“That went well, don’t you think honey?” As she stands at the front door waving her parents good bye she is patting her husband on the back for a meal well cooked and deliciously served. Little does she know that her mom and dad are pulling gag bags out of the glove box preparing to stop for a Big Mac and some fries out of sheer starvation and discontent for the man (even if he is a chef) that stole their daughter’s heart. And whether you are a man or woman, if you cook better than your mother in law or produce a rare dish that becomes a house favorite; you are doomed to a lifetime of resentment and nitpicking about the foods you serve and how well you cook. No one likes to be out done, especially the dreaded mother-in-law!
It’s almost cute how men and women alike want to share their culinary experience with the in-laws as a way to impress them. Sadly, no matter how sweet your tea or how crispy fresh your asparagus is, it will rarely be good enough. Try as you may, your efforts are simply in vain and getting your feelings hurt in the process is not worth your time or effort.
Let’s assume that you have grown tired of the ritual gatherings for the holidays at the in-laws. Year after year you gather around the Thanksgiving table only to be forced to endure your sister in law’s rug rats and the brother in law who always drinks too much. Not to mention you and your spouse are sentenced to sleep apart like teenagers and the house smells of musk and eggs. No matter how many times you offer your assistance at preparing the turkey or how many dishes you choose to make to add to the feast – it is all looked at as if it nothing more than mush. You may find that it never makes the table or that your mother in law is turning up her nose and talking about your broccolis casserole behind your back. This year, you decide that you are going to host the feast and you are planning to do it YOUR way. Yikes, this is your first big mistake.
No matter how well the turkey comes out or how much money you spend at a local fresh food market picking the best veggies money can buy, they will turn out terrible. Even worse, the excitement and stress you feel at preparing the meal and the house will result in a let down because it wont be appreciated. Instead, you will be asked if you actually ironed the silk tablecloth or when the last time you vacuumed your hard wood floors was. When the in laws taste the stuffing, don’t look – chances are they will be acting as if it smells like puke and they will notice immediately that you didn’t add enough sage. Of course your father in law wont say a word and the more he compliments you and your efforts (especially if you are a woman) the more angry your mother in law will get!
Even casual dinners can turn into catastrophic arguments that make you question the sanity of the in-laws. Try to grill some hamburgers on a spring afternoon, and someone will point out that the grille wasn’t clean enough. Prepare a birthday cake for your one year old child’s family party – and it will have too much sugar. Couldn’t you have just settled for an orange meringue? (How gross is that?) And if you ever get stuck entertaining your mother in law for an afternoon while the hubby and father in law are off fishing; she wont like any fast food restaurant you choose, will find the best sandwich shop in town pretentious and will many times sigh and ugh, anxious to return to her own comfort zone. Sadly, even if you used her exact lasagna recipe or stole some from her freezer to serve at your own table – it just wouldn’t be right! You will have left out the ricotta or skimped on the oregano. If the taste can’t be complained about, watch her as she scans your dinnerware looking for a leftover crust the dishwasher left behind just so she can embarrass you and make you feel ‘dirty.’ Her poor son!
Cooking for the in-laws! Your efforts and worry would be better placed, cooking for a cast of inmates. The trick is don’t take it personal. And whether you are the husband or the wife, don’t expect your spouse to understand or sense the undermined anger and belittling going on at and around the table. They won’t get it. Save your self some time and money and order take out. Whatever you do, realize that it isn’t your food, your home, your tastes or shopping habits that are the problem. It isn’t too much salt or too little pepper or a dirty fork she stored in her purse to pass off as one out of your pantry. It is the simple fact that in-laws, eating at the table of their grown child’s life – are forced to deal with and realize that their baby (man or woman) has moved on. At some point, it will be you sitting at the table eating your in-laws child’s food, off plates that are far better than any you had, starving to feel needed, loved and important once again.