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In any cliched family-based drama serial, you might see some character stereotypes such as the nasty mother-in-law (MIL) and the overly-protective mother. Luckily for me, when I married into Tom’s* family, my in-laws and my parents got on fabulously. In fact, my mother, Sara*, and my mother-in-law, Linda*, hung out with each other every weekend to have tea or go shopping together! But underneath their seemingly affectionate gestures were less-than-kind intentions…
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My MIL is one of the nicest a newly-wed could hope to have: She would cook Peranakan food for us and give my husband and I time, space and independence to do what we wanted despite living under her roof. She invited my mother to come over every weekend, as she knew how worried my mum was about her only daughter (me).

Slowly, the visits became overnight stays with the ladies having their own “Golden Girls’ night”, watching Korean dramas, and gossiping in the kitchen about everything. But then I discovered something which totally surprised me…

On one such weekend when my mother was staying over, I came across her mobile phone, which she had left in my bathroom. My eyes widened when I saw a message sent from my Auntie Joan*. It read: “So how are you and that fake L getting along?” Did “L” refer to Linda, my MIL? As my mother never bothered to password-protect her phone, I decided to scroll through her thread of messages.

From what I could gather, “L” was Linda, and in the eyes of my mother, she was a “neurotic Nyonya”, “as plastic as Tupperware” with “a laugh like a drunken hyena”. I was shocked but also secretly amused that my mother had harboured such a dislike for my MIL.

Since that discovery, I started taking note of their behaviour towards each other, and it soon became clear that the dislike was mutual. My mother would “compliment” my MIL on how “drag-queen” her makeup looked, while my MIL would comment on my mum’s “prosperous” waistline. They would get competitive and try to out-do each other about the latest neighbourhood gossip.

Also, my mother had the bad habit of moving household items around when she stayed over, because of her belief in feng shui, and my MIL would shift them all back because she admitted to being obsessive compulsive. They were acting like petty secondary school girls!

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At first, it was quite entertaining for me to watch these two mature women keeping up appearances, but my amusement soon turned into unease. I discovered that my MIL would sometimes serve my mum leftovers, which I suspected actually gave her stomach aches on some occasions. And my mother would also “generously give” my MIL beauty products that were unsuitable for her skin or nearing expiry, knowing full well she was long-sighted and could not read the fine print.

I started becoming even more concerned, as I had not even broken the news to them that I was expecting: What if the situation became truly toxic when my child was born?

I decided to take things into my own hands and acted as a buffer between them. Whenever possible, I would involve myself in their conversations and distract them when they started commenting on each other. I offered to cook instead of my MIL whenever my mum stayed over. I would even tell little white lies about supposed compliments that they had given each other. I baked their favourite things for them to enjoy together.

I thought my plan was going well, and kept at it till the day my son Ryden* was born last May. And because of the fuss over their first grandchild, I thought both women would be distracted enough, while taking care of him and me, to stop being mean to each other, and bury their misgivings.

Then one day last month, as both of them were babysitting Ryden while watching their usual Korean drama in the living room, Tom said, “Did you know? Not too long ago, both our mothers were concerned about your odd behaviour and wondered why you kept interfering in their harmonious relationship. They kept their complaints from you out of love – they had guessed you were pregnant and didn’t want to affect you or the child. They were right.”

There and then, I realised about the true nature of our mothers’ friendship. They were not frienemies as I had thought. They were family – built on tolerance, “sisterly” affection, concern for their loved ones, and yes, had the odd bit of mutual irritation. “Yes, dear,” I replied. “Mothers do know what’s right, and what’s best for us.”

*Name changed to protect privacy.

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Photos: 123rf.com, Pixabay

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