I hit the mother-in-law jackpot

Photo: Becca Tapert, Unsplash. Photo: Becca Tapert, Unsplash.

When a woman marries a man, she marries his mother, too.
— conventional wisdom

Mothers-in-law get a bad rap. They are often portrayed as overbearing and critical, especially to the women who marry their sons.

This has not been my experience, and since May is the month of Mother’s Day, I’d like to honor my mother-in-law.
She is humble, patient and kind. These are traits universally easy to get along with. I hit the mother-in-law jackpot just because she is who she is.

However, there are some specific things that she has done (consciously or not) that have made it easy to be her daughter-in-law these 21 years.

For starters, she raised the man I love and share my life with. Of course, one could also blame her for the annoying or less desirable traits my husband possesses, but one can’t deny that his goodness is grounded in her influence and teaching.

Of those many good teachings, I have always appreciated that my husband and I share a respect for the church. Mine was Anabaptist-Mennonite and his was Catholic, but we are similarly comfortable honoring and submitting to a faith community. Indeed, we value it.

We were taught to go to church on Sunday, put money in the offering, help where needed and be faithful in prayer for each other and the world.

I’ve observed that some families are quite divided about religion. They ­aren’t necessarily in conflict over specific beliefs. Rather, it is the practice of religion that gets contentious, especially after children join the family.

Other than raising my husband, her best act as a mother-in-law has been to be on Team Sarah. Ever since I showed up in her life, I always had the sense that she was rooting for me. She wanted me to succeed — in my life and in my marriage.

I suspect that isn’t always the case. I can imagine there would be the temptation, even unconsciously, to take pleasure in the missteps of a daughter-in-law. Of course, heaven forbid a total meltdown! But if he likes mom’s cooking better, or if his wife doesn’t seem to understand his moods as well as his mom, well, it just goes to show what a fabulous mother she was.

Unfortunately, these viperous thoughts will slip out and bite their victim here and there, and over time the larger damage is done. There is a reason the snake plant is sometimes referred to as “mother-in-law’s tongue.”

She has continually revealed her support for me. Here are several instances that stand out.

At our wedding she hugged me and said, “I’m just so happy.” Always good to be in a good mood at the outset of a journey.

When she came to visit us for the first time, she walked into our tiny apartment and after several minutes said, “My, it is so clean in here.” In fact, I had spent the better part of a day preparing for the visit, and her noticing and affirming my efforts was a validation of my role in her son’s new, shared life.

When conflict arises between my husband and me, she commiserates with me. I don’t remember her once taking her son’s side exclusively.

To my credit, I have never discussed substantial conflicts with her. (And here’s some free advice to daughters-in-law everywhere: Do not fuss about sons to their mothers. They have no interest in hearing their child run down by you or anyone else. Call someone else when you need to vent.)

She also supported my parenting. Generations parent differently, and I suspect she found the baby sign language and hyper safety measures both bewildering and excessive; she never said so.

Instead of criticism, she gave compliments. Years ago, after my toddler and I had a mutual meltdown, she said, “I’m just so impressed how you don’t scream at the kids when they are difficult.” It isn’t a super high bar, but I’ll take it.

She loves my children unconditionally. She says nice things about them, spends time with them and is interested in their lives.

So to Corinne, a saint among women: You are loved and appreciated, and I’m grateful you are in my life.

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