A Mother-in-Law’s Confession

Our beautiful Jaime with PJ, our first New Kid, March 1998

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.

Josh and our first beautiful New Girl, Rachel, in March 2000

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!

Jesse brought Rebekah, New Girl number two, into our family in January 2005

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.

New Girl number three at Joey and Lauren’s wedding in September 2008

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.

Janelle married our Newest Kid, Eric,  in May 2011

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.)

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6 thoughts on “A Mother-in-Law’s Confession

  1. You’ve done such an amazing job at building well with ur daughters and sons-in-love; thank you for honestly recognizing and working through ur struggles with The Lord and them! You are great example to me and SO many others! I love you so very much!!! 💕

  2. God has used your wisdom in profound ways in my life. What a joy to see you sharing your wise counsel world wide with whomever God sends to read your blog.
    Love this much-needed series!

  3. Oh, Sheree. Reading your post just makes me tear up. Thank you for sharing. I know my boys are only 4 and 1 1/2, but I already can easily cry thinking about them graduating from high school. Yesterday while homeschooling Colby I got choked up watching him learn before my eyes. Eric and I pray for our sons future wives, but in my heart I think that I will always be their number one. I never really thought about it any other way before. (Yes, I do know that they are only 4 and 1 1/2 but it goes so fast – I know I dont have to build that bridge.) 😉

    Your post was very helpful and hard to read at the same time. Thank you for sharing this so I can be reminded of this for ALL their unmarried years. You are a treasure from the Lord. I have learned so much from you – thank you. Love you!

    • Thank you Kylene. Your kind words continue to encourage my heart! Getting choked up about watching your son learn brings such joy to my heart. Enjoy these precious years…I know you do. 🙂

  4. Sheree,
    A comment from an unlikely person for a post like this…but I wanted to tell you that Shannon and I had a great conversation about this when I got home from work today. We both talked about how much we thank God for you and the way you open up your soul so honestly, and talk about what is really going on in the heart. What a help and example to all of us. From the time I first met you (might have been when I dropped by your house with Josh while we were in the pc), I was struck by your genuine love for Jesus! What a blessing you are sister! Had a great time with Benny and Jesse over dinner recently!
    Hope to see you guys soon,
    C.B.

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