How would you get along with your sibling(s), parent(s), or any other person you’ve known for a long time — if you only met them for the first time today?
I am absolutely certain that if I could meet my mother-in-law for the first time now, I would get along with her much better than I did 46 years ago. It’s too bad we can’t learn about people and relationships until we’ve done some living, and part of that learning is at the cost of other people.
The simple truth is that I just didn’t have a clue how to get along with her. I’d never in my life met anyone like her, and I’m pretty sure she felt the same way about me. We were literally night and day, with very little understanding of how to make our relationship work.
She was a superb cook (although she said she didn’t enjoy cooking), housekeeper, seamstress, etc. She had a lovely home and took excellent care of it.She doted on her two children, seeing them through the eyes of a parent who truly believed her children were angels. She was immaculate and impeccable, but she worried ALL the time. She was very easily hurt, certain that she was misunderstood and under-appreciated. She probably was. She wanted me to call her “Mom,” and I just couldn’t. It hurt her, I know, but it just wouldn’t come out of my mouth. Only one woman in my life deserved that title.
I was not like her in much of anything, really. I don’t worry much. I’m not fussy in my housekeeping, and I don’t look forward to the sale pages from the grocery store each week. I enjoyed cooking for years, but it has become something I do out of necessity now. Our tastes in clothing were very different; also our approach to child-rearing.
But all that aside, I’ve learned a great deal about patience, acceptance, and how to avoid hurting someone unneccessarily. I was very defensive, totally taken by surprise by her tendency to over-analyze every single thing. I saw what she thought of as concern and helpfulness as nosiness and interfering.
I don’t know if I was right or wrong about her motives. It doesn’t matter. I was absolutely wrong in the way I responded. The difficulties we had could have been avoided if I had been less determined to protect my territory. I deeply regret that I didn’t understand her, really didn’t know how to understand her then. I totally understand her now, but it does no good.
As the old Pennsylvania Dutch saying goes, “Too soon old, too late smart.”