Did you know Mothers-in-Law have a holiday in their honour? Nope, me either. It’s in October, sandwiched somewhere between Canadian Thanksgiving and Hallowe’en. It’s pretty much as far removed from Mother’s Day as you can get. It’s clearly not a huge Hallmark holiday, and I have yet to see a magazine cover splashed with “30 recipes to whip up for a spectacular Mothers-in-Law Day dinner!” or anything. And you know what? That’s a shame. Really. Having an “in-law” attached to the title of mom, means being dumped down to a spurious day in October where you have to compete with turkey and ghosts and witches (save your jokes, please!). It means having your special day lost among other important national holidays like national dress up your pet day and national sneak some zucchini onto a neighbour’s porch day (it’s a thing, seriously!). Mothers-in-Law should be celebrated: and I’m not saying this because I want to have the chance to say, hey, thanks for having such a great son, which I guess I would, if I had to…but they should be celebrated in their own right, as vibrant, caring, and important family members. After all, it isn’t very often that you get the chance to forge a strong relationship with a mom who isn’t your mom.
Three cheers for Mothers-In-Law (yes, you heard right…)
I am very fortunate to have a great mother-in-law. I remember the first time I met her: she was so elegant and smart and kind that I thought: if this relationship thing with her son goes south, do you think she’d still adopt me? She’s that great. And you know what? She’s not just great because she birthed my husband. She is so much more than that.
My mother-in-law is a renegade and a creative force to be reckoned with. She’s a feminist and a humanist and a childist (made up word? most definitely). She’s the original repurposer of junk, and the owner of rose-colored glasses that see the good in everyone and everything (curbside cast-offs, I’m talking to you!) She is continually teaching and inspiring. She has more energy than most people my age and is always looking to grow and learn and explore. From her I have learned the art of Friday evening fridge clean-out dinners, lovingly called pick-outs because everyone at the table gets to pick out what they want to eat. She has inspired me to try new things, to respect those who have come before us, and to honour the struggles of people’s lives we may not otherwise care about. My mother-in-law is gracious, generous with her time and skills, adventurous in her cooking, and is the first to finish a bottle of wine and then comment, “well, that never happens!”
My mother-in-law is a true environmentalist. She upcycled before it was trendy: making new clothes out of old ones, rescuing and refinishing furniture, and making as much as she could from scratch. Even still, she is one of the most considerate recyclers I know, washing all her plastic, metal and glass before placing it in the recycling bin. She finds a second or third use for just about everything, and will incredibly take something that looks utterly unredeemable and turn it into something beautiful. It’s pretty amazing. And let me just say this now: if a zombie apocalypse happens tomorrow, head for my in-law’s place. Seriously. My mother-in-law will be able to keep you fed, darn your socks, whip you up a quilt, and start a fire with a paper clip and a guitar string, all while still looking fabulous in a pair of vintage pearl earrings. I’m not even exaggerating.
I have learned a lot from my mother-in-law over the years (except how to sew. I’m still dreadful at it). And of all the things I’ve gleaned, there are two lessons that have really stuck with me; the ones I find myself clinging to in my low moments, in the middle of the night, when I can’t sleep because of the crushing fear that I’m failing at life.
Things my Mother-In-Law Has Taught Me.
Children and the art of being bored.
When I first had my daughter, I constantly worried that I wasn’t doing enough for her. My mother-in-law would console me and say: don’t worry so much about filling her time with organized events, just be. What did that mean exactly, this just be? I wanted to fill every moment with structure and learning and learning disguised as fun. And my mother-in-law would say: there is nothing wrong with letting your child be bored. I didn’t get it. At all. As parents, we always want our kids to feel like they’re experiencing, learning, doing, and being motivated. I spent the first few years of my daughter’s life feeling guilty, feeling like a total failure because I couldn’t get myself together enough to make sensory bins, or enrol her in a myriad of classes, groups, and lessons. Yes, I played with her and we went places and did things, but there were also times of just being at home, doing everyday home stuff. I would lie awake at night worrying about letting my daughter down, of her having a disappointing and unchallenging childhood because we didn’t do enough. But you know what? Turns out my mother-in-law was right: there is something to be said about allowing your kids to just be bored sometimes. Boredom is a great motivator in itself. It is the place where creativity and imagination grows. I don’t always play with my daughter. I don’t always plan weekend activities. There are times, a lot of them actually, where she’s with me, just being. And by that I mean, she follows along with me as I grocery shop or clean the kitchen, or do yard work. If she wants, she’ll grab a rake or a cloth and help me out. If she doesn’t, she’ll wander off and grab her markers and do some drawing or throw on her boots and traipse around the backyard. I don’t give her any directions, and I don’t have any expectations. I just let her do her thing. I used to panic about these unstructured moments. I don’t anymore because I see my daughter developing her imagination skills. She’s learning to make her own fun, and that, in my opinion, is an invaluable lesson.
Women and their impending 40’s.
When my mother-in-law was 40, she went back to school, became an Interior Designer, and started her own business. She had the courage, confidence, and creative desire to step outside her comfort zone and try something totally new that no one she knew was doing. And you know what? She succeeded! She tells me all the time that her 40’s were some of her best years, creatively speaking. She had a bit of life experience under her belt, and she was ready to make her mark. I think about this often as I am too, TOO, quickly approaching my 40’s, something that seemed a lifetime away, and an age that I had equated with retirement and shuffleboard (I know…). But now that I’m almost there, I see what she means. Your 40’s aren’t the end. They’re almost a beginning, or even a defining era of change. You’ve done some things, had some relationships, maybe some kids. You’ve had a career, or two, and your body is about as good as it’s going to get (let’s never think about being 22, okay??). You probably already understand what clothes suit you best, you have a signature look, and you know how to cook at least five things really well. And with all that to your name, you have a confidence, that maybe is hiding under the surface or maybe it’s something you’d never admit to anyone in a million years, but it’s there. You really could do anything you want to. When I think about my impending 40’s like that, I feel more excited about the experience than I do about the number (which is like Voldemort and shall not be named).
A celebration of women
I think it’s easy to forget sometimes that before your mother-in-law was your mother-in-law, she was most likely someone’s daughter-in-law. She probably understands how hard it is to be a daughter-in-law sometimes, and she no doubts remembers feeling like she was doing everything wrong in the eyes of her mother-in-law. But more importantly than that, you and your mother-in-law have a fundamental bond: you are both women. Through that bond you can share the joys and pains that comes with being a woman, and the frustrating hardships and amazing rewards of raising children. As women you both have stories to tell: of experiences, struggles, growth and change. Though the author may be different, the underlying values are the same. To know that someone has lived through your moment can sometimes make you feel not so alone, or that the other side of the turmoil isn’t so far away.
Just like it takes a special woman to be a mom, it takes a very special mom to be a mother-in-law. It isn’t an easy job. You have the same amount of feelings invested into being a mom or grandma, only you’re at the disadvantage of having “in-law” attached to your name. It is this difficult position of being a mom-yet-not-a-mom that needs to be celebrated. Mothers-in-law are often the unsung heroes of last-minute babysitting, the teller of embarrassing childhood stories, the shower of even-more embarrassing childhood photos. They are often the givers of too much candy and of too little punishment. And they all too often become the fodder of mothers-in-law jokes that end with eye-rolls and scoffs.
I have been so lucky to have found a great mother-in-law, and I am proud to be her daughter-in-law, even prouder when people sometimes actually mistake me for her daughter. It is wonderful when you find someone that you can both admire and learn from, and my mother-in-law fits the bill for me. She has the unique perspective of not being my mom, but loving me like she was. She has her own life story and words of wisdom and valuable advice. She is an important part of our family dynamic and I, for one, am incredibly grateful that mothers-in-law exist.
And even though Mothers-in-Law Day is in October, I am choosing to celebrate it alongside Mother’s Day, because I want to celebrate more of the “mother” and less of the “in-law”.
happy mothers-in-law day, you know who you are!