I want to suffocate my mother-in-law with a diaper

I'm nine months pregnant and she's coming to stay with us: What if she refuses to leave?

By Cary Tennis

Published January 5, 2005 8:00PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I am not a violent person. I have never hit another person, ever. But recently I have found myself fantasizing about beating up my mother-in-law. I daydream of shoving bread pudding in her stupid face. I gaze out the window and imagine kicking her and then holding her down in a pile of mud with my foot until she cries. These thoughts make me feel so wonderful when I have them.

I am nine months pregnant and live far away from my mother-in-law. I understand that she needs to come out here and see her first grandchild. So she's been invited for one week. She's planning on staying two weeks because she says that she needs to take care of me since I am having a C-section. I told her it's not necessary, she can stay one week. One week is all I can stand. Her presence will not "help" me; it will cause unbearable stress.

I am afraid she will become a "squatter" in our house. How will I get rid of her? My husband doesn't want her here either and also told her she can only stay one week. What if she refuses to leave? I may become crazed and try to suffocate her with a diaper.

A Mom to Be

Dear Mom to Be,

Please don't suffocate your mother-in-law with a diaper. Diapers are expensive. So is domestic help. In-laws can be a plentiful source of cheap labor.

By the time this reaches you, you may have experienced all the labor you can stand, cheap or otherwise. For that matter, you may already have suffocated your mother-in-law with a diaper. (If so, let us at least hope that you did not put the diaper, or the mother-in-law, in the toilet. The proper place is the trash receptacle.)

But let's hope you have taken no action yet. Let's hope you're just having these fantasies, this recurrent mother-in-law suffocation-with-a-diaper ideation. Let's think about what the images mean. Why the diaper? Why the bread-pudding image? Why the mud?

If I were a Freudian, I might think: Aha, food and shit! You even mentioned that you fear she might become a "squatter." Interesting. What do you think she might squat on, or upon? Your house, obviously. One thing is starting to become clear: We're in the mud! And the mud is where we should be! The primordial mud, that is. All this talk of mud, bread pudding and diapers: Sounds like a deep, ancient, animal mother rage, rage of the ooze, the mud, the muck of life. And you are the muck, actually, that mud in which you wanted to hold her down! In giving birth, you become the enfolding mud, the encompassing muck, the very fecund, life-giving environment out of which we all in some philogenic sense crawled, individually, on our individual metaphorical hands and knees so many paleontological years ago. So this is no small matter!

You find yourself at an unfamiliar pitch of emotion. In a mechanical sense, the means by which you have reached this pitch of emotion is hormonal; but it's not enough to say it's hormones without asking what the hormones mean. Why would a person ordinarily not given to violence suddenly have these fantasies? I would say that these images speak of your most profound attachment to life, the furthering of life and the protecting and celebrating of life. This protection involves the facing of a threat. In a nonrational, animal sense, you are trying to protect not just the baby-to-be, but your unique experience of birth, and your unique status as a mother. Your mother-in-law, by trying to help, may threaten your ownership of that experience. She may not be entirely innocent in what she is doing, of course. She may very well be trying to edge you out of the spotlight, absorb some reflected glory of motherhood, reexperience it through you, steal your aura or whatever. But she has a rightful place in the drama. Her prior birth experience gave rise to your husband, who gave rise to ... you know ... what you're going through!

It's understandable that you want to fend her off so you can establish yourself as a mother in your own right, so that you can in a sense best her or overcome her as the son overcomes the father in worldly accomplishment. It makes sense to me that you would not want your unique birth experience to be overshadowed by her presence. But if it makes it any easier, consider this: There's no way she can shove you out of the spotlight. This baby is yours. The show is yours. Whatever production she can mount, it's only a sideshow. You're the star in this one. No matter how much she annoys you, she truly can only occupy a supporting role. The spotlight's on you.

If you can bring yourself to realize that she, as the prior birth mother, has her role, however minor, then perhaps you can stop fantasizing about pushing the bread pudding into her face and suffocating her with a diaper, and think about how best to put her to use in the household.

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