I recently received a call from a lady who asked me, "Are you a mother?" My reply was "yes". She then proceeded to say, "Well, you understand. You know how a mother feels." She was referring to her grown daughter who she had expressed concern about trying to help her but she wouldn't listen. They had another disagreement. While I have no daughters, I certainly understood how she felt.
I am the mother of three grown sons. I often say that it's the hardest thing to "parent" grown children. While having done my best to raise them, I've had to let them go. But in my heart, I really can't let go, even though I act like I have. I recall a time when they were little boys, and I had control over them. I sometimes wish I still did. I watched them grow up and leave, knowing I had to let them go. One by one, they each went out on their own to find their own way. They all have made me very proud.
Now that they are grown, my sons come for advice and help on various issues. For this, I found new purpose in my life. I was happy that they shared their potential mates with me and sought my advice before they got married. I was elated when they had children, making me a grandmother. But as the poet Kahlil Gibran says, in his book, The Prophet, on children: "Your children are not your children... They come through you but not from you ... You may give them your love but not your thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls."
My children have taught me more about myself as a mother. I have learned to be a friend, a coach, a fan, and an adviser on the side. I have learned to relax, hold my tongue and measure my words. I've had to close my eyes to things that I felt were hurtful to my sons because of their wives behavior and overlook changes in their behavior because of their wives. As a mother-in-law, my daughters-in-law have taught me how to step back and "stay in my place." This is the hardest. My grandchildren are my absolute joy. They have taught me that my heart can be enlarged to add a special place for each one of them. I also learned how to just walk away from situations and pray instead.
Someone said we mothers raise our daughters and mother (baby, spoil) our sons. Although I would have just mothered them if I could, I didn't because they had their father who brought balance to our home. Someone else said, "fathers rule (the home) with law and mothers rule the home with love." I say fathers by rule by law and love, because fathers who really love their children discipline them, just like the Bible admonishes us to do. ("Spare the rod and spoil the child." Prov. 22:15). Even though our society has changed, and the family unit is very different from when I was growing up, I will always maintain, children need a mother AND a father.
As I said, I have sons, no daughters. I can only imagine how it is to mother a daughter. I have been told that it's harder than mothering sons. And I have witnessed many mother, daughter relationships with a great deal of tension. On the other hand, I have witnessed very loving relationships between mothers and daughters and seen how daughters take care of their mothers. I have also personally experienced the saying, "A daughter is a daughter for the rest of your life, but a son is a son until he takes a wife." This is so true. It rang loudly in my ears when I first heard my son's wives being called by my name ("MRS. HOPKINS")! I later came to realize that my sons told their wives EVERYTHING. Don't get me wrong. This is a good thing. Husbands should leave their father and mother and become one with his wife. (Gen 2:24)
I, too, suffer from the left-out mother-in-law syndrome and play second to my daughter-in-law's mother. Her mother gets to see and keep the grandbabies more often. Since she sets the social calendar, holidays are mostly spent at her mother's house. Other mother-in-laws have told me how they must negotiate special times for family gatherings outside of holidays. Some get every other holiday. Though not always, some of my children and grandchildren are with me for holidays. And I have been blessed to have all my children and grandchildren spend Christmas Eve with me. But for the rest of the year, while I'm not asked to keep my grandchildren as much as I'd like, I have come to accept it. It breaks a mother's heart to not have her children around on special days, but we cherish those special times we do have. I smile at the thought when time will produce a role reversal and my daughters-in-law will one day be mothers-in-law too.
That mother who expressed concern for her daughter would agree with me. In our conversation I said, "You know how when you see your children are walking off a cliff. You want to jump in and save them, but they don't always want to hear what you have to say. So you have to let them step off and see for themselves. They have their own experiences and lessons to learn. We have to let them go and pray they won't fall too far. Eventually they will come back and confess they should have listened to you" Then I reminded her of the Bible scripture which says, "Train up a child in the way he (she) should go, and when he (she) is old he (she) will not depart from it." Prov. 2:26
I had a wonderful mother-in-law in Joe's mother, Christine Hopkins. Through her, I learned how to be a grandmother. She had her own relationship with each child. She and I also had a great personal relationship. She showed me how to be a mother-in-law by example. She used to say, "I love Ruthie because she loves Joe." I would think, "She should love me because of me." But I came to realize that her son was HER SON. He was a part of her first, and he would be a part of her always, and nothing would come between that. Not even me. I had an important place in his life, but life's circumstances could change that. She'll love him to the grave, no matter what may come. Now as a mother of grown children, I realize how hard she loved her children. And by that I mean she would give her life for them. That's a mother I want to be. That's a mother's heart!