My MIL sometimes resorts to what Jack and I call “bulldozing” behavior. If she thinks she’s permitted to do something, whether because of social customs or just because she thinks she’s right, she will bulldoze everyone around her in an attempt to get her way. The story that follows is a classic example of this.
My in-laws have a group of friends that they have been close to for many decades. The core friends in the group are all roughly the same age and had kids at the same time, so their kids grew up together. Everyone in the group attends the same church. Everyone in the group owns homes on the same lake. Milestones achieved by individual members of the group – significant birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, births, promotions, retirements – are often celebrated by the whole group.
When Jack and I got engaged, one of the families in this group hosted a bridal shower for me. The shower was mostly attended by the people in this friend group, people I hardly knew. I really appreciated that this family hosted a shower, but I assumed my MIL applied a bit of peer pressure to make the shower happen.
When the next child in that family got married, my MIL informed me that she was going to host the shower for the bride-to-be (presumably to repay them for hosting my shower). She asked me if I would like to be involved and I said I’d be happy to help. I knew the bride-to-be and liked her a lot. MIL notified me that she would reach out to the family to arrange a date for the shower.
A couple days later, plans came to a screeching halt. MIL had discovered that the other two daughters in that family were already making plans to host a shower. “Evidently my friend did not remember that I wanted to host the shower,” she huffed. I responded and said not a problem, I looked forward to attending the shower instead of co-hosting it.
“Not so fast!” my MIL responded. “I’m still waiting for Jennifer [one of the shower hosts] to get back to me.”
Despite having been told that someone else was hosting the shower, MIL wasn’t going to let this go. She had turned the ignition key on her bulldozer and was warming up the engine.
Over the course of a couple more conversations, MIL informed me that she finally got a hold of Jennifer. MIL had offered our services for helping with the shower, which Jennifer accepted. Jennifer informed MIL that a date for the shower had already been set, and MIL wanted to know if the date worked for me (it did). MIL also let me know she was going to offer her house to Jennifer for hosting the shower.
Offering to host the shower at her house? Hosting the party at MIL’s house will give her a “reason” to intervene in many of the planning details. Members of our family know that’s a sure sign MIL is revving the engine on her bulldozer.
As MIL confirms the shower date with me, she informs me:
“I would like for Jennifer and Melissa to do the [shower] planning and I’ll be in the background.”
I want you to remember this statement, because it will come into play again later on. I also want you to take note that MIL is stating that she is graciously stepping back so Jennifer and Melissa can do the planning for a shower THEY ARE CURRENTLY IN CHARGE OF.
Jennifer accepts MIL’s offer to host the shower at MIL’s house. Then things go quiet for a bit, or at least they did on my end. As I later discovered, during this time MIL was peppering Jennifer and Melissa with questions about what they had planned so far, which Jennifer and Melissa largely ignored.
A couple weeks later, Jennifer sent an email to everyone – Melissa, my MIL, and I – to ask our thoughts on menu planning. Jennifer, Melissa, and I agree that we want to do something different with the food at this shower. Parties in this friend group often result in the same foods being served over and over, usually pasta salad. We want to avoid those foods. We throw out lots of ideas. MIL remains uncharacteristically quiet during the conversation.
Jennifer states that she would like a taco bar at the shower. She suggests a delicious buffet of various fillings, like shredded chicken and cilantro-lime beans with rice, that people can choose from. Melissa and I agree to this, and come up with a few sides to go with the tacos.
Jennifer assigns people to make various food items, which we agree to do. We are excited about the menu and assume things are settled.
A few days later, MIL shifts her bulldozer into gear and steps on the gas. Jennifer, Melissa, and I wake up to find this email.
Subject: Judgment Day is near!
Good morning! The clock is ticking, ladies! There are many details to hosting a shower that we have not discussed. A good hostess needs a plan! To make sure this shower goes off without a hitch, I woke up at 4:15 AM this morning and came up with a plan that covers all the details.
There are four parts to a bridal shower: Introductions, Eating, Games, and Gifts. All of this should be completed within 3 hours.
Who will do what!
Emily, I am not artistic. I would appreciate it if you’d use your artistic talents to come up with some shower decorations and bring them with you to the shower. I’ll need you to arrive at my house early to help with setting up and decorating.
Jennifer and Melissa have sent invitations to the attendees. Jennifer, could you send me the latest list of those who have RSVP’d? Last I heard from you, we do not have RSVP’s from everyone. Once you get that list to me, I will contact those who have not RSVP’d and ensure they attend.
Jennifer and Melissa, since you know everyone coming to the shower, I assume you will handle introducing ladies as they arrive. If you expect my assistance with these duties, respond to this email immediately and let me know.
While Jennifer and Melissa are handling introductions and serving punch, Emily and I will prepare the food for serving. Let’s eat immediately after introductions. Jennifer and Melissa, I assume you will lead the games and pass out prizes. While you do that, Emily and I will clean up. I am concerned we will go past our 3 hour time limit. What if we serve desserts while the gifts are being opened?
IMPORTANT! I still need a color scheme so I can purchase the appropriately colored plates and napkins and so Emily can decorate appropriately. The shower’s color scheme should match the color of the bridesmaid dresses. Jennifer, can you let me know what the colors are?
I have scratched the idea of a taco bar. Too messy. I am going with a sandwich and salad theme instead. I will serve Chicken Salad, Egg Salad, Pasta Salad, and Tuna Salad. The three of you can bring the sides and desserts as assigned below, which will nicely complement the food.
Cheesecake and punch (Jennifer): I have a punch bowl and cups, which you can use. You will need to bring and make the punch. Jennifer, are you planning on freezing some flavored ice for the punch?
Chocolate cake and mixed fruit (Melissa): You can serve fruit in a variety of ways: in a large bowl, on skewers, or arranged on a platter. If it is ready to serve when you arrive, that will make things go faster.
Apple pie and flowers (Emily): These will be placed on the buffet with the food around them. I have many vases you can use if you go with cut flowers instead of an arrangement.
In addition to the punch, I will have wine, soda, and coffee available for beverages.
Well, this covers all the details we’ll need to host a proper shower. Are we in agreement?
Hosts? Consider your plans officially bulldozed.
I heard through the grapevine later on that Melissa, who has not hosted any parties with MIL before, reached out to Jennifer after getting this email and asked “Is she always like this?????”
To which Jennifer responded, “Yes.”
This is such classic behavior from my MIL. Remember when she said that she wanted for “Jennifer and Melissa to do the planning, while I stay in the background?” Yeah. Not so much. She claims she wants to stay in the background, but she never, ever does that. This is not the first, or the last, time she has wrested control of an event and overthrown the host.
For whatever reason – perhaps the short amount of time left, perhaps they don’t want to start a fight – Jennifer and Melissa don’t stand up and say “Hell no, we said we wanted a taco bar and we’re having a TACO BAR!” Instead, they agree to MIL’s suggestions and in doing so, MIL officially takes over the shower. In the time remaining before the event, Jennifer and Melissa go largely silent as MIL sends out more dictatorial emails confirming RSVP’s and smoothing out other details.
In private emails to me, MIL requests confirmation that I am willing to handle the shower décor. When I mention that I plan to run my ideas past Jennifer and Melissa, MIL retorts:
“Four people running a shower are TWO people too many!!!!”
She tells me not to run any ideas past them. She rants about how Jennifer wouldn’t respond to her repeated requests for more information about shower plans. Thus, MIL does not feel the need to provide them with any information about her plans. MIL proceeds to make and finalize her own plans for the shower without any input from Jennifer and Melissa.
I am uneasy with this, but I don’t speak up at first. I stick to focusing on coming up with shower decorations. When my MIL asks my opinion on things I could care less about – like where people should sit when they eat, or how food should be arranged on the serving table – I offer feedback. Each time I respond, my MIL gushes praise on me. Tells me I’m the best daughter-in-law in the world, and how blessed she is to have me in her family.
The praise makes me feel worse. I can tell toes have been stepped on, judging by Jennifer and Melissa’s silence. I hear some murmurings of discontent through the grapevine of friends and acquaintances. When I inform Jack about everything that has happened, he groans in embarrassment at his mom’s behavior. I don’t like being the sidekick to this hostile takeover of the shower.
The day before the shower, I make a last ditch effort to try and restore Jennifer and Melissa as the rightful hosts of the shower. I email my MIL and tell her that I think we should be in the background during the actual event. I feel like Jennifer and Melissa should be in charge, so they can take the reins of welcoming the bride-to-be into their family, and let my MIL know this.
MIL never responds to me, but her demeanor at the shower the next day is tense. She spends a lot of time wiping off counters in the kitchen, her lips pursed. She rarely speaks except to tersely interrupt the shower now and then in order to dictate a transition (“We need to open gifts now!”). Otherwise the shower goes off without a hitch and the future bride seemed to be (thankfully) unaware of all the drama that went in to planning her party.
Days later, I get an email from my MIL thanking me:
Thank you for all your help with the shower last weekend! The decorations you brought were lovely, I especially love the table cloth. I think I’ll use it again during the holidays. Do you think that fabric is safe to wash?
I think Mary was very happy with the shower. I’m so pleased, I wanted to make sure she appreciated her special day. The only downside I noticed was that the foods we serve at these events are getting so repetitive. Don’t you agree? I would love to serve different food at one of these events someday. Maybe next time!
At this point, I’m flabbergasted. Mary is my MIL’s friend – she’s the future MIL of the bride – not the person of honor at this event!!!
Also, you want to serve different foods, MIL? Really?! You had the opportunity to do that at this shower. The hosts wanted to do that. Everyone else agreed to do that. Then you came in and bulldozed all the plans, served the same damn foods you always do, and offended everyone in the process.