After our first date, my now husband looked at me in the parking lot and said, “Do you want to meet my parents?” That isn’t the craziest part. That comes when I responded, “Sure.” It was that very night that I met the woman who would soon become my mother-in-law.
My husband’s family is Southern Baptist and his father was a pastor for a state prison for over 22 years. I grew up NOT Baptist. Their son and I moved in together within a few weeks of dating. We got engaged after 3 months of courtship. We went out, we drank, we slept in on Sundays, and we did not attend Bible study for the most part. He has always been a bit of a black sheep in their family, but now the black sheep was dating the spoiled princess, and I did not feel the red carpet of welcome being rolled out any time soon.
His parents did everything right from day one of meeting me. They tried to include me, they loved me, and they invited me to family events. But I was extremely hesitant to lean into this culture and give up my life just the way it was. I did not want to go on family road trips. I said I would fly and meet them at the destination. I did not (and still do not) camp. They loved BBQ, and I am a vegetarian. Any excuse I had to stay home and not engage in the family shenanigans, I did it.
Then came our wedding. I planned a beachfront ceremony that would have cost thousands of dollars in a state far from where his entire family lived. Every single one of his family members would have had to travel 7+ hours to accommodate me, and they all were happy to do it.
When my husband’s work sent him to China for a year, my sunset wedding ceremony ended up in a state park, in the middle of Tucson, 5 months ahead of schedule. And if you haven’t already guessed it, his father officiated. I remember threatening his father that if our ceremony took any longer than 8 minutes, I was leaving.
Who says that? I despise weddings and have anxiety around them, so there was cause for my statement. But who actually says that to their soon-to-be in-laws?
I often wonder if my husband thought his choice of wife through thoroughly. His mother is highly allergic to dogs and horses; I work with horses almost daily and have a service dog and three other canines live with us. Every time she comes over to visit, she has to be heavily medicated. When our daughter was born (their first granddaughter), I did not allow them to come over to our house for three weeks when we first got home. I wanted my baby all to myself. I refused to have our daughter’s footprints included on a family plate given to her great-grandfather because I did not want to have her feet painted. I would not let them feed her mashed potatoes from the mall food court because they had butter in them, and I didn’t want my baby to have dairy. And when our daughter was 8 months old, I did the worst thing possible.
On Memorial Day weekend 2012, when our daughter was barely 8 months old, I moved our entire family out of Arizona, across the country to Virginia, to be closer to my parents. My husband is the baby of his family and the only son, and I just selfishly packed us up and moved across the country. We know that this was the best choice for our family and ultimately our marriage, but looking back, I took not only their granddaughter but also their baby boy almost 3,000 miles away. In the years since we have lived here, they have only been able to come back twice as a family. Once, his dad came solo to watch my husband’s Army graduation.
Since we moved away and our daughter has turned 5 year old, I think about how incredibly kind and gracious my mother-in-law has been despite all my years of bucking her love. I realized that she is responsible for the man that is my knight in shining armor, and without her, I would not have this incredible family. She is the woman that has showed me unconditional love and cared for me as her own family and daughter. And in almost every aspect, she has taught me how to be a better mother, wife, daughter, and friend.
A friend of mine came over and shared with me how she is struggling to have a relationship with her new daughter-in-law and that she feels her son’s wife is trying to keep her son away from her. She asked for advice, and my response was this, “I have no idea how to handle a daughter-in-law from hell, but I know a woman who does. Let me call my mother-in-law.” My mother-in-law answered the phone and was silent as I explained why I was calling. Her advice was simple: “Just love her. That is all you can do.” And ladies, from this daughter-in-law from hell, I can tell you that it might take a while, but loving is all it takes.
My mother-in-law recently flew out to meet our new baby girl, and I can honestly say that I am thrilled she was here for this special season of our life. She is my family; she is my children’s nana; she is my husband’s mother; and she is not only my mother-in-law, but she is also my best friend.