Dear Daughter-in-Law,| December 20, 2022
I’d only met you once. How was I supposed to know what you liked?
I remember the first time I met you. We looked each other up and down, and we both wondered. Will you become my daughter-in-law? Will she become my mother-in-law?
A couple weeks after our first meeting, my son broke the news. “Ma, we’re getting engaged!” I was so excited — my son was becoming a chassan! I know my son. He has good taste — and now I know you do, too!
I quickly chose a bracelet for you, hoping you would like it and wear it for many years to come. That was a tough one — I’d only met you once. How was I supposed to know what you liked?
I worried about the bracelet, and I worried about our relationship (or lack thereof). Would you like me, like our family? Would our relationship be uncomfortable, or even awful, like in all the stories and articles and jokes, or would we be able to relate to each other beyond the stereotypes?
I felt a pit in my stomach and turned to self-talk. She likes your son, I told myself firmly. Hopefully, she’ll like you, like your family.
We talked at the l’chayim and the vort — short, pleasant conversations. You were sweet, appreciative, happy. My son chose well, I thought. You seemed to notice only the good in everyone and everything. And your smile lit up your face when you talked about my son. Another point in your favor!
I started to hope. Maybe this mother-in-law thing wouldn’t really be so bad. The wedding and sheva brachos passed in a blur, my son’s kallah escorted to her new life by her loving parents and siblings.
Will there be room for me, I wondered, to have a relationship with you? I didn’t raise you. There’s no way I can give you anything your parents haven’t already provided (other than a husband, of course). But I want so badly to connect to you, to give to you, to be another person in your life who admires you, cares for you, loves you. I’m not quite sure how to do that, but I learn on the job.
I didn’t raise you, so I really don’t know what makes you tick. I don’t know what words will make you happy, and what words will make you sad, or even angry. I don’t know what foods you like to eat, or what you like to do on a Shabbos afternoon, but I’m learning, slowly. Please bear with me. I find myself tongue-tied sometimes, as I try to figure out what I can do or say that will help you feel comfortable in our home.
I make mistakes sometimes. I can see you grimace when I comment on something you do or say that I should really pretend not to notice. You gracefully change the subject, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that. I don’t apologize (because I’m afraid it will only make things worse), but I try to be extra attentive to your needs the next time we interact.
You call Erev Shabbos and keep calling even when I am too busy to pick up the phone. I’m not sure why I have a hard time letting you know how much I appreciate that.
As time passes, I see small signs that you like me and you like to visit. You come back again, even though it hasn’t been two weeks. You come into the kitchen just to schmooze. I hear you laughing with your husband’s younger siblings and noticing how cute and precious they are. It warms my heart. I see your relationship with my son growing and deepening and I breathe a sigh of relief, even as I still wonder. What do you really think?
Are you happy that you joined oI’d only met you once. How was I supposed to know what you liked?ur family? Do you like me, or do you wish I would act differently? I wish I knew what to do to let you know we love you and we’re so happy you joined our family. I simply don’t have the words, nor do I know how you would react if I told you to your face. That’s why I’m writing this, anonymously, of course. Perhaps you will read this, and understand.
I may not have raised you — your mother gets all the credit — but I love and care for you just as deeply as I care for my own children.
Recently, my son called to tell me the two of you were on the way to the hospital. How I davened for you! How worried I was! Would you be okay? Would everything go smoothly? I cried when I heard the news, so thankful that you were okay. You’re a mother now, I marveled. And (even stranger), I’m a grandmother. The years pass so swiftly, I think. One day you’ll be a mother-in-law, too, and I just hope you’re blessed with a daughter-in-law as amazing as mine.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 823)
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