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He’s My Baby! (part two)

Joyce and I continued our conversation about sons “leaving and cleaving” and how that might feel to a mother.  Sitting on a comfortable, floral-design couch in front of a square, oak coffee table that her talented husband had crafted, we looked out the windows to the waters of the lake, cresting in white caps in the steady wind.

“Just wait until you have sons of your own.  Then, you’ll understand!”

She doesn’t say it, but … she still might think it! says Joyce.

Our sons.  We pour our “blood, sweat and tears” into raising them to be hard-working, resourceful, contributing members of the human race.  We yell “Whoopee!” when they finally are … practically pushing them out of the proverbial nest They move out, and off they go to find a place of their own, and a love of their own.  They land jobs, settle down and start their own families.

Yes!

Still, might there be just a bit of melancholy involved in the “leaving” part that is our dream for them?  Oh, it may have begun years before when we packed them off to college and wondered who was going to mow the lawn now and who was going to play the music we’d listened to and actually begun to enjoy and who was going to draw us to school concerts and rugby games and having to make Halloween costumes at the last minute?  But, a sense of loss might solidify when these men – yes, men – covenant with their beloveds – “until death parts us.”  No matter how much we’d like to turn back the clock (just for a bit) to re-live some of those sweet moments of their growing up, it’s official – they ain’t comin’ back!

A door closes.  A chapter ends.  And there’s no future in the past.

Perhaps, just perhaps, in some small way, and at certain moments, a mother may feel “left behind”.  After a job well-done, Mom watches her son “graduate” – and then finds herself at the chalkboard … in an empty classroom.

Are we sad for the leaving?  Yes.  And no.

Do we look forward to many more special times together?  Yes!  Do we celebrate the men they have become and are still becoming?  Sure do!  Do we love their wives and thank God for grafting these women into our families?  Absolutely!  Wouldn’t change a thing about how this has worked out so far!

“Why, then, are you crying?

Silly question!  Can we not be happy and sad at the same time?  Certainly.  And when those tears mix together, they make up the word “bittersweet“!

 

 

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Time (fiveminutefriday)

Linking up again this week with the Five Minute Friday crowd. We take the prompt word and write for five minutes straight; no editing, no overthinking, ….just five minutes of writing. Don’t forget to go and encourage the writer before and after you.   The link for FMF ishttp://katemotaung.com/five-minute-friday/

Today’s prompt word…….Time!   Ready, set, go

Time.  It takes time to build a great MIL/DIL relationship.  Time to get to know who she is … and time to get to know who you are in this new relationship.  It takes time to learn what she likes and dislikes, what she is interested in, what her personality profile is and what she expects from you …  as well as what you expect from her.  It takes time to cool down when she’s said or done something that has offended or angered you and it takes time to learn what to let stick and what to let roll off your back.  It takes time.  Is there any good, worthwhile relationship that  doesn’t?  It takes time to learn how to see things from the other’s perspective and to accept them for who they are without trying to change them.  Time.  A precious commodity, for sure.  And an important factor is learning to love the other woman in your son/husband’s life.  Don’t rush it!

Taking Up Another’s Offense

I feel so privileged and humbled when a woman entrusts me with her MIL/DIL story. This warm, Spring afternoon was no exception. Avery traded seats with me so that I could enjoy a gorgeous view of the mountains of the Pacific Coast Range. Things were quiet at the moment in a household with two teenagers and we were taking advantage of a lull in activity to enjoy a cup of tea together on her back patio.

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Avery is the mother of one son and one daughter and has been married to Quentin for 19 years. I asked her to tell me about how she met Quentin and his family and how their relationship had changed over time, what she had been through and what advice she would give.

Here’s just a part of her story.

“In hindsight, your relationship with your MIL begins before you get married”.

Avery and Quentin met when both of their fathers were ill. They would travel most weekends from Washington, DC to New York City in her car because he didn’t have one, dropping him at Penn Station where he would take the train out to Long Island to visit his Dad. She would visit her Dad in Westchester County and then go pick up Quentin on Long Island on Sunday and they would drive back home to DC.

“And so it was this amazing kind of courtship that really involved our families and in a very tender time. I only knew Quentin’s Dad for six months before he died. So, my relationship with Quentin’s mom, with my MIL, started in the midst of this very kind of “sped-up” getting to know each other because, really, his Dad was dying.

“I was really close with his mom. His mom was a real “girly girl” and I wasn’t … and she just loved going to get her nails done and I’d never done that before. It was a very sweet, familial, loving beginning relationship. So close, even, that …….. I would often, when we visited, stay the night with her in her bed, if there were a lot of people visiting and we needed to ‘bunk up’. She and I would often be the ones ‘bunking up’. So, we were really, really close.

And then Quentin’s father passed away.

It was then that Avery heard about ” this crazy family story” about Quentin’s mom having had an affair with the same man since Quentin was five years old. Turns out that it wasn’t just a “crazy family story.” It was true and Quentin’s Mom had shared that information with her two children when they were in their early twenties before their father died.

“It was like this unspoken, spoken thing. But, the kids were grown and out of the house and I think Quentin was in law school. So, this was like something he was supposed to accept and deal with. So, along I come in the midst of all this sadness around Quentin’s Dad having cancer and dying. It didn’t come up and when it did, I was absolutely mortified. I just couldn’t believe it. It was so far out of my experience of what someone would do, let alone talk about, let alone ask the children to endure.

“And I think what happened over the next, you know, five years, ten years, is that because of my husband’s choice and reality of how he could deal with those facts … I reacted to that. So, in other words, he felt like there wasn’t much he could do but accept it. …. I wasn’t okay and so I became really angry at her for hurting him, for hurting my husband, for hurting her husband, for presuming that her behavior was … whatever. I had a lot of judgment and I got angrier and angrier.

“You know, we’d go and visit, but I just tried to endure it, and, you know. …. It was hard. It was very, very hard. When Quentin and I, as a couple, grew older and learned to do things differently in our own lives, with each other – we needed to grow and be better about taking care of ourselves, our well-being, our mental well-being – we started to change.  As a result, Quentin, probably six or seven years ago, started to finally deal with that relationship – he and his Mom – and allowed himself to at least express to me and I think also to her, tremendous sadness and misgiving about how that all happened. And what I noticed – which was a miracle – is that the minute my husband, could say what was for me the truth about what had happened, I didn’t need to do it anymore! And my ability to see her as really a part of my family – she’s my MIL, she’s family, she’s as damaged as any of the rest of us or anyone in my own family or me, … no different – no better, no worse – I could really love her again.”

Avery recognized that she had felt the need to protect her husband from someone who had hurt him deeply. When Quentin realized his pain, where it came from and how he needed to address it – and then acted on that – something changed inside Avery. Something significant.

“It allowed me to actually do something better for my husband which is love him and his family … I thought I was protecting him, being mad at her. And really, if I want to protect and love him, I need to let him take care of himself and I need to love his family. And so all of that happened and I could just feel the relationship come back together … in terms of me and my MIL. It’s okay. It’s okay.

“It’s certainly been great for me as a DIL to not be so angry with her for what I perceived that I needed to be angry with her about because of my husband and I think that’s the interesting thing about the MIL/DIL relationship is that it’s all about the spouse.”

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That’s hard-earned wisdom.

What are  your “take-aways” from this story?

Is it about honesty and love and truth and forgiveness and acceptance and brokenness and family? Is it about letting go of offenses against someone other than ourselves … or perhaps, even better, not taking them up in the first place?

Challenging when “the two become one”, don’t you think? But, what Avery figured out – does she suggest providentially? – is that loving our husbands can often be expressed by leaving them the room to maneuver through life’s obstacles and trusting that they will find a way to address the issues that face them. Didn’t we marry them because we believed they were able?

For me, another “take-away” from this is that we don’t love our MILs or DILs because they deserve our love. We love them because we love our sons and our husbands.

More from Avery in a future post

Self-fulfilling Prophecies?

Ever heard of Bob Rosenthal? He is a Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Riverside. His interests include self-fulfilling prophecies, which he explored in a well-known study of the Pygmalion Effect: the effect of teachers’ expectations on students. Much of his work has focused on nonverbal communication, particularly its influence on expectations: for example, in doctor-patient or manager-employee situations.

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On my way home from meeting with my writing partner over a cup of coffee at Me and Ollie’s, I heard a broadcast of This American Life and they were talking about how expectations influence behavior. Yeah, we’ve mentioned that in this blog before.

Bob Rosenthal conducted experiments with rats. He brought a bunch of experimenters into his lab and told them that some of them were going to work with incredibly smart rats and some would work with incredibly dumb rats and that they were to see how well the rats from each set would run through a maze.

Now, the rats were all your ordinary run-of-the-mill lab rats, but he had labeled their cages “smart” or “dumb” and had told the experimenters what to expect. Guess what? The experiments ratshowed what they expected. The “smart” rats went through the maze almost twice as fast as the “dumb” rats.

Turns out that what the experimenters were thinking and feeling greatly affected how they handled the rats. The “smart” rats were handled more gently which affected how they performed.

Carol Dweck, who’s a psychologist and researcher at Stanford says that this same phenomenon holds true for people as well. Teachers expectations of students has been shown to raise or lower their IQ scores. A mother’s expectations can greatly influence the drinking behavior of her middle school son. A military trainer’s expectations of a soldier can actually influence how fast or slowly he/she runs.

And so on.

Somehow we communicate our expectations to people around us – sometimes by how far we stand from them; sometimes by our eye contact or lack thereof; how we touch or don’t touch them. Our assumptions and beliefs about people – what we exWoman Thinkingpect from them – is often a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So, there it is. Wouldn’t you guess that it applies to our MIL/DIL relationships, too? We’re not talking “control”, but influence that can tip the scales in one direction or another.

What do we expect from our DILs? Our MILs? Are we even aware that we have expectations?

What are some of mine? Yours? How might these be affecting our relationships with our MILs/DILs?
Might we want to change our thinking??

To listen to or read the entire broadcast, click here: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/play_full.php?play=544

Fascinating!

Is Your MIL an Only Child?

Here’s a “look-see” into another factor that influences “Why people are the way they are” and “Why people do the things they do”.
Kiera and I had just sat down to a fabulous “I just threw a few things together” lunch on the back deck of her home on the river. We had recently become “paddle boarding buddies” – She had the equipment and I had the availability and desire. (Woot! Woot!) Today, however, we were considering a kayak excursion because of the cool, cloudy weather. Our conversation was peppered with comments about the spiciness of the salsa and who else from our group might join us that day. When we realized that it would be just the two of us, I jumped at the opportunity to talk with her about her relationship with her MIL.

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Interesting discovery #1 – Kiera had expected her MIL to be the same as her own mother since her husband did the “scouting” thing and the “work with your hands” thing as her own mother had promoted.
Funny thing – she wasn’t! It took several years of visits to discover that it was her husband’s father – not mother – who had passed on these traits to Dan.
Here’s more of the “backstory”. When he became an adult, Dan had moved a couple of hours away from the family homestead as he wasn’t keen on the idea of every weekend being taken up with birthday parties and family gatherings of one kind or another. It turns out that Kiera’s MIL preferred that family gather around her, that she be surrounded by loved ones. She wasn’t one to venture out to be around others. Years went by before Kiera realized – and her MIL confirmed this in a conversation – that Millie only liked her own family, not people in general. She wasn’t interested in participating in community activities. She was perfectly happy to have her family dote on her.
Surprisingly, or perhaps not so, Dan is enthusiastic about – even craves – doing things for his community. Kiera had expected that to be a family trait. Not so. Dan’s experience growing up had been so insular that he now actively seeks out social involvement with people not related to him.
“What would cause someone to adopt that attitude? The attitude of “I only want my family around ….” I pondered aloud.

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“I have a theory” Kiera announced.
(Intriguing. Another analytical like myself.)

Okay, let’s hear it.
“The people that I know who are ‘only’ children want things to be about them. They need this. They demand it. And they’re not happy – ever – no matter how many times someone visits because it’s never enough.”
Kiera’s conjecture was that if one had lots of siblings, one learned that you have to share, you have to take turns – with toys, in playing games. They don’t expect much attention later on because they experience the reality that there’s only so much to go around.
But, if you don’t get much attention and affection when you’re young, do you want it even more as you get older, I asked myself?

Hmmm.
Kiera’s MIL was an only child. “She doesn’t understand that we have other things that we actually like … other than coming to visit her. … It became apparent to me that she wasn’t used to sharing and she didn’t have to share. She did not view herself as “selfish”. It’s just the way things were”
“It’s almost like a muscle that wasn’t developed on-time” I posited. That’s interesting. I mean, it fits!”
Kiera’s face widened into a big grin. “That’s my theory!”
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How much do we assume about our MILs because of what we see in our spouses? Sometimes, those speculations are “right on”. Other times, they miss the mark completely.
Who knows why people act the way they do. It may be a reaction to what they didn’t get or got too much of in earlier years. Some people turn out “just like Mom”. Others choose to go in the exact opposite direction.
What are my “take-aways” from this story?
1. Be mindful of my expectations and assumptions about people, especially my MIL/DILs.
2. People are much more complex than I expect them to be. I need to be reminded of this regularly.

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3. A lot of who we are now is because of who we were earlier in life. And we weren’t necessarily the ones who made those choices or set up those situations. We simply found ourselves smack dab in the middle of them.
Perhaps the most important thing for me to remember is that no judgement is needed here. Understanding and acceptance go a looong way toward a great MIL/DIL relationship.
And that’s what this Blog is all about!

 

 

When the Unthinkable Happens (part 2)

If you haven’t already done so, please read last week’s post “When the Unthinkable Happens” (Part 1) by clicking on that title in the right-hand column of this page

God?  God is the reason you still have some kind of healthy relationship with your MIL despite how your infant daughter, Sophie, died?

That’s what Susan had said.  God.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I wanted to know what she meant. She doesn’t blame her MIL. That would be a natural reaction to what had happened. And hate could have followed … and won the day.

When the rubber meets the road, I want to know what people really mean when they say “God helped me survive that tsunami of a life-happening” … because most people go under.  I want to know how other people have found God to be BIG ENOUGH for the most difficult, painful experiences we face.

How does she see that the “bigness” of God has anything to do with her MIL/DIL relationship?  Faced with such heart-breaking – and as one commenter put it, “gut-wrenching” – loss and the circumstances surrounding it, why does Susan believe that “God” is the reason she can love her MIL?

Here’s what she said.

“My MIL convinced herself that it was SIDS.  I found Sophie.  I know she suffocated and the autopsy results said the same.”

“She probably couldn’t live with herself if she …” I was vaguely aware that I was thinking aloud.

“Yeah, she can’t.  And so I just don’t touch it.  It’s not something I need to set the record straight on.  It’s pointless.”

They never talked about it.

“It wasn’t something that was possible to revisit immediately or even years afterwards.”

What did happen, Susan related, was that God did a work in HER heart, changing it completely.  She felt that God let her see the event from His vantage point – a bird’s-eye view… or perhaps a “God’s-eye view” … of much that was involved.

Susan went on to talk more about the aftermath.

“My face was in the dirt because of the loss of my daughter… I spent three years just keeping God at arm’s length.  ‘Who IS this God who would allow that?  Who IS this God?  I don’t know Him!’ And I was right – I didn’t.”

“During the three years of holding this God that I THOUGHT I KNEW at arm’s length, I was so wounded.  I went for weeks without talking to Him.  I felt betrayed. For months He had been telling me to read (the book of) Job (in the Bible).  Finally, I relented.  Job took me into the deepest waters I had ever been in with my God, the place where your feet don’t touch bottom.  I realized I had made this awesome God into a ‘candy man’.  The gospel as I knew it was ‘Christian’s don’t suffer’.  I had a one-dimensional God and He was revealing to me that He is multidimensional.

“Reading Job showed me WHO WAS RESPONSIBLE for Sophie’s death.  Satan was. This had nothing to do with my MIL.  She was just a player in the play, a pawn of sorts. … He (God) helped me forgive the part she played.”

Contrary to popular belief, Susan said, her MIL is not “the enemy”.  Satan is.  “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” – 1 Peter 5:8

Nope, that’s not your MIL.

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Much of what I read online these days by MILs & DILs – what they say about one another, how they complain, criticize, judge and dismiss one another – causes me to ask “Are they facing real adversity with their MIL/DIL?”  Or are most of these monologues basically petty, self-absorbed whining because we feel diminished or threatened?  Or things don’t go the way we had planned.  When we’re not getting what we want, it’s all too easy to blame someone else for the discomfort and disappointment that plagues us.  I’ve done that myself – more often than I’d like to admit.

Susan’s situation is a real-life example of caring enough about the MIL/DIL relationship to pursue it with perseverance.  She didn’t direct her confusion, pain and anger toward her MIL.  She turned to her God for answers.  She didn’t ditch her husband’s mother.  She dug in and hung on, believing that this special bond is worth the effort.  It’s a challenge to all of us to rise above the norm, examine our hearts and make truth, mercy and love our lifestyle and our home.

What I’m learning is that the MIL/DIL relationship has more to do with what’s going on inside me than it is with what’s going on around me.

MILs and DILs – Family, Friends & Allies … That’s what I’m looking for.

“I hope this will be a blessing to someone, someday” Susan adds.

It already has, Susan.  And it will.  I’m sure of it.

Rust

Does this look like me?

Rust?  What’s rust got to do with the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship?  Possibly more than you might think.

Occasionally I surf the web, looking for suggestions, recommendations, advice – pearls of wisdom – on how to promote good in-law relations. If you’ve done the same, you’ve probably discovered that there’s not much out there. It’s way too “in vogue” – acceptable – to make snide comments about your MIL at which everyone will laugh. Did you ever notice that there are some groups of people who are fair game for public insult and degradation? Mothers-in-law seem to be among these.

Here in America, our communal dysfunction is on display for the whindexole world to enjoy.  Grown women post on Facebook, log onto blog sites, text and phone and appear on television to denigrate those grafted into their families by marriage.  What a novel idea for promoting family bonding!  What an inventive method for communicating to our sons or husband that we really, really love them!  It makes everyone’s holidays that much more enjoyable, doesn’t it?

Wrong.  Bad idea.

Rudeness, criticism,  lack of consideration and mockery are the language of the immature, the ignorant, the self-centered and those starving for the approval of others.

Mockery is a rust that corrodes all it touches. – Milan Kundera

All it touches.  Everything and everyone.

 

Do these words seem harsh to you?

Definition of rust (Merriam Webster Online Dictionary)
1
: the reddish brittle coating formed on iron especially when chemically attacked by moist air;
2
: any of numerous destructive diseases of plants produced by fungi and characterized by reddish-brown pustular lesions
Could we say that belittling someone – whether to their face or behind their back – might be called attacking them?  What about characterizing snobbery or fault-finding as fungi which could cause pustular lesions – wounds – even on a strong person (iron) to slowly form and break down their mettle (pun intended!)?

 

And neglect?  A passive approach which causes rust – verb: To deteriorate or degenerate through inactivity or neglect

Who am I really?  And what kind of stuff am I really made of?
Is rust what’s happening in my heart?  In hers?
Or is this –

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