I was struggling through a ho-hum blog post this morning when your comment appeared, and I abruptly decided to shift gears to respond to your question more thoroughly. A post about my mother-in-love is long overdue.
Perhaps these tiny facts will offer some insight:
- My maiden name is Souders.
- My first married name is Olson.
- My second married name is Dagen.
- My mother-in-love’s one and only married name is Mayo.
In other words, my mother-in-love and I have no real familial ties — legally. We have something much better than law involved.
I met Betty Jo and Tom Mayo in 1994, when I fell in love with Steve Dagen, their son-in-law. Their oldest daughter, Mary Lee, had died about two years before from melanoma. She left behind Steve and four children. When I met Steve, I had been widowed myself for nearly three years; my husband Bill had died from a bizarre series of complications from ulcer surgery. From these two tragedies, God has made a beautiful story. (You can read about our love story in “A mere nineteen years ago…“) My in-loves have been a integral part of that beautiful story.
You can imagine my trepidation in meeting the parents of Steve’s first wife. (His parents had died prior to Mary Lee’s death, and Betty Jo and Tom had played a huge role as grandparents and as a support system for Steve. My first in-laws had dismissed me from their lives shortly after Bill died; I suspect I was a painful reminder of the loss.) When I met the Mayos for the first time, the wound of losing their oldest child was still raw; I had known Steve only a couple of months but already had an engagement ring on my finger. (Awkward!) Yet they were gracious and accepting. Once Steve and I were married, we both referred to them as “in-laws” (lucky Steve, to have two sets of in-laws!), though, by law, we were no relation. It felt awkward, but the Mayos quickly moved me beyond that.
The Mayos were not “hands off” grandparents. They drove the three hours to our house on a regular basis and often took a child or two back with them. A year and a half into our marriage, when I gave birth to my first (and only) child, I feared the Mayos would make a distinction between Mary Lee’s children and my own, and I desperately wanted our family viewed as one unit. I wrote them a letter to that effect, offering my child to them as their own grandchild. Shortly afterward, Betty Jo invited me and my daughter to attend a Mother-Daughter banquet with Betty Jo at her church. It was that weekend that my father-in-law first called me his daughter-in-love. I think that little switch from “law” to “love” has made all the difference.
The Bible says, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Maybe that is why I immediately responded in kind, and we remained in-loves forever after. Their love for me gave me the freedom to love them back. They have been a second set of wonderful parents. (They also consider my only biological child their own grandchild.) Unfortunately, my father-in-love died about two years ago, leaving my mother-in-love alone. I am thankful she is alive and well and wholeheartedly believe she is a person you could emulate as you learn to love your own daughter-in-law.
The key, I think, is in 1 John 4:19. Though Betty Jo likely didn’t feel “lovey dovey” toward me from the outset, she acted in love. Some of it likely was natural poise and politeness; she is a Southern lady, after all. I felt her graciousness as a host. Though she didn’t know me, she sought to make me feel comfortable; she went out of her way to ready her home and prepare food for me. She suggested activities we could do, joined us in doing them, and troubled herself while making us feel we were no trouble. She gave of her time and her talents; she asked questions and included me in conversation. She took the first step.
Though I can’t imagine not loving her, not considering her my mother-in-love, I suspect I loved her because she first loved me. A mutual love and deepening relationship has sprung from that.
Just for fun, I asked my 17-year-old son why we love Grammy so much.
“Her curiosity,” he replied. “She always asks what’s going on and acts like she cares. And her cooking!”
Though I don’t have any daughter-in-laws legally in my future, I do have my sons’ girlfriends so I can practice. Some are easier to love than others; some are a more natural fit for me, to be sure. But my goal is to find ways to love them first. My mother-in-love has shown me the way.
Being a mother-in-love is so much better than being a mere mother-in-law. Love them first!