Parenting Series: What I Learned from My Mother-In-Law

I’ve revisited the life of my mother-in-law with many of you this week.  One person who knew her commented, “Lois not only made a positive impact on her family but on her church and the community as well.”  That’s an understatement.  She quietly impacted whoever she was with.

As a young mom, she was my mentor, quietly modeling Proverbs 31 in gracious, compassionate ways.  Here are a few things I observed about her.

  • She knew how to comfort a child.  Not all moms know this instinctively.  My firstborn was fussy and I didn’t know what do to do with her.  Lois showed me how to swaddle her, cuddle her and calm her.  She could rock the Beautiful Baby Sucking Blanketmost difficult child to sleep, a “baby-whisperer” of sorts.  Studies show babies who are nurtured, rocked, and soothed in early months of their lives have a more secure foundation in their emotional development.  I have seen this in action.
  • She made time for children. Lois was a dairy farmer’s wife whose children and grandchildren stair-stepped over forty-three years, whose kitchen table was a revolving door.  She was a busy woman but always had time for children.  She let them make tents, bake cookies, and make huge messes when they were at her house and it was welcomed.  In the midst of her busy day, she would sit and read books with them, have a tea party with them, or have them work alongside her whatever she was doing.  She had picnics by the creek and let them play in the dirt while she gardened or fed calves.  Whether her own children or the many others she cared for, kids always knew they were welcomed at her house. 
  • She knew each child individually.  Lois had four sons, four daughter-in-laws, twelve grandchildren, and ministered to countless people in the church and community.  She saw people.  I watched how she understood children, how she knew their individual bents and needs.  This affected how she interacted with them and how kids received her love.  She never passed one over for another. She knew how to gently disciple, while earning the respect of each one, from high school to toddler.
  • She could keep children entertained and quiet when needed.  I watched her keep toddlers still in church services with a nail file she would wisp over their fingers, or with two magnet terriers that could slide over paper.  She would entertain toddlers with books by pointing their fingers on pages of books, keeping their interest. She did these even after electronic devices were common.
  • Her home was welcoming.  Lois raised four boys in a six room farmhouse where people were perpetually coming and going on a busy farm.  It never mattered who stopped by, if it was at dinner time, you were always welcome and somehow there was always enough food.   She could make peanut butter and jelly seem like a Family Praying Before Dinnerdelicacy because the warmth and conversation around the table is what mattered.  The pretzels on Grandma’s counter were better than the ones at home because love was sprinkled on them.  She always had something simple, but special, for kids and adults.
  • She made housekeeping simple.  I watched this woman feed smelly-farm boys at noon, have several messy grand-kids for the afternoon, and have things cleaned up, swept up, and ready for company  in the evening.  How did she do it?  She had kept toy baskets handy,  cleaned things up as needed, and kept things orderly.  She used her time well and kept things on hand for just about any need.

When Lois unexpectantly died, I knew my children lost precious moments the older grandkids had with her.  I resolved  to have her legacy live on as much as I could as a parent.   Here are some conscious things I’ve done with my kids I may not have otherwise done if I didn’t promise myself to have her impact continue on.

  • I date each of my kids at least once a year.  This usually is a day outing unique to the interests of each IMG_0680particular child.  For one day, it’s only me and that child.  We’ve gone on day-long bike rides,  to amusement parks, visited museums, planetariums, rock concerts, and had day-long shopping trips buying nothing.  We’ve been rained on, had flat bike tires, and have investigated graveyards.  As the children have gotten older, day long events turn into at least a meal together at a restaurant of their choice.  The goal is individual time together doing something fun we would not normally do.  It allows for bonding, conversation, and laughable memories.
  • I’ve learned to give grace more easily. As I’ve worked through parenting two teenagers already, I’ve learned sometimes the greatest thing they need is grace.   When pondering how to respond to a child, I think of how my mother-in-law would’ve responded, and grace is often the answer.
  • I’ve tried to make simple moments special.  This is one of the gifts Lois had.  I try to serve simple foods on special plates when there is something to celebrate or if someone needs a pick-me-up.   We’ve had tea parties with teachers and with each other.  I’ve tried to let the kids play what they want unless there’s a good reason to say “no.”  This often results in messes, but it’s okay.  We’ve played with chicken-chuckers and had Chinese firedrills to my children’s dismay.IMG_1180
  • I’ve tried to let each child feel known and special.  There’s no formula for this other than taking the time to talk with them, listen to them, and make decisions in their best interest.  This often means stopping what I’m doing because they need time even though they don’t say it.  It’s a challenge, especially on busy days, but it’s always worth it.

My mother-in-law wasn’t perfect, but she lived intentionally.  It was her nature.  It’s been humbling to try to be a glimpse of who she was in the lives of my children.  By God’s grace, He’s allowed me to stop, look, and listen to my children in ways I may not have if I wouldn’t have considered her legacy.

The greatest gift we can give to someone’s memory is to make sure their spirit lives on.

Who has impacted your life in positive ways, and how can you implement their spirit into the lives of your children?  I would love to hear how you do this!

14 comments

  1. Beautiful tribute to Lois. She indeed was a wonderful woman and my memories of her are great. She is watching over you guys and very proud of her family!!

  2. I love this tribute to your mother in law and how she has impacted your life…your parenting. My mother in law is very special to me also and has taught me much, like you, I’ve been reflecting on that a lot lately. Although she is not gone from this earth, her mind is no longer with us . Seeing her this way makes me look closer at who she used to be…how she impacted my life. We used to refer to ourselves as Naomi and Ruth! I love that you have carried on her legacy!

    • Kim, I have no doubt that you are and will be carrying on Esther’s legacy, too. It’s so difficult to see her in a different state, not herself. You are a good mama and I know will be a good grandma!

  3. My goodness Brenda, what a loving tribute you wrote about Grace. I never had any interaction with Grace but recall her “from the distance” as a very loving lady. You have indeed brought more “to light” about her. I can still see her with grandkids in tow, going hither and fro. Always a friendly smile and a charming look on her face. Thanks for sharing.

  4. You are so lucky to have had such a wonderful person placed in your life!! I never had that type of person in my life growing up. I have always yearned for such a mentor/friend/family member. This has shaped me into the mother I am today, because I want to give my children what I never had. We can learn from not having as well. These are the gifts that The Lord gives to those of us who are without but seek through him!! Beautiful post! Praying you are recovering well!!

  5. So tender, yet so practical. I know your mother-in-law was also your dear friend and she would be (and surely she was) proud of you. This makes me think so much of my Grandma Mildred, who was my role model and mentor. Thank you for sharing from your heart.

  6. I love this. Having lost my father when I was young, I certainly can relate to the desire to continue on a legacy. It sounds as though, through your own intentional living, you are doing your mother-in-law’s memory well. =)

    • Thank you. I can only imagine the heartache of losing a father so young. I would love to hear more about him, and more about how you are finding out about his legacy and living it, too! Thank you!

  7. Oh, how my heart, this mother of 5 sons heart loves this. How blessed she was to have a DIL who reached for relationship, who let her be with her grandchildren. Believe me – she was living the mother of sons answered prayers in you!

    • Thank you so much. I honor you for being a mother to 5 boys! It’s a privilege, high calling, and challenge to be charged with raising men to go leaders and full of integrity. She did this well, as I can tell in your heart, you do, also. Blessings to you!

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