What I Want to Tell My Mother-in-Law

Dear Mother-in-Law,

According to society at large, you are supposed to be meddling, controlling, bossy, and possibly narcissistic.  Also according to society, I should resent, even hate, you.  I ought to take everything you say as uncharitably as possible.  Many women I know consider me lucky because I have never met you.

I have so much I want to say to you.

You died in a car accident twelve years before I ever met your son.  He was nineteen.  I know your death shattered his world.  It led him through dark, difficult times, and depression.  It gave him a faith in God that caught my heart when we first met.  I can only know you through him.

And I want to say  . . . I wish so much we had met.  I wish we could have sat over coffee or tea and talked.  All the little bits I know about you, from my husband and your other children, make me admire you.  You raised thirteen children in tiny house.  One bedroom, one bed, one bathroom, a tiny kitchen.  For a third of the year, you and my father-in-law and all my other in-laws packed up and went on the road.  I cannot imagine being pregnant, having a baby, or mothering a toddler while being a migrant farm worker.  You did it.  I would like to ask you how.  How did you manage, getting up to make tortillas every morning and working in the field every day?  How did you keep the house from descending into chaos and mess?

My husband remembers having his own box of toys, his own pillow, and his own blanket, and little else to call his.  I feel greedy when I remember what I grew up with and took for granted, and I am certainly a spoiled mother.  I have so much more space and budget to work with than you did.  If you were here, you might tell me this.  I might resent it, though you would be right.

If we could sit at a table and chat over coffee, I’d ask about my husband as a boy.  What was he like?  I know his impressions, but I also know a mother’s perspective is different from a child’s.  What did you see in him that he didn’t see in himself?  Would he have been substantially different if you hadn’t died when he was so young?  And what is the recipe for the mole sauce he remembers so fondly?  I’d love to surprise him with it.

I have a few photos and his memories. I wish I had yours too. (My husband is on the left.)

He loves you.  I know you are his gold standard of motherhood.  Now that I have children of my own, I understand that.  I want my children to love and admire me like he loves and admires you.  I want to be worthy of that love and admiration.  Did you ever feel the same way?  Did your mistakes haunt you the way mine do me?  I sometimes imagine having that conversation with you, but I don’t know what you would say.

I know why mothers-in-law conjure up so many fears.  Why would I imagine your opinion wouldn’t matter to your son? I fear I would be a disappointment to you–and you would say so. I am not a very good housekeeper.  Clutter and organization are my biggest struggles.  The idea of simplicity appeals to me, but attaining it overwhelms me.  Would you be able to help me? I like to think you might have the advice I need. Your son and grandchildren are happy and healthy, so I can hope you would help me improve, not break me down.  I hope I would take advice and support in the spirit it was given.

I’ll never know you this side of eternity.  However, I do know you would be proud of your son.  You would have beamed when he graduated college (the first of your children to do so).  I hope you would have been pleased when he introduced us, though I am a different race.  You would have recognized both that I love him and that we share our religious faith, I think.  By his word, you would have delighted in each of our children, as you delighted in your other grandchildren.  It hurts him the most, knowing that they will not meet you. You would be so proud of him for being such an excellent husband and father.  And I know your heart would swell to see how faithful he is to Christ and the Church.

I know you would be so proud of who he has become. He’s walked some dark, hard roads to get here.

At times, I am struck with melancholy when I hear other women complaining about their mothers-in-law.  You know us and see us.  You love and intercede for us where you are, because love cannot be conquered by death. Up there, though you cannot give me advice or tell me about your life, you can at least pray for us.  I know you do, and I thank you.  Thank you for raising your son to be a good man.  He is considerate and thoughtful, and I know that is, in part, due to you.

I never knew you, but I miss you.

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