There is a cloud that surrounds most mothers-in-law. You know all of the jokes and some of you know a lot of pain. The leaving and cleaving of marriage combined with honoring our parents is a pair of truths that can be complicated. Often we are good at leaving and lousy at honoring OR we are lousy at leaving and good at honoring. It takes a man and a woman that believe the best about each other and their families, as well as the grace of God to bring two families together in harmony.
Chris and I come from very different families of origin. Each of our respective parents has relatively little in common with each other. They all like Fox News and dogs. They all love us. That is about it. With that being said, I am not sure what I expected my relationship with my mother-in-law to be like. I was not the one waiting to be a Mrs., so I probably gave as much thought to being a daughter-in-law as I did being a wife.
As I reflect on the twenty-three years I have known my mother-in-law, I realize that she has quietly taught me a few very valuable things. She has taught me that you can be a good cook with very few ingredients and that it is possible to have a clean kitchen at the time you serve a warm meal. (Chris is still waiting on me to perfect either of these skills… poor guy.)
Above the practical, however, there are two very important truths that come from her life. I have never heard her speak them… even better than her words, she has lived out these two principles:
1. How You Make Someone Feel Trumps Most Everything
In twenty-three years, I have never walked away from a conversation with my mother-in-law feeling like I did not measure up. She is quick to tell me how great a mother I am, even when circumstances might warrant a different response. She focuses on the positive and overlooks the negative. It is not that she does not see flaws. She sees the flaws, but she knows what really matters and what does not.
Most of the time we are very aware of our own flaws. Reminding someone of their flaws usually does not help the relationship or help the other person to overcome their struggle. It is a tall order and, honestly, requires me to change but I want to know that those closest to me and those further away leave my presence encouraged.
2. Take People Wherever They are At
When my mother-in-law came to live in an adjoining guesthouse for several years, I was concerned that my children, ages 6 and 8 at the time, would drive my mother-in-law crazy constantly invading her privacy. When I expressed my concern, she immediately said, “Let them come when they want. There will be a day when they don’t want to spend time with their grandmother.” What a relief to this type A mom and what wisdom! She did not take their presence or absence personally and chooses to take people wherever they are in their journey.
Despite all of the blogs, books, and manuals in this world, the most important lessons we teach people rarely involve words. Consider what your actions are teaching those around you.