Everything I Know About Motherhood I Owe to My Mother-in-Law

Image Source: Leah Groth
Image Source: Leah Groth

To give you an idea of the kind of relationship I have with my mother, I have spent approximately 25 total days with her since my fifteenth birthday. I am 36.

She wasn’t there when I went to prom or graduated high school. She didn’t drop me off at college. She attended family week at my rehab center (high on marijuana), leaving before it was over but after telling the entire group that it was my fault that she relapsed on alcohol a few years earlier and that I was a bad seed. She wasn’t there when either of my children were born or when I married my husband. In fact, she has only met her grandson once, and hasn’t spoken to me since my daughter was born.

I do believe my own mother loved me to the best of her ability, but from the time I was a little girl, that love had conditions and I knew it. If I said the wrong thing, acted in a way that offended or upset her, or did something she didn’t like, she would pull her affection out from under me so quickly without a qualm. She made it clear that she could live without me, perfecting the art of emotional and physical abandonment while I was still too young to understand that there was something wrong with her, not me. I thought love was something that had to be earned, that not everyone was deserving of it and it could be started and stopped like an LP.

Over the years, I desperately sought mother-type figures in my life, to no avail. From my mother’s sisters and my stepmother (who was probably 10 times crazier and more evil than my own mom) to sponsors in AA and the mothers of friends and lovers, these women came and went, but nobody ever filled the void left behind by the human who birthed me.

When I was pregnant with my son, one of my biggest concerns (there were many, as I spent most of my pregnancy alone, as the boy’s father had been MIA since conception) was that I knew everything a mother shouldn’t be, but wasn’t exactly clear what one should be. Luckily, a lot of it is intuitive, and the moment my baby was birthed, I was blessed with more unconditional love than I ever could imagine. But there is more to being a mom than just loving and caring for a child.

I reconnected with Nick, the man who is now my husband, six weeks before my son was born. He was my first love, and we spent most of our college years together, so I had already met his mother Stephanie 16 years earlier, however, I didn’t really get to know her until we drove up to visit them for Thanksgiving. Though Nick had relayed to me that his mother was supportive of our relationship and proud of me because I had decided to keep my baby and go at it alone, I had my reservations, because what mother would really want to see her son parent another man’s child, especially that of his brat-of-a-college girlfriend? But as soon as I stepped in the door of her beautiful and impeccably kept home, flooding with the aroma of made-from-scratch chicken wild rice soup, it was as if I had arrived home for the first time.

I, like someone licking an ice cream cone for the first time, savored every sweet shred of attention I received from my future mother-in-law.
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Like most things given freely in life, people with wonderful mothers take them and their love for granted to an extent, because they aren’t familiar with the alternative. “I have a great mother, but…” is often followed by things like “she cares too much,” “gets too involved in my life,” “calls me all the time,” or“is overbearing,” by people who “suffer” from an abundance of mom love, my husband included. I, like someone licking an ice cream cone for the first time, savored every sweet shred of attention I received from my future mother-in-law. I was more than happy to help her out in the kitchen, accompany her on a shopping trip, or join her for lunch with a group of friends.

From witnessing her relationship with Nick, who is one of the more complex human beings I have encountered in life, I learned that being a mother isn’t easy. Many say it is the most difficult, monetarily unpaid, and undervalued jobs in the world. She told me stories about him, like the time he swore at an old lady in church as a toddler and the other when he vomited all over her pristine house as an adult after a booze-filled evening. Over the years, he has said an awful lot of mean things to her (as all children do), refused to return phone calls after bitter arguments, gotten into trouble with schools and the law, and overcharged credit cards. But none of those things make her love him any less.

She has always been the first to call him after a fight because she doesn’t like to go to sleep with unresolved issues with people she loves, and is willing to hop in the car at a moment’s notice and drive eight hours, like the night his first wife left him, just so that he wouldn’t have to be alone. She always has a hot meal waiting for him after a long drive up for a visit, even when he claims he’s not going to be hungry. She loves him, no matter what.

All of a sudden, the mother I always dreamed of was in my life, and for whatever reason, she has always loved my son and I like we were her blood.

Image Source: Leah Groth
Image Source: Leah Groth

She went with me to try on wedding gowns and was there as I walked down the aisle and married the love of my life. She has been there for every one of Jackson’s birthdays, for the birth of our daughter, and even flew out to Los Angeles to help me while I was there for work. In her home, there is always a Christmas stocking with my name on it, an Easter basket filled with my favorite candy and treats, and my favorite, homemade granola waiting for me when we visit.

She is the first person (after my husband, of course) that I call whenever anything good or bad happens, and when I was baptized earlier this year, she became my godmother. Sure, we have gotten into arguments, and because of history my first instinct is to think, That’s it, it’s over, I blew it with her, but she doesn’t let more than a day go by before trying to work things out.

You can read every parenting book ever published, listen to podcasts, join a million mom groups, and go to multiple therapists, but what you can’t learn from any of those things is what it feels like to be truly loved by a mother. Maybe I would have figured this out without Stephanie, but I truly believe that with the abundance of love and support she has given me, I am able to give that much more to my children.

No mother is perfect. Inevitably, we will all look back one day and wonder what we could’ve or should’ve done differently in this “choose your own adventure” of parenting, but at the end of day, the most important thing is that we love our little humans with all of our might, and never, ever, give up on them.

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Article Posted 4 years Ago

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