The Thing About Mother-In-Laws

I met my husband in college. Just two college students trying to make it to class and finish papers before those absurdly-quickly-approaching deadlines. We met each other’s friends, we learned about each other’s hobbies, and about each other’s likes and dislikes. We came to know each other’s favorite study spots, favorite foods; we came to understand how the other dealt with stress and success. We were different in so many ways, but we were beyond compatible and I think we both knew, this was it.

Fast-forward seven years: he proposed, I said yes, we got married. Instantly, I had another side of the family, and so did he. But what has been on my mind isn’t brother-in-laws, or sister-in-laws, or father-in-laws, though they all have their crucial places in our lives; what has been on my mind is mother-in-laws.

It’s a strange thing isn’t? You’ve grown up your whole life with your own mother, who is the center of your world. You know what a mother-child relationship is like, what it should be, based on your own upbringing; and here you are, a grown adult, being thrown into a new mother-child relationship. Except no one is the child, and really, the mother role has changed dramatically.

I think about the parallel lives my mother-in-law and I have lead. She too was present in her children’s lives from the moment they were born. She too made decisions about when she would breastfeed her children and when she would give them formula. She too decided how their foods would be prepared when they transitioned to solids. She too decided when her children would begin to potty train. She too decided what vegetables they would eat, what type of milk they drank, and what clothes they had hanging in their closets. She too planned their summers and weekends together. She too orchestrated every detail of her young family’s lives down to the socks her children wore. Neither of our families would have taken its particular routes without us in them.

I think about what it must be like to evolve from being a mom, directing every part of your child’s life, to now assuming the role of a mother-in-law and grandmother. In thinking about this, I have come to realize the most wonderful thing about my mother-in-law. No matter our differences, my mother-in-law never judges or criticizes the choices I make as a mom. I wish I could bold this, underline this, shout this through the written words on the page. She now stands witness to another person making a separate set of footprints in this path of young motherhood, with footprints that are different from her own. I imagine it must be hard at times to see another person parenting the people you love in a manner different than your own.

But. She never judges me. She never criticizes me for the decisions I make for my family.

And this is why my mother-in-law has taught me the greatest lesson of whom I’d like to be when I enter into her role.

As a young mother, struggling to navigate the raising of young children, this is the greatest gift a mother-in-law can give: non-judgmental eyes, and a gentle, but resilient ever-present support. This is the quiet, constant backing I need for my waxing and waning confidence.  This means everything to me. And while my Type A spirit, will keep me barreling forward in my independent parenting style, my mother-in-law’s influence on how I would like to be as a grandparent and mother-in-law resonate loud and clear. The best way to be–I have come to appreciate–is to respect a young parent’s judgment, way of parenting, and just be supportive and present.

Becoming a mother-in-law, I imagine, must take some adjusting to. You now share this role as the heartbeat of your family with someone you never anticipated sharing this role with.

I am so thankful to have the best mother-in-law to learn from. She has shown me what it is to be kind, to be patient, and to be open-minded. She has given unconditional support, even to a daughter-in-law that is somewhat frantic, somewhat uptight, somewhat of a neat-freak.

The thing about mother-in-laws, is that adding that title to their resume changes nothing about who they are as a mother, because our ultimate goals are all the same: to love the families we share and be present in the best way possible. I am thankful that I have a mother-in-law that gets that.

Thank you to my mother-in-law. You are the definition of love and I couldn’t be more appreciative of having you here to steady our day-to-day chaos.

Happy Mother’s Day. We love you.  Please never move.

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