I am sure many people can relate to the title of this post. Unfortunately, the title was a shameless and underhanded trick on my part to hook you into reading this post which is, in fact, about my Mother-In-Law (MIL) except the dear woman is anything BUT evil. In fact, in the eight years that I have been married to her son, she has consistently invoked overwhelming awe in me because she is as close to perfect (if not already perfect) as one could be as a Mother-In-Law.
I never really gave much thought to the “in-law factor” when I decided that my DH was the one for me. My in-laws were nice and all but if they weren’t I don’t think it would have changed my mind about marrying DH. If anything, I was prepared for the worst kind of MIL based on my experiences with my own mother (no offense, Mom). My mom is loving and generous and nurturing and will defend even the slightest of her children’s transgressions. But at times, she can also be overbearing, critical and controlling and knows she can get away with it because…well, because she can. These traits of hers I’ve learned to accept and deal with. After all, she is my mother.
But to also have to deal with the same traits in a MIL? I don’t think I could have borne that so easily, if at all. Fortunately, for me, I don’t have to. Know why? Because in addition to giving me the gift of my perfect match in a husband, God also graced me with the best MIL in the whole world! This ain’t no suck-up post, either. She’s not dying…or dangling some juicy inheritance over my head. She’s very simply…AWEsome! (Too bad that’s such an over-used word.) It brings me so much pleasure to pick out a greeting card for her for some special occasion (birthday, Mother’s Day, Christmas, etc.) because there isn’t a card out there, dripping with sweet, loving, kind words, that she is not deserving of. I wish I could buy ALL of them for her! [This exercise is in stark contrast to my ill-fated attempts to buy an appropriate greeting card for my own dad for his special occasions. These visits to the greeting card store inevitably result in a psychological and emotional struggle because…well, because…they just don’t write greeting cards for adult kids of alcoholics whose mean-drunk fathers are still miraculously alive with their organs intact after 40 years of hard liquor. There simply aren’t any sentimental or nostalgic moments from my childhood that warrants the purchase of the “best Dad in the whole world” card! For some reason, the greeting card makers either don’t write these type cards or if they do they don’t display them. Heeeeyyyy…I think I’m onto a great idea on marketing to the dysfunctional masses…] But I digress. Suffice it to say that I am utterly delighted in being able to pick out the right card for my MIL and that any agony suffered in the process is in choosing the card that is the most beautifully worded.
In the 10 years that I have known my MIL, not ONCE has she ever criticized me or chastised me in anything that I have done or said (and believe me, I’ve done and said PLENTY that warranted that from her…especially those moments when I was unkind, impatient or harsh towards my DH or my kids…pretty much daily). She is a devoted wife, mother and grandmother and unselfishly serves others before thinking to serve herself in any capacity. She is ALWAYS genuine, patient, tolerant (Lord! Is she tolerant!), loving, kind, humble, polite, soft-spoken, considerate and always eats what I make for dinner (on those rare occasions that I actually do make dinner). She is ALWAYS available and willing to help in any capacity. She does not gossip, is never boastful nor does she speak badly about anyone…ever. She has NEVER nagged me or so much as suggested I do or say anything a certain or different way or rendered her unsolicited opinion. If she has ever judged me I have never known about it. And she has never created an opportunity for contention (which has been my life-long strong suit). I have never heard her raise her voice much less yell except when addressing my FIL who, in the last few years, has suffered a partial loss of hearing yet refuses to get a hearing aid. The mere fact that she has been married for 45+ years to my dear FIL alone qualifies her for sainthood! She is very simply a most wonderful person…not just a wonderful MIL.
Now some of you reading might be thinking “Yeah, yeah…how wonderful for you…big deal.” But you know why it is such a big deal? Because this is a woman who comes to our house EVERY DAY. Sometimes MORE than once a day! My in-laws live 10 minutes away in the next town over but they also own a 9-acre farm adjacent to our farm so we see them all the time! In fact, I see them way, way, WAY more than I do my own parents (who now live right next door to us). All this time together would very definitely be a problem for my unsociable self if my MIL wasn’t the gem that she is.
She doesn’t know this…no one does for that matter…but every single time I am in her presence she unknowingly models to me the Proverbs 31 woman and causes me to pause. On one hand, I am so grateful that God has placed this woman in my life to be such a poignant reminder on how to be the wife and mother that He desires me to be. On the other hand, as I observe her gentle demeanor and interaction with those around her it is a painful comparison to my anything-but-gentle demeanor and interaction with those around me…and quite glaringly points out how really ugly of a person I tend to be…surely a tendency I’ve inherited from my father! My self-awareness of my crude and abrupt demeanor is the reason why I have recently initiated a mom’s study group at my house called “Homeschooling With a Meek & Quiet Spirit” by Teri Maxwell. It is my hope that the fruits of this study will spill over into every other area of my life…not just in the area of homeschooling. It is, to be sure, a bittersweet moment of observation and reflection when I am in my MIL’s meek and quiet presence.
So how is it that this sweet demeanor comes so easy to some people (like my MIL) and is such an awful struggle to others (like me)? Is it learned behavior or a divine gift of the “sweet demeanor gene” that has somehow not made it into my particular strand of DNA? Is my crass demeanor one of God’s ways of ensuring that I know that His strength is made perfect in my weakness?
Perhaps I wouldn’t be singing my MIL’s praises today if I had her for a mother for can you truly appreciate the good qualities in someone if they’ve always been in your life and you don’t know any differently? It’s possible but I believe that appreciation comes later into adulthood. Take my dad, for example. My siblings and I have unanimously agreed from the beginning that he was just an awful dad. Mean, strict, yadda, yadda, yadda. Only when I was in my late twenties (and in therapy) did I realize that for all the terrible ways he was as a father he was, in fact, excellent in providing us with our basic needs: food, clothing, shelter. He may have been an alcoholic but he was a functional alcoholic. For as mean as he was during his bouts of drinking he never once physically abused my mother or us kids and, to my knowledge, never cheated on her. But these are the positive attributes that we overlooked in favor of the negative ones simply because they were not glaringly obvious day-to-day.
I have never wished for a different mother. My mother is a saint in her own right, too. After all, she has put up with my belligerent, alcoholic father for 40+ years. And she did what any caring mother in her situation would have done: she overcompensated with an overabundance of affection and nurturing (not to mention provided the best home-cooked meals) and did everything possible to salvage what she could of our shredded self-worth. But now that I’m an adult that woman just unmercilessly nags and criticizes me! I mean, she must truly think it’s a MIRACLE that I, the idiot daughter, have been able to raise my kids these past few years because I just can’t seem to do anything right in her eyes (not even load my own dishwasher properly). LOL! But it’s okay, Mom. I know you don’t realize you’re doing it and that when you do nag and critize me it’s done out of love. I learned about 6 years ago (when DS1 was just about a year old) that my way is just as okay as your way and it doesn’t get me upset anymore that you think otherwise. I love you more than you can ever know! But back to my MIL…
Everyone should be as blessed as I am in this regard. I know that a MIL like mine is a precious rarity indeed. I also know that I’ve got just over 10 years to start modeling the same attributes she has or when it becomes my turn to be some young woman’s MIL, I will completely alienate her (and probably my son) because I am just as overbearing and nagging and critical as my mother is to me. I will, in effect, be known as “The Evil Mother-In-Law”. Ugh. Thank God that the bible is full of hope. Between that and a good supply of duct tape to tape across my mouth, I should be in good shape when that time comes!
I love you, my dear MIL. Thank you…for being so incredibly gracious to me when I have been such a pathetic and undeserving daughter-in-law. Please know that, in my heart of hearts, I deeply treasure your son and your family and it is my sincerest heartfelt wish to be every bit the Proverbs 31 woman that you so exemplarily demonstrate. Until that day comes, however…I have my work cut out for me for there is still much, much, MUCH work left to do!!! Please don’t give up on me! 🙂
“Her children rise up and call her blessed…”