Why mums-in-law are taking second place to the family pet

British mothers-in-law are less popular than the family pet
British mothers-in-law are less popular than the family pet

It’s a jaw-dropping statistic but British mothers-in-law are less popular than the family dog.

In a survey of families carried out for the retailer Matalan, just 21 per cent selected the parents-in-law as ‘‘close family members’’ with their pet dogs coming in at 22 per cent.

Sandra Chapman

Sandra Chapman

I have to say I sat myself down with a cup of strong coffee to digest this. It’s not that I had any particular illusions about my role in my children’s lives.

Any mother who imagines she will be able to tell her son how to live his life after he’s married quickly realises how low down in the pecking order she is once he sets up home with a wife.

The poles-apart attitude soon becomes clear the day you think you are making a helpful suggestion about something so simple as the colour of a jumper you might like to buy him for his birthday. Expect a rejection as colours are now chosen by the new lady in his life. Of course they should.

Men, even that son you brought up to have an independent streak, just like a quiet life. Unless the mother-in-law is the Queen of England, her opinions are not likely to merit a second hearing.

If the average British mother-in-law is lucky enough to be invited for Sunday lunch to her son’s home – think of how the Italian men revere their mothers insisting on big family lunches once a week and regular invites to see the children – she may not even be invited into the kitchen, not even to help with the washing up. Any notion she may have had of getting to know the daughter-in-law better will disappear in that walk around the garden she may feel obliged to take to keep out of the way until lunch is served.

The height of a mother-in-law’s influence is usually just before the wedding when the couple know they’ll shortly be leaving the past behind and making their own decisions. A daughter will always include her own mother in her life even if her husband might like it otherwise. Yet most will keep the mother-in-law at arm’s length even if she has saintly qualities.

So what is it in women that turns them into something akin to control freaks? Agony columns are full of stories of in-laws not being invited for Christmas lunch or to the children’s sports day, much less spending a family holiday together. Do young women today see their in-laws – mothers-in-law in particular – as a threat? In turn do mothers-in-law expect too much?

Why should they expect to become an extension of their son’s family? Is their own life boring now that the children have gone?

The mother who lives only for her children, who hasn’t carved out some activities and cultivated a network of friends along the way will pay the price when they move on.

There are many saintly daughters-in-law. I know a couple who nursed their mums-in-law through illness without much help from their husbands.

There are many others who make a big effort to ensure the children enjoy a good relationship with their grandparents and who don’t see them as just a baby-sitting source.

Yet not all daughters-in-law understand how different life is today for that earlier generation of parents who, in many respects, had life much harder and depended on the extended family in all kinds of ways.

Most likely they are working mothers who simply don’t have the time to nurture social inclusion. The idea of that big family get-together also seems such hard work.

As for in-laws being less important than the family pet. As a relatively new dog owner I understand that totally.

Let’s be honest a dog is so much less demanding than grandchildren.