If you’re a frequent reader of this blog, you’re well aware of the value I place on relationships; especially relationships with other women – and particularly those that provide the guidance and mentoring of older women.
In the past several months, I’ve not only written about personal mentors (My Love Affair with Beatrice Wood) and my own mother (The Mother of All Blogs), but shared thoughts about all the other women who help raise us as children (Second Mothers). So, with Mother’s Day right around the corner, it only seems fitting to honor the woman who helped “raise me” as an adult: My mother-in-law.
Eleanor Monfredini had three sons and was absolutely thrilled when they all married smart women. How did we know she thought we were smart? Because she told us so. Constantly. She never missed a chance to remind her sons how lucky they were to have met such amazing women and how lucky she was to have us in her life.
She also knew the three of us were far from perfect, but had the wisdom and self-esteem to step back and let us become the most important women in her sons’ lives. I realize now how difficult that must have been, and yet, Eleanor figured out early in the game that the way to keep your family together (and create close relationships with your grandchildren) is by warmly welcoming your daughters-in-law into that tribe.
My mother-in-law taught me so much about marriage, about raising children, about what’s worth fighting for and what to let go – simply by being herself.
You often hear adult children complain that whenever they call their mother the first five minutes are spent listening to her complain about how they never call. Not with Eleanor. Every time she picked up the phone, she spent the first ten minutes asking us how we were and what was new in our lives.
She remembered everything about every, single grandchild and all three daughters-in-law – including the names of our best friends and their children’s names. Then she’d ask about our jobs, our hobbies or our volunteer time.
Did she have any challenging traits? Of course. But not the stereotypical kind you see in unhappy sitcom in-laws.
For instance, she never let you pay for any meal; not lunch or dinner or even a cup of coffee. No matter how you planned an occasion she always got their first and told the server or manager that she was to get the check.
She was certainly capable of disagreeing with her three strong-willed daughters, but knew how to do it without being disagreeable. Rather than starting an unwinnable war in the middle of a family event, she would pick up the phone the next day and calmly say “Hi, honey. I just wanted you to know I was concerned about what you mentioned last night. Can we talk about it?”
Did we ever have a real battle of wills? Yes. But when I relate the story today it still makes me smile.
When my husband and I got engaged, we did what most couples still do today. We spent a few hours in downtown San Francisco looking at dishes, flatware and other bridal registry items in hopes that friends and relatives would help us start our new life together. I fell in love with a Dansk pattern for our everyday flatware that was very hip and cool at the time. The utensil part was silver plate and the handles were made of wood.
My mother-in-law could hardly wait to see our selections the next time she found herself in Union Square and I received a call from her the moment I returned home from work. She was so upset with our choice of the Dansk flatware, going on and on about how they would never last, how they would fall apart in the dishwasher and we needed to pick out something more practical.
Again, if you’re a follower of 360Women, you know I have very definite and unwavering opinions about what I want in my kitchen and my closet (see Black Pants for a good example). So, I told her I heard every word she said but I had decided to stay with my selection. It was one of the few times the tone of voice let me know she wasn’t thrilled with my answer.
Fast forward 25 years. Eleanor and I are out to lunch and shopping for a wedding gift for a special cousin. On the way home, she asks me if I still had the Dansk silverware and I started laughing because we still had every single piece. In fact, I was now actively praying they would fall apart in the dishwasher!
Her answer was priceless. She instructed me to pick out a brand new set of silverware immediately so she could purchase it as a gift for being such a wonderful daughter-in-law. Then she actually apologized for giving me such a hard time when I was a new bride, which led to us reminiscing about how the past two decades had presented so many real problems compared to flatware.
Eleanor left us six years ago and I still miss her every day. Especially on Mother’s Day. A toast to a wonderful woman who taught me that to be a good mother-in-law is to love, laugh and leave judgment outside on the doorstep.