In Honest Praise of my Mother-in-Law

(In Response to Her Dare)

June 30, 2000

This Article runs approximately Three Typewritten Pages

Click here to return to my Mother-in-Law Page

Click here to read "What Could Have Been", including the personal challenge:
"Perhaps after I die you will write something nice about me".

Honest Praise

I am here to write about the better qualities of my mother-in-law. It was brought to my attention that, in the 25 years I have known her through my relationship with her daughter, I have been remiss in putting into writing my words in praise of her finer qualities.  While many, myself included, might prefer to say "leave well enough alone", there are others that are insistent that leaving such comments until a funeral eulogy would represent a lost opportunity and a life long mystery to boot. Herewith, I solve that mystery and exercise that opportunity. What I write here is the God's honest truth. These are my opinions expressed from my heart and I will stand behind them 100%. Bring forth a stack of bibles and I will swear upon them. Cross my heart and hope to die each thing I say here is my true and honest opinion of my mother-in-law.

Some of Her Qualities

My mother-in-law has many fine qualities, and is respected by most people for having them. While I cannot claim to have a definitive list here, a reasonably thorough analysis easily nets the following:

1.

She has persevered over great adversity.

2.

She is confident.

3.

She is consistent.

4.

She has great strength of character.

5.

She is vigilant in pursuing what she believes is right.

6.

She is willing and eager to assist others.

7.

She is direct.

8.

She is proud of her actions.

9.

She is held in high esteem by others.

10.

She is considered by many to be a leader of great skill.

A Different Time, A Different World

I first met her at my age sixteen when I began dating her daughter, an act that would lead later to my taking wedding vows and eventually celebrating over 20 years of wedded bliss. But her story begins decades previously, and is both sad and remarkable. Her own father, a loving and kind man, passed away when she was in elementary school, with a pre-school age younger brother and a suddenly widowed mother. This during a time that such a situation would be a source of grave financial, social, and psychological difficulties. Her surviving mother, and her surviving widowed grandmother were chameleons, publicly confident and held in high esteem while secretly bitter and spiteful to their own family members. There are bookcases full of such secret stories, and the scars upon the children of such cases are well known. But my mother-in-law rose above these obstacles, through courage and perseverance, and is now, like her own mother and grandmother, universally loved and admired by friends, neighbors, and co-workers.

The bitterness of her mother is now legendary, and the family history is rife with such tales. No insult, no hurtful statement, no false accusation or guilt ridden acquiescence was too large for grandmother to state or too small for grandmother to overlook. "Grandmother" was a constant presence in the lives of my mother-in-law's young family, and a constant source of both marital and family strife. But grandmother would always be the first to tell you that her comments were meant to educate, to improve, and to enlighten her daughter (my mother-in-law) and her young family. Whether calling the young parents "stupid", calling their hard earned lifestyle "garbage" or referring to their small children as "white trash", grandmother easily defended her remarks and actions as being in the young family's best interest. Grandmother's favorite claim was that the young children loved their family pet more than their own grandmother and each child was taught that blind and subservient respect was owed to that woman as a simple birthright. It is often said that training herself and her children to perform such blind obedience in the face of endless thankless insult from her own mother will be a "Jewel in her Crown" in heaven for my mother-in-law.

You see, my mother-in-law was raised in a different era, back when "children were to be seen and not heard", where children were told to "wait for your father to get home" and where parents' opinions and desires were to be held higher then children's and any differences in opinion were naturally and immediately decided upon in favor of the elder, regardless of logic, reason, or personal preference and regardless of the age of the "children". In that era, she will tell you, it was considered disrespectful to even QUESTION the opinion or hurtful statements of an elder, not like the crazy mixed up world we live in today.

100% Faithful 

So while grandmother's actions might have deserved to be questioned, or repudiated, or might have lead to ugly confrontations or even outright banishment from the young family's home, my mother-in-law did no such disrespectful thing. You see, she will tell you, at the time of her father's death, at his very deathbed, her father requested and she made to him a lifelong promise. She promised her dying father that she would forever respect her mother, take care of her mother, and tolerate any action that her mother chose to put upon her, her husband or the young children that would be born decades in the future. And that is what I mean by my praise of her strength of character and perseverance. Regardless of the strife caused by the hurtful words and deeds of her own mother, regardless of the torment and pain caused to her own husband, her very own children (and eventually the spouses of those children), she stood by her vow unfailingly. She was true to her dad, and will pass into the next life with an unblemished record on that promise. Her paramount perseverance in fulfilling this traumatic childhood promise separates her from the masses. A woman with her strength of character would have surely done anything, gone to any lengths, across years and decades, once she gave her solemn word. I am consistently amazed by the nature, source, and results of the episodes directly linked to this story, a central core of the often spoken family verbal history.

She Lived Through Much Worse

And that is an interesting quandary. Because of the sheer audacity of her own Mother's actions, protected in the ages-old sing-song of "respect your elders" but supported in truth by this sacred promise to her dying father; while "grandmother" might harm her marital relations, might hurt the self-esteem of her young children, might come to bear as a mar on each family event whether birthday celebration, Christmas gift exchange, or the very wording of the dreaded Mother's day card; my mother-in-law's resolve and fidelity would let her persevere. As such a remarkable survivor, she is now in the unusual position that she has tolerated and persevered so much hurtful bitterness (claimed to be "helping" and "teaching" by her mother), that she can be confident that her own children are guaranteed to run a less painful gauntlet than the one that that she herself survived. It is commonly agreed that it would be humanly impossible for her to vest upon her own children the level of hurt and pain that she was forced to accept and tolerate for the better part of her lifetime.  No complaint or accusation against her actions could stand as a shadow against the documented pain she endured. Her own children, the men they married, and the grandchildren they produced can be safe and confident that her actions will always be less hurtful than the one's vested upon her.

Her mother's constant habit of inserting hurtful and bitter opinion between husband and wife, denigrating accomplishments, spoiling festive airs have been diminished to a fraction for her children to endure. It is agreed upon by all parties, myself included, that she endured AT LEAST ten acts of hurtful, disparaging, toxic, painful, destructive inappropriate insertion of Mother's opinion between husband and wife for each that she herself has put upon her own chidren. That is what I mean by her kindness and compassion, her strength of character, and her forthcoming reward in the afterlife.

A Confident Source of Advice

For instance, she strongly holds and often gives voice to the opinion that children growing up and moving off and starting their new life as a young family is naturally a mother's heartbreak, representing abandonment and a call to arms for escalated maternal intervention. When other parents delight in the independence of their grown children, easily separate their own opinions from their grown children's, and revel in the freedom of their old-age never again to worry about transaction level events in their children's lives, she can easily hold those old-age parents up for ridicule as lacking the basic necessities of "family love". When her own children show how they raise her grandchildren, free from unnecessary intervention and open to experiment, she can knowingly pronounce a coming heartbreak. No argument, no example, no verbal reassurance can overcome her deeply held feelings about appropriate relationships between grown adult children and their aged parents. This is what I mean when I say she is confident and strong of character. She can easily wave her finger in the air and say "you will see" about the pending heartbreak that all parents share, looming in the growing up and moving off of their children.

Ever Vigilant of Her Duty

And that is what I mean by confidence and vigilance. When she is of a certain opinion, it is not half-way with her. You will not hear her waffle, or listen to conflicting thoughts. When she is confident that a certain thing is the right thing, then she is ever vigilant to make sure that such a thing is carried out. Well, not entirely true. Like her own mother, she will eventually acquiesce to strangers, allowing them to hold differing opinions but then secretly hold them in low regard. But with her own children, and the men they married, she is ever vigilant. Like her own mother, her strong sense of right and wrong, of acceptable and unacceptable, of appropriate and inappropriate is paramount in her own life and by extension inserted into her growing extended family. She refers to this matriarch-centric family relationship as "A Mother's Duty" to intervene in the lives and relationships of her now-adult children.

Such vigilance does not easily give in to modern fads like independent thinking and questioning authority. Her logic pre-dates the Holocaust, Nuremberg, and My Lai and adheres to the olden days mandate of "following orders". In her world, you do not question elders, and you do as you are told regardless of your own sensibilities, priorities and desires. To do otherwise is to be branded "self-centered". And to people of her generation, even her own mother, such a unilateral judgment is passed without debate and without hearings. It is a sign of shame on a youngster, whether it be an eight-year-old child writing a plain and direct letter to grandmother to call for an immediate end to hurtful words and actions, or a 40-year-old child offended by the disrespect to the sacred vow that "what God has put together, let no man put asunder". She confidently knows when that child is insulting or disrespectful, and she is ever diligent to correct that child and persevere until that child changes their insulting and disrespectful ways. She is obviously a woman of strong character unflagging vigilance. These issues she will pursue even when everyone about her consoles that it is not her concern, and to the point of "scorched earth" before compromise. To her, proper behavior, as learned from her own mother, is ALWAYS her concern.

She is Magic

Finally, my mother in law has a magical ability about her. She can, without any visible effort, make any issue disappear or simply will one form to become another. No less mysterious than the stage performer that changes a pigeon into a rabbit, she can turn a child's hurt at her mother's hand into a mother's hurt at her child's hand. And like that stage performer, the pigeon will remain a rabbit as long as she deems it to be so and no logic, no pleading outside of her own will, will change it back. Also like the woman cut in half, without explanation a certain event can be divided and reattached in any sequence at any time. And like the audience, her own children must sit in amazement and watch as a response to an event (previously occurring afterward) is suddenly transformed into the original event's cause (implying preoccurrence).

But disappearing magic is her specialty. She has the magical ability within her world to will events to disappear while carefully choosing others to stand. Like claiming one upon another hurts at the hands of her child then, when that child tries to explain, "Poof!" the child's words become "dredging up bad memories" and disappear into thin air like the magician's coin or egg. Later that same item reappears, when it is time to talk of mother's hurt and child's disrespect, then again disappears magically when explanation or context is offered. Her magic words "Leave things alone", and "That's in the Past" are every bit as effective as "Hocus Pocus" and "Abracadabra" have ever been. And that is what I mean when I say my mother in law has magical powers. She is a source of constant amazement to me.

Fulfilling Her Request

While I could go on and on with her many skills and gifts, the reader surely can see how I feel about her. When she writes that "Perhaps after I die you will write something nice about me" (Read "What Could Have Been"), you can see how a man with empathy and consideration could not sit idly by, holding her in mystery until it is too late. I can now rest satisfied that I have fulfilled her challenge before the grim reaper prevented me from doing so. I have delineated the aspects in her personality that are held in high esteem by herself and by others, and were passed down to her by her own dear, dear mother. I speak for myself and echo the words I hear from many when I say that our lives would have been much different had we been denied the involvement of her wisdom and opinion and wisdom and opinions of her mother before her.

 

Click here to read "What Could Have Been", including the personal challenge:
"Perhaps after I die you will write something nice about me".

 

Copyright,2000, All rights reserved




Originally Written: June 2000
First Upload: July 15, 2001
Last Update: September 15, 2002