Why Is My Mother-in-Law Still Friends with My Fiance’s Exes?

File under: not a bad problem to have

woman walking alone

Q: I’ll start by saying that I am a jealous person. I admit and totally recognize that, in a relationship, and in a healthy way, I am a jealous person. There are some people whose partners can have girl friends or be friends with an ex and not feel anything. I don’t make “Stay Away From All Other Women at All Time” rules or anything, and most of the time I don’t let my jealousy bubble to the surface, but I am not one of those people who can just be okay with that stuff. I am a jealous person.

And I’m marrying a man who already has two kids, by two different women, one of which is an ex wife. That isn’t easy for a jealous person. But they are my family, and I love them. So I’ve made my peace with the fact that I will not be the first and only woman he marries. I’ve made my peace with the fact that I will not be the only mother of his children. I have grown to love his children as if they were my own, while making peace with the fact that they are not.

I think I’ve done extremely well.

It’s just that I also happen to be marrying a man whose mother is a saint. She’s a wonderful person. She and I have many differences, and she’s never treated me with anything but love and affection. She believes in a very open style of love and communication with her children’s exes. Her ex’s mother is still close to her, and she chooses to pass on that attitude in her own children’s lives.

It’s cute. It’s sweet. And it drives me crazy. Because it means always feeling like some sort of weird sister-wife with my partner’s exes. They get the same Christmas gifts as me. They get “I love yous” and shout outs on Facebook. They get invited to family dinners. She reaches out to them on her own to chat. Writing all of this out, it doesn’t seem like that big a deal. But in my everyday life, in my relationship with my mother-in-law-to-be, it feels like I’m just another in a long list of his women. Except I’m less important because I’m not the mother of his child. It makes my partner uncomfortable, but he won’t say anything to her. It makes me very uncomfortable.

I am already working through my jealousy issues with not being his only wife and not being the mother of his children. We are both very young; this isn’t something young couples expect to work with. She is supposed to be my family. His exes have boyfriends and husbands whose mothers they are supposed to be close with and get to know. And one of my fiancé’s kid’s mothers doesn’t like it as much. She feels uncomfortable because she is married and her husband’s mom is her family. She’s told me, “She’s not my mom.” And I appreciated that. The other ex is the more recent, however, and her wanting to be close to my fiancé’s family makes it feel like she’s trying to be close to my fiancé.

Is it so wrong to not want to be just another one of her sister-wife daughters-in-law? What am I supposed to do?

—Just Another Daughter-in-law

A: 

Dear JADIL,

Not too much, really.

I can get why this feels weird, but a big part of that is your framing. You’re thinking of these ladies as “his exes.” I’m guessing mom isn’t still in touch with them because of their relationship to her son, but instead to her grandkids. To mom, these women aren’t “son’s exes” but “mothers of my favorite babies.” That doesn’t make them equal to (or even better than) you, just different, and still important in her life.

It may not feel this way, but this is actually sort of awesome. Your mom-in-law wants to be involved with her grandchildren, and the best way to do that is to be on good terms with their moms. From a “think of the children!” perspective, that’s terrific.

I know that doesn’t help you any. But maybe it can at least reframe it for you. They’re not your sister-wives, not lumped together with you in a pile of “partners of son”; they’re a whole separate thing, important to her as a result of a totally different connection entirely (which may be why she’s not connecting that this could be awkward for you).

So, try not to think of them as exes, but instead as “moms of the grandkids.” And while you’re at it, think about what you expected this in-law experience to be like. Getting the same holiday gifts as your partner’s exes feels a bit weird when you put it that way, but it’s more likely that she just considers you all women of a similar age and grabs multiples of something easy. Which, if you think about it, is what you do for folks you’re not super close to. Most people don’t have a cozy-close, unique relationship with their in-laws, and these women aren’t the cause of that. Their presence just sort of highlights it. You’re important to her by extension, just like these other women are important to her only by extension (just a different one).

And psst. While the above might not make it easier to sit next to your partner’s exes at the next family dinner, at least take heart that it could be so much worse. I’ve been given a peek into a whole host of in-law issues through my inbox, and hoo man, this is one to be grateful for. Your mom-in-law’s ability to be nice regardless of whatever else happens is something special (and perhaps rarer than it should be).

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO ASK APW A QUESTIONPLEASE DON’T BE SHY! IF YOU WOULD PREFER NOT TO BE NAMED, ANONYMOUS QUESTIONS ARE ALSO ACCEPTED. (THOUGH IT REALLY MAKES OUR DAY WHEN YOU COME UP WITH A CLEVER SIGN-OFF!)

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