Random Thoughts on Being a Daughter-in-Law...

My mother-in-law just left after being here for the last ten or eleven weeks. She is done with weekly doctor appointments for now. And, at this point, she will only have to come to Nashville for doctor visits every two weeks through December, then every four weeks beginning in January.

We were standing in the kitchen talking just before she left. I told her she is the easiest house guest in the world, the most thoughtful and considerate mother-in-law, and she is always welcome. I also told her I wanted her to know that if she ever felt like I was a little on edge, it was me and not her. She was never a "problem" to have here. I wanted to make sure she knew that. I would never want her to leave thinking she had been an imposition.

I love her so much. We get along great and I really try to be a good daughter-in-law. But I'm also opinionated and assertive and emotionally expressive. Sometimes I don't even have to talk for someone to know what I'm thinking because my facial expressions are so transparent. And I just know that there had to have been moments over the last couple of months when she worried about being in the way or getting on my nerves. I know that because I know I would worry about that if I lived with my kids for any length of time.

I honestly think that any time parents and adult children live in the same house, there will be moments of tension (even without there being a "problem") or awkwardness. We all want our own space (emotionally as well as physically) and we all have a certain routine that provides our sanctuary, our sense of normalcy. And I don't care how old we get, I think we always want parental approval and acceptance. So when a parent is living with you, you wonder what they're thinking about your routine, or the way you do things, or how you spend your time. I found myself having these kinds of thoughts frequently over the last two months: "I bet she's thinking..."

Chances are, she never was thinking anything I imagined her to be thinking. I just felt like everything I did (or didn't do) was being observed by someone else; someone who might have an opinion (maybe not a favorable one). And the truth is, I did sometimes feel just a little on edge because I was out of my normal routine and feeling "on display."

If I felt like I managed all of my time efficiently and did everything just right, I probably wouldn't mind being on display. But the truth is, I know that I don't. (And it's almost embarrassing how much time I spend soaking in the tub with a book.) So there is something to protect by not being observed! I will never forget my counselor telling me that when we feel defensive, it's because we feel the need to protect something (or ourselves). Learning that has helped me to identify why I get defensive and to more quickly diffuse my thoughts, boil them down to where they really come from! When you start doing that, it's almost scary how many of our reactions stem from feelings of insecurity and inadequacy.

My way of dealing with stuff like that is to bring it out in the open, talk about and -- hopefully -- laugh about it. Thankfully, I can do that with Marian very easily. I can say just about anything to her. I am emotionally reactive at times, but also a big time confesser. I will be the first person to tag myself as the one with the problem and repent. And there were times I wanted Marian to know why she felt a certain vibe from me (so that she wouldn't think I was upset at her). Like the time she took my pillow cases out of the dryer and started ironing them for me. You would think my reaction would be, "Why, thank you so much. What a sweet thing for you to want to do for me." But my internal response was, "She probably thinks I'm such a slob that I don't iron my sheets. I cannot measure up to her standards." So I said, "You don't need to do that. Give me those sheets." (As if she were doing something bad.)

The way I look at it, if I didn't fess up and tell her how twisted my thoughts were in that moment, she would think she had done something wrong. Truth is, she was just trying to be useful and helpful.

In those moments immediately following my unfiltered gut reactions to things, I feel like the biggest idiot and a jerk. (Yes, I do have a problem equating imperfection with failure. I'm sure you can figure this one out by now.)

Next thoughts are usually: What is wrong with me? Why would I interpret something thoughtful as something critical or judgmental? This is a problem in me. And I do recognize it. But then that just leads to my feeling guilty. And it can be a vicious cycle ... the internal struggle between the focus on self and the focus on feeling guilty for selfishness. In those moments, I can't begin to tell you how thankful I am for knowing God's grace. And the words of Paul (Romans 7:21-25) are always comforting to me when I am feeling that struggle between who I am and who I want to be.

Anyway, Marian and I were laughing and having this conversation this morning and I was confessing and making sure Marian didn't feel like she was ever an intrusion into our lives. And she was expressing her appreciation for me as a daughter-in-law (which made me cry). And I said, "I love you so much. I couldn't love you more if you had given birth to me. And I'm so glad you didn't because that would have wrecked everything."

She looked at me like, "What?"

And I said, "Because if you had given birth to me, I wouldn't have been able to marry John!"

And so this chapter is closed and we will get back to our normal lives for a while. And I will look forward to seeing my dear mother-in-law again on her next visits.

One of my more frequent thoughts lately is also this: "Be an extra-good daughter-in-law to your mother-in-law. It won't be that long before you are hoping to reap what you sow." (I have no worries in this department, actually. I have already reaped and reaped and reaped the rewards of a wonderful daughter-in-law.)

Of course, this principle can be applied to many other relationships as well.