Love letter to my Mother-in-Law

I finished my University final exams on 11th June, 1992. I was no more than a child, still an inner void within me to fill, but I was already a mother to four children who went to University with me and grew up together with me.

It would not have been possible without my mother, who was always just a telephone call and a 3-hour car-drive away. My mother was always there to comfort and cosset. She never criticised, she just loved me unconditionally.

My mother-in-law was different from my mother. She was not as tolerant as my own mother. The summer the children and I had to live in her house whilst saving up for a deposit for our first home was a torture for me. I was expected to work, as opposed to being treated like a princess whenever I was at my parents’ house. Whenever I was in my parents’ house, my mother took over everything so that I could have my much-needed rest from my studies and from being a mother to a large brood.

My mother-in-law cured me of my spoilt behaviour, but it was a baptism of fire. I was lazy and incapable, and her son deserved more than the teenager who was dumb enough to fall pregnant on the first date, and who wanted grand things in life rather than knuckling down to being a mother, taking care of the family the proper way. I should have been thankful for the things I had, instead of chasing silly dreams at the expense of the family.

I used to run back to my mother, crying.

She, my mother, would tell me to learn to love my mother-in-law instead of commiserating with me.

“She’s your mother now,” my mum said, though her heart must have been bleeding at my tears.

And yes she was. My mother-in-law was my mother now. She made my maternity dresses. She was up at 3am with my colicky baby. She took the time to sit in the garden with me in her busy day. She tried to understand me.

Slowly, we began to laugh together. What started as an argument between us would end up in laughter. We began to cherish magical moments together, like sitting with a three week old baby in the rain eating soggy cheese sandwiches, because she was adamant that children need lots of fresh air (even in the rain). Slowly, the enmity turned into a deep and abiding love. It wasn’t an easy relationship, but nonetheless it was one that shaped my life.

This summer, I cut flowers from her garden to bring to her in her nursing home. I found this letter, and it brought it back to me, the love I have for my two mothers, two amazing women, whom I owe everything to. They are still my mothers, and I their daughter, though I am 47 with a string of qualifications, impressive work experience, financial independence and five grown-up children. This positive dependency was brought into sharp focus this summer: though my mother-in-law is no longer capable of looking after herself, I still run to her, as I did this summer, when I needed a home.

A lot to be grateful for

Life is like shifting sands, it changes so quickly. Something you are grateful for a year ago sometimes is no longer there for you to be grateful for today – last year, I was grateful that I had all my children sitting in church with me, but this year, one has gone away for a tour of duty as an officer of the British Armed Forces in a dangerous part of the world. I had to search very hard in my heart to be thankful for that, namely to feel grateful that I had 25 amazing years with him and hope that with the grace of God, there will be more of those years with him.

But one thing I am eternally grateful for, which never changes, is my mother-in-law Anna. She is my second mother, because I was just a teenager, a spoilt one, when I joined her family and though her judgement of me was harsh, she never gave up on me, believing in me always. My mum taught me the pleasant things in life, such as cooking and planting flowers, and my MiL taught me the less-enjoyable things such as cleaning, getting up early, mending clothes, budgeting, serving … and kneeling in church for what seems like hours. Both are equally important, there is no doubt.

My MiL taught me to serve without resentment. That was a difficult lesson for me to learn, because I have always had someone serving me. I did not know how to give without taking pleasure in the giving. For example, I resented being in her small dark kitchen cooking for the family when they were all out there in the garden laughing away. I would bang the pots and pans, and heaven forbid if someone dared to shout for refreshments. But over time, as I matured and loved my MiL deeply, I saw that hers had been a life of sacrifice and service, and she bore her load in life with equanimity and even happiness. My MiL’s mother went blind when she was 11, and my MiL had been a carer since she was 11. But my MiL spoke of her mother with love only, never the difficulty, even though other members of the family often commented over the years how heavy the burden was. My MiL’s mother spoke no English, only Spanish, when she moved to live in a working class suburbs of South East London. Her husband died early, so her daughter, my MiL, shouldered the load all by herself since she was 11. If she could do all that for that many years but yet has not a single trace of resentment of being robbed of her childhood and youth, how could I then be resentful about having to spend an hour or two in the kitchen?

I can see my MiL’s grace and beauty in my daughter Kat. Kat has always been my tower of strength and voice of wisdom, and I have my MiL to thank for the genes. But I see her strength and resilience in all my children, in the way they triumphed over the little adversities in their young lives undaunted and emerging with a smile on their faces.That will be from my MiL.

My MiL taught me to love God in the deepest sense and to see that God hath no greater love than family. My children’s father is her beloved son, but sometimes, for the family, she would take my side…me, the ‘silly little girl’ who was immoral enough to have a one-night-stand with her son despite promising herself to another man.

Yesterday, walking through the streets of a Spanish city, I felt the desire to embrace every white-haired Spanish old ladies who walked past me to transmit the deep love I have in my heart for my MiL. Dearest Mum, my love for you is unchanging in this changing world. I have done my duty to your family to my best ability in the name of love and I hope you will know that, somewhere in your Alzheimer’s ridden mind.

This is the article I wrote about my much-loved MiL: https://raisinghappystrongkids.com/2014/09/25/my-much-loved-mother-in-law/