E-Mom at Marriage Monday has invited me into this MIL fray. It’s a Monday, if you’re feely scrappy for a good fight – you won’t find one here. But maybe you’ll find some encouragement to make your week a little sweeter. Stop by her place for an elephant-in-the-room discussion of the MIL.
Miss Manners suggests that one veer away from such highly charged subjects as sex, religion and politics. The blogahood definitely has no fear of addressing either in seriousness or humor those said subjects. However, there is one subject rarely mentioned, that carries an elephant-in-the-room-esque quality – everybody recognizes it but nobody mentions it – The Mother-in-Law.
I have a gripe about The Mother-in-Law - from the view of the mother of 5 sons, and, now officially The Mother in Law to a delightful daughter-in-law whom loves my son to distraction, I have some street credibility, some skin in the game – Oops! I’ve been around my boys just way too much.
A few months ago, a mother of sons was rolling her eyes about her mother-in-law who was coming to visit. And, maybe I should not have, but I just could not help myself. I pointed out that she had sons – about 3 of them. And, well, hhhhmmmm, did she want her sons to grow up and marry daughter-in-laws who talk about her like that?
Her eyes got big like saucers and she paused, answering, “I had not thought of that.”
The MILOS (Mother-in-law-of-Sons) starts at a disadvantage – she is the one everyone tells to shut up and wear grey at the wedding. In what other job or social event does someone say, “You are not valuable or important enough to be noticed.” The mother some mothers love cursing with the following line: “A daughter is a daughter all her life but a son is a son until he takes a wife.” Yes – I will hang up on you if you call and tell me that. If you write it in a comment, I will delete it. That is speaking a curse over any mother’s life. It’s akin to kicking puppies who only want to love you.
Historically, the son did not disengage himself from his family. This attitude is really a post- WWII attitude. From biblical time to WWII, the daughter left her husband’s family and was grafted into his family, leaving hers behind. Even when widowed, the first legal step was to remarry into the husband’s family. Returning home was the last choice.
Why anyone would gleefully tell another mother, “Hey, mom, you’ve poured your life blood into this person but you are on the outside of the family circle now – you are not even part of the family – only under duress” – well, that just boggles my love-your-neighbor-as-yourself little Christian woman mind.
Rock star mom fades. Snuggle time disappears. The quality of hugs even changes. They hug someone else. Snuggle with someone else. See stars in their eyes over someone else – The Girl. (Hint, make sure your daughter-in-law knows you are joking when you say you want to be the mother just like in Love You Forever – who will take her ladder, climb it, crawl through the window, just so you can rock your son when he’s all grown up, saying, “I will love you for always. I will love you forever.” – it’s a great book for children who cannot imagine life without mom, but it a book that has the potential to freak out your daughter-in-law – LOL).
A heart is big enough to love completely as many people as one desires to love. That is one of the lessons I have learned as a daughter-in-law. I will admit that when I married my magnificent husband, that I wanted to hang out with my family, celebrate with my family and let my son spend more time with my family.
I was young, growing inside me things like true confidence in myself, unconditional love, generosity of spirit, self-less-ness, wifely things, and, when my first son was born, motherly things. Luckily for me, we lived in my in-law’s home town. Because of that, I had to spend more time with the “in-laws“. Just because they were the closer family. Not necessarily because I wanted to, though I liked his parents.
And, I was so blessed because of it. It takes time and effort to build relationships. Time and effort on both sides. Effort is a reach. reaCH. REACH action by BOTH sides. Relationship cannot be built without BOTH sides reaching toward friendship, chosing love. The MIL/DIL relationship is one of those Unconditional Love Relationships where both sides choose love.
My mother-in-law and I are like night and day. One thing we have in common is we have a heart for people. How we go about having a heart for people is different. She has shaken her head in exasperation over me, I’m sure. Like the time I called and asked, “How many legs are on a tick?” One, I really wanted to know because, lucky me, I found one. And, second, because I wanted to connect – and it was a conversation opener.
According to the Don and Katie Fortune’s book on developing spiritual gifts, my mother-in-law’s spiritual gift is compassion. Mine is the gift of exhortation. And, according to the book, the compassion person avoids the exhortation person like a person allergic to poison ivy. And, poor thing, she got me for a daughter-in-law.
However, when my 4th son was born via a crash c-section, resulting in a very healthy baby boy and days of excruciating pain for me – there is one memory that remains indelibly seared on my heart that epitomizes the beauty of my mother-in-law.
The last thing I had heard before they knocked me out was, “I don’t have a heartbeat.” They were talking about my son. When I cam to, the pain was overwhelming. Crash C-Sections hurt. My husband was concerned because I hadn’t asked to hold our son. I was still laying on my side, barely conscious. I wanted to hold my little miracle when my mind cleared – but, I was also a mom with a mission. My other little guys were going to Day Camp the next day for archery, swimming, shooting, canoeing. I did not have lunch stuff - delivery was unexpectedly early. My mother-in-law rested her hand against my cheek, just rubbing my cheek gently, like my 4th son loves for me to do.
She didn’t have to say anything; she just comforted me without words, unconditionally loving me. And, she listened to her nutty daughter-in-law rattle off a list of things needed for lunch at camp, what they needed to take, but, most of all, she just loved me in her quiet way. But it was like she understood the pain I was battling and it was so hard to talk.
We both have made effort, in our own different ways. We might not go shopping together, but she’s going to help me make my first quilt. I am so excited she is going to teach me to quilt. She has made my sons amazing quilts, quilts made with love they wrap about themselves. A child can never have too many people love them in any love language with any Spiritual Gift. Diversity equals embracing and seeing the beauty in differences – even embracing those MIL and DIL differences.
We might look at how to celebrate birthday’s differently, but we celebrate together. She is a Christmas decor minimalist; I create traditional Dickens extravaganza decor. She plants her tomatoes one way, me another.
She’s a cornbread dressing-kind of cook, and I’m Italian Herbs and Spices-dressing-kind-of-cook. She’s a go-with-the-flow kind of lady while I am into time-management. However, we both love flowers. And we both love her son.
Love requires sharing – and we share. It also requires not looking for offenses, not inviting the little foxes in to chew the legs off that family table. It also requires a forgiving heart – because, well, people are just people, communication is not perfect.
However, I think we both invite each other into the family circle. We each have a welcoming seat at the family table. We accept and because we accept we belong and in that belonging love grows.
Being a daughter-in-law and a mother-in-law is all about embracing the differences. Loving despite the differences. But, most importantly, it is about choosing to love, forging a relationship one conversation at a time. Keep in mind, one day you will be one!
By the way, a tick has 8 legs!
(If you have time, please stop by and read “Prayer for My Son’s Wife.”)