A dear friend pulled me aside a few weeks ago. She was visibly agitated – you could read it on her face. She proceeded to share with me her deep heartsickness over her relationship with her son. And her daughter-in-law.
You don’t even need to know the details – suffice it to say that all the signs pointed toward relational tension between the women in her son’s adult life: his wife and his mother.
I listened as she described the way their recent interactions had gone south. I heard the longing in her heart for meaningful connection with her adult son and his family. But as she focused in on the disturbingly cold and distant behavior of her (relatively) new daughter-in-law, it was as if a mirror was being lifted in front of my eyes. I was seeing myself in the words of my friend – as if for the first time.
Her words continued to describe familiar scenes from my own young & married story, only this time I was seeing me through the lens of her. Rather, through the eyes of my own mother-in-law.
My mother-in-law came from a family full of sisters. Close sisters, whose lives regularly intersected in purposeful ways. Family reunions and frequent road trips to visit a sister or cousin or niece were the norm for the family I married into. Her enthusiasm for family (and for including me in hers) was evident well before my husband and I said our I Do’s, some (nearly) 23 short years ago.
This intense family-focus wasn’t all that comfortable to me. I had a great family, with parents whose love I’d never doubted and whose care for me had always seen me through. I wasn’t in the market for MORE family. I just wanted to be the co-creator of MY family.
As I listened to my friend’s pain, I realized that I had never even thought about how my mother-in-law must have felt in those early years. Yet somehow I found myself relating so easily to the present-day and more-than-once-removed scenarios as they were described to me that I was left feeling quite unsettled and uncomfortably exposed.
Unsettled because I had never before had the vantage point from which to see myself through the eyes of my husband’s mother.
Uncomfortable because I can’t exactly say that I liked what I saw.
Exposed because the light of revelation didn’t actually shine on me until I realized that the words coming out of my mouth were words that I desperately needed to have reach my own ears.
Sometimes our best advice to others is best directed to ourselves.
My friend has no idea how she helped me to unpack more than two decades’ worth of missed connections and misinterpreted intent.
I thought my mother-in-law wanted to be my mom (but she actually just wanted to continue being her son’s mom).
I was pretty sure that my mother-in-law was a threat to my marriage (yet how could her hopes have been set on seeing the son that she loved fail?).
I was so convinced that my mother-in-law might somehow take what was mine that I forgot to notice just how much of hers she was willing to give.
Undeserved love, mind you.
(Isn’t that just like a mother?)