Sunday, September 27, 2009

Some Home Life

*Retold with permission.

When I arrived in the Dallas, TX airport for R&R [mid-deployment rest and relaxation], I was greeted by my wife, my mother-in-law, and my aunt. It was anything but a warm welcome. While my wife and aunt were certainly glad to see me, an incident with my mother-in-law quickly ruined my mood.

Dallas airport always has crowds of locals waiting to warmly greet troops arriving in the terminal. Though they don’t know you, they wave flags, cheer, and welcome us all back to the states. It’s something they take seriously, and we definitely appreciate it. Many others aren’t so well received. In my case, it was my own family who received me poorly.

As we walked out of the terminal, one of the greeters approached my mother-in-law and offered her a little pin. It ready simply, “I Support Our Troops;” nothing more. My mother-in-law waved her away.

“If I take that pin and wear it, it means I support George Bush’s policies.”

In embarrassment and disgust, my aunt simply walked away. This is not the first time something like this has happened.

My mother-in-law describes herself as an “unrepentant 60s hippie liberal.” I respect this, since she’s certainly entitled to her own opinion, but it’s not reciprocated. Every time we see her, even holidays and other family events, the only thing she’s interested in talking about is how the Army is doing terrible things in Iraq, George Bush ruined our country, and how everything the military is doing is shameless obeisance to an overly-aggressive, reckless foreign policy. She doesn’t even give me (or anybody else) the opportunity to disagree.

I remember when I first told her that I may be deploying, to which she responded, “well, I guess I can support you, providing you go to Afghanistan, since that’s a just war. But not if you go to Iraq. That war is wrong.” Yet when I announced that we were shipping out to Iraq, she gushed with relief. “Thank GOD! At least I know you’ll be safe.” Then she went back to saying negative things about the troops and the war.

She once asked if I’d get dressed up in my class A’s [military dress uniform] and let her introduce me around her workplace. Thinking she’d had a change of heart, I agreed to it. I also brought my newborn daughter with me, too. But when we arrived, she’d walk up to her coworkers and say, “this is my new granddaughter.”

“Who’s that in uniform holding her?” they would ask.

“Oh, that’s my son-in-law,” she’d say dismissively, quickly step in front of me, and turn the conversation back onto her granddaughter. After it happened a couple times, she grabbed my daughter from me. Giving up, I went outside to wait for her to finish. She never commented on my absence.

My wife hates the situation because, whenever we’re together, my mother-in-law is always trying to convince her that I’m wrong, she’s right, and my wife should therefore side with her own mother. Later, my wife will tell me what she said about me, which is usually either personally insulting or derogatory towards the troops as a whole. Though she hasn’t directly said it to me, I think my mother-in-law actually celebrates when things go wrong in Iraq. She considers it more ammunition for her argument.

When I was getting ready to deploy, she asked me if I could get her a bumper sticker that said, “my son serves in the US Army.” I bluntly asked her if it was to alleviate her guilt about speaking so negatively about the troops, which did nothing more than spark off another argument. All our encounters end that way: her accusing, me defending, and my wife caught in the middle. I do everything in my power to avoid her now, because there’s no point in even arguing. She’s already made up her mind – mostly from the anti-war propaganda she reads and casually leaves around my house. “I think you’d find this interesting,” she’ll say.

What she fails to understand is that I didn’t sign up for Iraq – or any other conflict for that matter. None of us did. I signed up to support my family and serve my country. Iraq happens to be where my country as asked me to go. My mother-in-law, however, believes we’ve all volunteered to go to Iraq because we agree with US foreign policy. Whether I do or not is irrelevant. I agreed to follow orders. Now it seems we’re being punished for the public’s disagreement with the war. In my case, her hopeless negativity is straining my marriage, distancing me from my wife, and sowing discord throughout the entire family.

My mother-in-law is already divorced because her husband couldn’t stand her, and over the years she’s alienated most of her relatives as well. Even her parents have a hard time being around her. But I, as the only family member currently serving in the military, receive the worst of her rants. Within five minutes of seeing her anywhere, she’s started off on an anti-military, anti-war speech, hushed anybody who dares disagree with her, and dominated the conversation. Because I’m family and she’s mostly unavoidable, I suppose I’m an easy target. As far as I can tell, she’s projecting her total discontent with life onto the most convenient target: me. I intend to raise my daughter with as little contact as possible. Nothing she says is edifying.

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw, All Rights Reserved


  1. Men have been having mother in law problems since time began. It is a bit difficult to see how supporting her Soldier son in law, relates to George Bush. However, anyone who is against the policies of George Bush, can't be all bad.

  2. Being older and a relative by marriage does not give a person the right to be rude, and that is what this soldier's mother-in-law is. She's apparently been that way all her life (based on the soldier's report that the rest of the family can't abide her either) and nothing will change her. There are two options I see for the soldier. The first requires the help of his wife, and that is to not invite her mother to any event to which her husband is going. Mom and daughter can get together other times. If his wife won't go along with that, perhaps when mama-in-law starts up the soldier should grin broadly, give mama-in-law a big hug and kiss and say loudly, "I know you really love me!" After that, ignore whatever she has to say that is demeaning except to wink if he catches her eye. Repeat as needed.

    Auntie C