Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers! And to you especially, mom; I know I wasn’t the easiest kid to raise.
Today though, I would like to also praise someone who isn’t known for being appreciated: … the mother-in-law.
My mother-in-law in particular is the reason I wanted to give a shout-out to you all… Elisa is a mother of four daughters and made her career as a teacher, and eventually became head of the high school at which she taught. And although she was never my teacher, she has taught me a lot.
Every summer, my wife and I take our family to Spain to stay with our in-laws for a month. While we are there, Elisa wakes up before anyone else so she can attend daily Mass. Then she comes back to the house and begins preparing at least four meals a day. In her house, it is a necessity, because there are usually between 8 and 18 grandchildren and between 6 and 10 adults, so we all don’t fit at one table. The children have their lunch first, which she caters to their tastes, and then the adults eat after, with food designed with our own palates in mind.
So, it seems like half of her day is just for cooking. Then she also does many of the other countless chores like laundry and cleaning, bathing dozens of kids, etc.
In my first couple of years I really enjoyed being so pampered, and I took advantage of these very restful vacations. However, as I get older, I feel more guilty about having her do so much of the work, and I try to take some of it over from time to time. Sometimes I will step in and offer to prepare a meal or do the ironing. And Elisa doesn’t usually let me.
I first thought it was because she didn’t trust me to do it correctly. Or maybe my idea of a meal would taste too terrible to the Spanish family. But the more I get to know her, the more I realize that Elisa has dedicated her entire life to the service of others, and she doesn’t feel comfortable unless she is doing something to make our lives easier.
My in-laws have traveled to stay with their children for the birth of every grandchild. For all four of my kids, Elisa has come into my house and taken over every chore for four weeks. This last time I tried getting her out of the house to enjoy something in Washington, but she explained to me that she didn’t come all this way to go sightseeing. She just came to help.
Self-Sacrifice and Generosity
My in-laws also never seem to spend any money on themselves, yet they are extremely generous when it comes to others. Many times they don’t even buy trash bags, so they have to take out the trash several times a day. And yet, they won’t hesitate to spend a few thousand dollars on a choir for their daughter’s wedding or a new neighborhood church fund.
When I can manage to wake up early during those trips to Spain, I try to go to the daily Mass with my in-laws. There is a very beautiful chapel at a convent nearby, but it has a cold hard floor, no kneelers. A lot of the people who go to the Mass are older, and many choose to stand during the customary kneeling parts of the Mass for this reason. Many of the younger adults, too. Not my in-laws. Despite being close to 70 years old, and despite the fact that both of them have discomfort in their knees from past injuries, they kneel on that floor. .
In the 12 years I have known my mother-in-law, I cannot remember ever hearing her complaining of hunger or fatigue, either.
In-laws have a tough life. Every parent knows how hard and expensive it is to raise a child. Then after marriage, a new person joins the family–gets involved–whose thoughts and opinions hold more weight than theirs. And usually this new husband or wife takes their kid further away from them. I am just glad my in-laws make it so easy for me, and I am very grateful to them for everything they have done for me and my family. So today, I want to extend a warm Mother’s Day not only to my mom, but to my mother-in-law as well. And to all the other mother-in-laws out there, silently suffering from the stereotypes portrayed by pop culture.