If you’re a mom of both a son and a daughter, let me warn you: your son getting married will likely affect you differently than your daughter. My daughter, Jaime, married two years before her older brother. While saying goodbye to her was hard, it was painful for different reasons. I’ll explain…
The night before Josh got married I was a mess. My first son was about to say “I do.” How could one heart be full of both joy and sadness at the same time? We had just enjoyed a fun wedding rehearsal where Rachel surprised her soon-to-be-husband with a choreographed and lip-scyned rendition of “I Will Follow Him.” I witnessed my husband “practice” officiating the wedding of his firstborn. Mom, who hated flying, made the trip to Texas from Virginia and just hours earlier we sat laughing about the time she thought she was scooping 2-year-old Josh’s chewed gum off of his outstretched finger one Sunday morning during the worship, only to discover it was a booger. We had just finished cleaning up after a Mexican-themed rehearsal dinner to celebrate our new daughter-in-law’s wonderful Mexican heritage. I was happily tired.
However, when it was all over Benny and I retired to our room and warm tears started flowing. I loved her. I knew she was God’s gift to my son and to our family. I was genuinely happy for my son and deeply enjoyed seeing him so happy and in love. But along the way I realized something. I was no longer his second favorite lady. Nannie had always had first place in his heart and she had, rightly so, fallen to second as Rachel took first place in my son’s heart.
Months earlier, stirrings I couldn’t quite put my finger on suddenly became clear. Rachel was visiting from Texas and she came into the kitchen asking for Sprite. “Sprite?” I asked. “I’m sorry, we don’t typically keep that around, sweetie,” I responded, thinking the request was for herself. “Okay, I just assumed you did since that’s Josh’s favorite,” she responded. “What???” I thought, but didn’t say. At that point his favorite had always been Dr Pepper!
Some time ago a friend and I were chatting about her son’s recent marriage. This normally articulate and outgoing mom was fumbling to communicate how things were going. She seemed overly careful about her words. Eventually, though, she admitted she wasn’t sure how to do the mother-in-law thing.
I asked if I could ask her something personal to which she agreed. “Do you ever feel sad that you’ve been replaced by your son’s new wife?” She seemed startled. “Of course not! I love her! She’s the best thing that’s even happened to him!”
“Karen,” I empathized,”feeling like you’re competing with your sons’s new wife doesn’t mean you don’t love her. It’s natural to feel like you’ve been set aside. There’s nothing weird or silly about that. The fact is you have been replaced. You raised your son for another woman and now he belongs to her. It’s good and right, and you acknowledge that. But it’s okay to miss him and to sentimentalize the days when you were the one he woke up to. And sometimes you’re jealous or resentful or sad. I went through some of this when Josh and his brothers got married. And ya know what? It’s probable that your new daughter-in-law has feelings about you she doesn’t understand either.”
We enjoyed a good cry together. She asked me why she had never heard this before from fellow mothers-in-law. I told her I thought it was because admitting these kinds of struggles seems childish or petty. As the old person-in-law we are taken off guard by tinges of jealousy or feeling like we have to compete with a young woman who may be relatively new to our son’s life when we’ve been there since the beginning! Yet thinks she knows him.
Grown ups aren’t supposed to have feelings like this so we stuff or deny them. Not all mothers struggle with these temptations. What a blessing that must be! But many have, including me.
Josh and Rachel have been married for twelve years. During that time we’ve walked through some rough but common waters. I’ve made mistakes that have benefited my relationships with Rebekah and Lauren — the New Girls that married Jesse and Joey. Hopefully Jake’s future wife will benefit, too.
I’m grateful for Rachel’s patience with me because she was the first of four New Girls in my life. I’ve asked forgiveness, inquired about what I do that makes things challenging and worked hard to make sure my son knows that when Rachel rightly replaced Nannie as first in his heart, I was content to take a “lesser” place in his life. Any temptations to compete with my first new girl dissipated quickly.
For 22 years Benny and I prayed for the women who would live with our sons far more years than I would — the women who would become their God given helper. God wasn’t talking about a mother when He told Adam it “wasn’t good for man to be alone” — He was talking about Eve. Bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, Eve was created by God to help her husband not just for 20 or so years, but for life with her encouragement, service, rebukes, respect, love and counsel. Once God identified the answer to three of my four sons prayers, I had to step aside. Willingly. Gladly. With faith.
Tomorrow I’ll share some specific lessons I’ve learned. (And more about being a MIL to guys in a later post.)