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Image / Editorial

The delicate balance of buying a Christmas gift for your mother-in-law

13th Dec 2019

Christmas is approaching and as we tick off the names on the gift list, we draw nearer and nearer to our in-laws. What are we supposed to get the mother-in-law?

Ah, the old mother-in-law trope. It comes in many forms, and almost all of them negative — the so-called monster-in-law is presented to us wives/girlfriends as the final obstacle to defeat before settling into a peaceful existence with our significant other. Gain the M-O-L’s approval, and you will achieve eternal bliss.

What the trope fails to acknowledge is that mostly, mother-in-laws are pretty normal women, and actually quite lovely. They do not automatically issue all potential children-in-law with death wishes on arrival, and do not compete with us for the attention of their spawn — if you are dealing with that issue, best off avoiding them completely. The fact that we fear mother-in-laws more than their male counterparts, the dad-with-shotgun narrative, is a little strange, and it’s probably one we should get over.

The old Christmas stigma

Nevertheless, the stigma is there, and when it comes to Christmas, despite ourselves, we launch into an existential crisis about what to buy the mother-in-law. It’s a very delicate balance — you need to strike the right chord. A bath set is too ‘done’. A bottle of wine is useless at Christmas. Too much money spent means you’re trying to out-do their gift to you. Too little, and, well, you’re tight, and no one wants to be classed as the one who peels an orange in their pocket.

The added pressure comes with the presentation of the gift — there’s no leaving it under the tree. The normal occurrence is a family gift-exchange, with at least six pairs of eyes on you, the ‘woman’, and how your gift measures up. You may be subject to gentle ribbing from the rest of the family; an awkward silence (bad sign); or, the holy grail, a satisfied chorus of oohs and ahs. Your reputation as either a great or crap gift-giver is set to stick for at least five years, so make sure to make an effort.

The useless partner

Don’t expect your partner to be of any use in all this, by the way. Even though this woman is their mother, who they presumably lived with for the entirety of their formative years, who they literally came out of, they probably know absolutely nothing about what she likes and dislikes. Their suggestions will probably peak at a bath set, which, as we all know, is a dud. Trust your own instinct here.

If all else fails, go for the experience — bringing her out for afternoon tea equals serious brownie points. Oohs and ahs, here we come.

Featured image: Monster in Law, 2005, New Line Cinema

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