to be silent on all matters concerning family -- then we condemn ourselves to remaining behind the veil, our voices unheard, our stories untold, our world -- or that portion of our world, large or small, that is the world of family -- forever cut off from the public sphere. And that hurts us, I think.
Of course, end of the day, I just wanted to rant about my mother-in-law. But if ranting about one's mother-in-law is wrong, I -- for some very good reasons, and a few purely selfish ones -- don't want to be right. Even if that means that I have to apologize every few weeks, every few years, every time that someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows my in-laws comes across that post or an excerpt from that post or a reference to that post, then so be it. I'll live with that.
Catherine Connors is a writer and recovering academic in Toronto. She's the author of the award-winning parenting blog, Her Bad Mother, the co-founder and editor of the Bad Moms Club, the featured parenting blogger at Beliefnet, the moderator of Her Bad Mother's Basement, and a contributing editor at BlogHer. Catherine's writing has appeared in a variety of on- and off-line publications, numerous books, and maybe a few papyrus scrolls. She still dabbles in her academic work, which concerns women and mothers in the history of political philosophy.