Tuesday, November 17, 2009

17 November 1955 “Why I like my Mother in Law”

I quickly mentioned yesterday, while taking a break from my little kitchen, that I was preparing a dinner for my MIL birthday. It was a success, but when I returned in the evening I had a question from a commenter about my relationship with my MIL and how she, in the future, could herself become a good MIL.

Well, as sometimes happens, in my attempt to rattle off my opinion, (which I seem to be always full of!) mingled with late night fatigue I managed to press a wrong button and all my ‘wisdom’ was for naught. It was lost to the great void of deleted or misdirected comments in the blogosphere. I wonder if there is such a place, perhaps it has become the reading for ghosts and others ‘caught between the veil’?

So, as often happens with you darling readers, you got me thinking. I had begun to consider why it is I do like my MIL so much. Even though my initial response is now the reading material of ghosts, I have thought about it more and consider it would be post-worthy.

50s mother in law It also got me thinking how much more, most likely, the MIL played in the role of the 1950’s homemaker. She was most likely more a figure to be dealt with and rather you liked or loathed her, she was a major input in your own homemaking life.

As most women ‘back then’ were homemakers, you were most likely to inherit a MIL who also had her own schedules, recipes and ideas on how to run a home and raise children. IF she were overbearing and the type who thought, ‘no one is good enough for my dear boy’ then you probably suffered through. But, even if that were the case, you most likely learned some things.

It seemed once we women dwelled in a close knit world of ancient wisdom handed down generation to generation. How to cook a chicken, what is the best way to remove a grease stain, how do you get the whitest whites? Even, how do you keep the parlor maid out of the sherry. We were a vast world of knowledge and practical skills handed down and mingled from mother and grandmother and then mixed up a bit with the MIL. Yet, we were very much a sorority of sisterhood. When you entered into the married state as a homemaker, you most likely brought with you knowledge from your mother and grandmother. Mixed in with that knowledge was of course the knowledge and know-how of their mothers and grandmothers. And, with your marriage in most cases, came the MIL. She, herself, was most likely a homemaker.

Regardless of class, as well, a woman was the maker of the home.  If she had a staff of servants under a housekeeper, she still was the ruler of the roost. She okayed meal plans, arranged dinner parties, and made sure things were done properly. So, in a way, she shared a sisterly bond with the farmers wife or the bankers wife who may have had a girl who came in once a week or simply able daughters. They all had the knowledge and ability to run the home.

Now, back to the MIL. I am lucky in my MIL in that I live her very much; love her even. I give her a kiss on the cheek upon greeting and leaving and always refer to her as ‘mum’. In some ways, I am happy for her role in my life, as my own mother, ravaged by Alzheimer's for some years now, is for all intents and purposes gone from me.

Now, my MIL is probably not a run of the mill sort, if there is such a thing. She has done, as evidenced by my lovely hubby, a great job in raising her children. But, perhaps she has not done so in any orthodox fashion. They did not grow up with the constancy of a father (my hubby’s father died when he was but 3) but she was the constant. She nurtured them in their passions. When my hubby decided to play piano, he had lessons and pianos followed up to the grand we still now own that he plays upon. His sister did dance and ballet and even followed that dream to Walnut Hill, a boarding school for the arts here in MA.

It is odd, as in many ways my hubby and his sister were given much freedom as youngsters and teens. Yet, as they grew, they were treated in a mature fashion. They ate at table, they lived in a clean and orderly house. They had respect for one another and learned the value of money through their various chores. In High School, my hubby had no curfew, yet on his own would make the decision to call his mother if he were running late. Or, as he has told me, often chose to get home early on school nights because he knew he had to be ready for class the next day. These were decisions he was making on his own at 15 when I see many people today in their 30’s unable to make such decisions.

So, somehow her mix of freedom combined with mature responsible expectations of her children caused them to be kind and considerate with an amazing work ethic. They had a stay at home mother who kept an immensely neat home and made homemade delicious meals. It seems the very act of example one of the greatest teaching elements. For example, when we were first together I was amazed at how neat and tidy my hubby was with his clothes, much like the video from the 1950’s I once showed here: Clothes removed, if still clean, hung and buttoned on hangers, dirty clothes in hampers. He even folded his underpants. Though his mother was not the type to always preach, “You must do this or that” by her very act of doing it herself, keeping a neat well decorated home, planning meals and paying bills on time, maintaining her property, caring and cherishing antiques that had belonged to ancestors, her children learned to dwell in such a pace.

That is why I know, were I to ever have a child of my own, I would have to make sure our house was never chaos. I know that may sound like someone speaking who has no child, but I know my MIL had two children underfoot and kept a clean home, well decorated with antiques that one and two year old children lived in and learned not to break or scratch or ruin but still had a joyous childhood. In fact, by their very toys being handmade or passed down antiques, they learned to care for these toys which probably held up much better than new plastic toys!

Recently, a friend of ours invited her friend to a little party at our home. She mentioned how she loved our little antique house and commented how everything was ‘just so’. How antique books and old photographs and delicate things such as great grandmother’s fan sat just so on the piano next the bust. “You must not have children”, was her comment. I thought about that and realized, my MIL home is very much like this, even more so for she has a much larger house and many more antiques. My hubby and his sister grew up in such a place and the ‘nice things’ were always out. They were what you lived with. They were not just ‘special occasions’ or a mad dash to make an appearance for company, it was HOW you lived. They ate with the actual silver it wasn’t just kept for holidays.

I know I would do the same. I would want my child to know their history and to respect the furniture and past, and it would not have to be in a stifleling  way. It isn’t about sitting in velvet sofas in constrictive clothes not being allowing to touch, it is about living in well planned rooms filled with beautiful things that you can touch, but some things need to be handled carefully. And isn’t that really a great lesson for life and relationships? We should feel comfortable and lived in our life but we should realize some things are more delicate or need more caution and tact. We shouldn’t have one way for company and a half attempt at it for our daily life. We DESERVE to live as if company is coming everyday. And, if raised in such a way, the beauty and delicacy of everyday is more apparent to us no matter where we are.

If we dwell and raise our children in a chaos of plastic throw away world of things higgledy-piggedly, what are we teaching them about things and people? Chaos and laziness are fine, but put on a ‘false face’ when company comes? A home filled with cheap plastic toys and throw away items, eating upon paper plates balanced on laps, grease on shirts, clothes piled where ever. That is a chaos that can do nothing but breed more chaos. It sounds stifling, but I know it is not. My hubby grew up happy and content in a world of clean orderly beauty and he had fun, respected his surroundings but always felt comfortable. I think this sort of life also makes one feel they can feel comfort in the world no matter what life throws at them. Simply organize the chaos, fold away your troubles and deal with each thing with a delicate hand if need be and know your place in the world is right. A lesson I cannot imagine being bad for anyone, especially children to learn.

That is not to say there is mess and spills and accidents, but I know my hubby grew up, even as  a small boy, in a bedroom that was decorated with antiques that are still in his mother’s home today. When he wanted a poster or some modern element, it was thought about and incorporated into the room. As we age, we put away those old things, but to have the security of that antique bed or that old desk that your grandfather used at university, that is a solidity worth having. Even if we do not have such antiques we can find things with a history, even if it is not our own, and share that with a child. They will learn to respect it and want to keep and cherish it in the future with their own children.

Think how in many ways it would be cheaper even than Wal-Mart to go to a yard sale or junk shop and get an old desk that is actually wooden solidly built. Redo it, paint it, stain it or even have your child help you with it. This is an adult desk and the child is but 4 or 5. If he now has this desk, solidly built, a part of his life it will have meaning. He will need to sit properly at it on the chair and use it like an adult. He will want to care for it and not scribble upon it with crayons, because it is his special thing. He will need to keep his pencils and crayons organized in a cup or try in the desk, paper put away in the drawer carefully. This one piece of furniture could teach your child so much about life. Things in their place and ordered makes a happy life and more time to do what you like as you are not always chasing your tail to keep it clean. Respect your things and others things as if they are your own. When you sit her it is to do work, rather it is hard work like learning to read, or fun work like practicing your drawing. It is a place that things get done or your dreams are dreamt, but it has a purpose and must be kept orderly as you should keep your life and thoughts.

He may take this away with him when he has his own home and children. Compare that with buying ‘cheap’ things at a chain store that fall apart. It might sound silly, but such a simple little act and decision really could affect a person. Their understanding of money, value of things, its relationship to people can start and be affected by the simple act of living in our homes and how we relate to it and those who we live with.

I think that is why so many adults today long for and pay high prices for the toys of their youth, even if they are plastic. It was the only solid tactile bit of their past that they can hold onto. When we should be recalling good times or a piece of furniture that meant something, we have to hold onto plastic totes of plastic toys that somehow represent a lost bit of our life filed away for company while we dwell in chaos everyday.

But, I digress and am getting a bit off track…

So, apart from her good job at raising up my hubby, I like my MIL. I respect her as a person and would, even if it were not due to our familial connection through marriage, enjoy being her friend.

I think I will write more tomorrow on my MIL as a person and why I respect her, so to be continued…


  1. Please say that your MIL will be able to read your words. Because I'm sure she will be so, so, so happy to do so!!!

  2. I admire your post and the sentiment behind it, but I also think that you are seeing you husbands childhood through a bit of rose colored glasses. I am sorry, but I am sure many things were put away when he was a child. It is only common sense. You don't leave a stinking Ming Vase on the end table when there are 4 year olds around....

    As tey aged, things were aranged to allow for more freedom, I am sure. You MIL sounds like a kind woman. I never had a MIL. She died when my hubby was 18, so I never met her. My FIL died 2 weeks after we married, so I have never dealt with that issue really in my marriage. (I however have an overbearing SIL I could do without - who thankfully isn't "speaking" to us right now - whole other story).

    I remmber from my childhood (before 7 because we moved from the house whe I was 7) my mom have brick a brak out that we were only allowed to handle careully. Rowdiness was to be kept OUTSIDE. Therein is alot of the fallacy of today's child rearing. Kids don't go out and play like they used to. When we were kids, we played out until the street lamps came on. At that point, we had better be home (or in our friends home calling home to report in). We burned off our energy on rowdy games outside. We had inside voices and outside voices.

    Unfortunately, I will admit, much of my own youth was spent with alot of chaos. My mother nearly died when I was about 4, and spent ALOT of time in the hopital for a couple of years, and a couple of more years recovering. The short was, my dad had to be both parents - a job he was ready for, I will admit. I ate alot of soup and hot dogs on paper plates for the fact he didn't know how to do differently. He was never taught to cook. Men didn't in the 50's and early 60's. He didn't know how to run a vacuum, or why we dust or how to make the bed correctly. My grandma took care of those things, and my mom did after they married. After mom got so sick, he did his best, but there were ALOT of mistakes and chaos.

  3. Oh, I forgot to mention, the photo in this post I found on a website and it was labeled that the older woman is the MIL of the lady in the pic, so I thought it cute.

  4. Dearest 50sgal, I so appreciate your kindness in answering so comprehensively my question about your MIL. I'm greedily looking forward to the next instalment. This was great. Linda

  5. Lori-Actually you would think that, but quite honestly what I said was true. My MIL seriously kept things in order. The kids did not have TONS of toys, so clean up was easy. They did not leave toys out or not put away at the end of the day. Even when you look through old photos of candid shots of my hubby as he and his sister were growing up, there is never dissarry. I just admired her for that organizatioin and instilling order, quiet and calm in their lives. I think it honestly made them who they are today. This is not to say that someone is a bad mother because they are not doing this or that, but I DO honestly admire HER for her ability to take care of her children and home in the manner in which she did, though she was often a single mother. I never am trying to pass judgement on others, there is enough of that in the world already, but if I see something I do admire and want to emulate, I like to share it with you readers and perhaps you might like the idea too, that is all. I don't mean to take away from your own childhood. I also admire my MIL because she danced to the beat of her own drum. She lived and did many interesting things, even when it meant hardwork or going against the wishes of her family, but not in a spiteful way, but a way that has lead to her children being the better for it. SO, my view is only as rose colored as can be had from my hubby's and his sisters first hand account of their rearing and the obvious evidence I see in old photos and the way in which her house and lifestlye are now.

  6. Linda-thank you so much. I hope now that my admiration of her does not come off sounding as if "I know how to raise kids" or as if I am giving hard advice, only my observation of a system that worked, in my opinion, because it produced my hubby whom I love and admire his skills and work ethic. It is hard, as I have said before, when I speak of child rearing, as I know it is such hard work. I would NEVER ever pretend to give concrete advice on a topic I do not have first had knowledge of, but I do like to point out ideas that tired and true mothers have tried. Although it might sound too good to be true, my MIL honestly was this thoughtful and dilligent in her own childrearing. She did not want her daughter to have barbies, as she felt they were too plastic and not a good message for girls, but when a neighborh had some old ones, she allowed her daughter (My SIL whom I also love) to have them. She countered them with homemade dolls she (my mil) made for her to play with as well as her having a wonderful old wooden antique doll house. Rather than saying NO she allowed her to have less of the barbies and to have those that were going to be thrown away. Had this hurt her? NO, today she doesn't care that her barbies are long gone, but she loving will show you her cherished old dolls house that looks lovely in a room rather you have children or not. So, it was just a style of parenting I personaly respond to, so please readers, don't take offense. I do not want to ever "Tell you what to do".

  7. A mother-in-law-as-teacher story from my family: My great-aunt called her m-i-l and asked her what to use instead of a potato masher since great-aunt didn't have one. Mother-in-law recommend a milk bottle, intending that the bottom be used to mash the potatoes.

    Great Aunt called back a few minutes later, "How do you get the potatoes out of the bottle when you're done?" Bless her heart, she thought m-i-l meant to stuff the potatoes down inside the bottle for some strange reason.


  8. I agree with with you so much. I grew up knowing what I could touch and couldn't and what had to be handled carefully. I knew what could be done in the house and what had to be done outside. Our furniture and house was to be respected. Heck, my mom & dad just got rid of their sofa from when I was young because there was no more repairing of it. They just got some of my father's mother's rockers reapolstered.

    I had daily chores to help out. If they were not completed, well then, I could not go out to play until they were finished. It was part of my responsibility to help keep the house tidy.

    It's so nice to see that you have such a good relationship with your MIL. Luckily, I have a really fun and wonderful one as well.

    =) LPM

  9. Rebecca-what a darling and hilarious story! I laughed out loud!
    LPM-That sounds very wise of them and I am glad you love your MIL as well. There seems to be an so much comedy and cartoon from the 1950's about the wretched MIL but it is always the Wife's mother. When we had my mother here, in her Alzheimers state, my hubby was so sweet with her and spent time talking and making her laugh.

  10. When my nephew was 2 and I had to babysit him at my parents' house, which was not "kid friendly anymore" as people call it, and he kept touching fragile things he was not supposed to, I told him without raising my voice, "You touch one more thing you know you're not supposed to and you go straight to napping" (he did not want to sleep). He looked at me, then said yes with his head and stopped testing my limits completely. He fell asleep and loved me the next day for it!! I believe there is a way to teach kids how to treat things.

    I love your story, thank you for sharing it!! I'm so glad you get along so well with your in-laws. Has anyone else been in one of those living rooms full of couches covered with plastic that you're never allowed to sit on? They are usually very well decorated but we are relegated to the TV room with regular decor, I always found that odd.

    I love how your MIL encouraged her kids to study arts, as a musician myself I understand how valuable that is!!

    Lorie: It's not just 50s-60s men who don't know how to clean, sadly I've been living with a lot of pain for the past few years and my husband has been having to step in many times to help. Thankfully he's a skilled cook and loves it, but he admits himself he really is bad at cleaning. So I have to be patient for now and live in chaos...I tried to teach him, but he doesn't want to. So I read this wonderful blog hoping to do it one day! :) Sorry your mom got ill growing up, I can't imagine how that must have been...

  11. Thanks for stopping by my blog--enjoying having a look at yours! What a very cool project!

  12. Dear 50'sgal, You have NEVER given me the impression that you're trying to tell anyone what to do on any subject covered in your blog. Ever. Please don't feel that just because you don't actually have children yet that somehow you have no right to have goals, ideals, opinions, thoughts on raising them or sharing what you've seen work for other people. I wish all would-be parents would be that thoughtful and responsible. You're MIL's techniques did work and it was nice of you to share. (If this doesn't sound boastful, I too was 'thoughtful and diligent' in my child-raising and had 'plans' even before they were born. Our children were delightful and are now responsible adults. So feel free to have ideals of how your family runs now and might in the future.)I also love how organised your MIL (and you) seem. This is an inspiration and makes me want to get up and DO. Thanks for writing so specifically and from your heart.) Linda

  13. My MIL, who has Alzheimer's, and I are not close. She was an excelent homemaker, did not any hobbies, and did not want to learn anything new (her words). I am highly creative and have a passion for learning a skill, especially one with a steep learning curve. What my husband found attractive in me, was not endearing to my mother-in-law.

    My six children are responsible, well-educated, well-rounded adults who put God first in their lives. They have a large skill base, are clear thinkers, and are considered an asset to their employers. They dress in what might be called "modern" vintage. My girls wear skirts only and the boys knew how to tie a tie when they were nine, although wearing ties in the work place seems to have become unfashionable. They get along with each other and nurture long distance relationships. The three that are living at home help with my total care mother without being asked and without complaint. They are not perfect, but we did manage, by the Grace of God, to sidetrack the "problems" most parents must deal with today, even with the "black sheep" of the family.

    With six children, and other responsibilities, it was almost impossible to NOT have chaos in the house. Some areas my husband and I flunked, such as bedtime 101, but other areas we could consider part of the list of "What We Did Right." As the mother, it was essential that I prioritized. Some housekeeping chores were just dead last and others were first on the list. The house had its own ebb of flow of neatness. I did not have the energy, time, or desire to be able to do everything.

    I firmly believe that anyone is able to accomplish their goals if they put those goals as the top priority. I commend you for your forethought.

    No Idle Hands.

  14. 50s gal,

    I would never take offense at what you write. You never come across as judgmental and are humble in your comments about not having raised yet; you have good thoughts on how you would do it. Your mother-in-law sounds wonderful. Thank you for your post. :)

  15. I didn't mean to imply that you were telling people how to raise their children. I guess where I was coming from was that I listened all my life to "how we had dinner on the table EVERY evening at five sharp," and "It was always three courses, soup or salad, main and a dessert that 'I' baked from scratch". That was from my grandmother, a VERY 50's housewife. It was also a total line of bull. My grandma NEVER learned how to cook. Soup was a can of campbells, main was hot dogs, and dessert was donuts she bought at the grocery. I have this on GOOD authority from various sources.

    Still, she was a good woman and I loved her dearly and miss her more than I can say. I was just trying to say that we tend to recall things in the way we "want" to have them had been. Not necessicarily (sp?) as they really were. And we ALWAYS paint ourselves and people we are loyal to better in our memories that what the truth truly was.

    No, I am not saying your MIL is shoveling a line, but that very likely, some of what "seemed" so perfect was how she wished it could have been.

    Actually, I think you are lucky. I would have loved to have been blessed with good in laws. My children have only had one set of grandparents (my folks) and while I am grateful they are good grandparents, I wish they could have had a second set.

    housewife07: Thank you for your kind words. It was a LONG time ago. It has colored my life in different ways, though. I knew the fear of not knowing if my mommy was ever going to come home again. Hence, my mom and I are VERY close. I saw the stress my dad suffered, and I respect him greatly. My brother and I are close, for we needed to be. He felt like he should take care of me (he is older) and still does try to sometimes. LOL Doesn't quite fly now, though.

    We lived on a very tight budget growing up due to all of my mom's medical bills. And I knew how to appreciate things we recieved because of it.

    There is a book called "The Alienist" by Caleb Carr. It is a murder mystery/suspense thriller. In it, they talk about life's contex and how it shapes us. I firmly believe that is so true. Everything we go through makes us who we are. The good and the bad. We just need to learn that the bad can be made to work towards the good.

    Sorry bout the long post.

  16. Thanks for stopping by my blog! I have to say that I love my MIL as well. She has always been a very loving and supportive person and raised 3 great kids. It is sad how we live in such a throw away society these days. That goes not just for things but for relationships as well. Great post and do stop by again.

  17. Lori-Now I see, you thought my idea of my hubby's growing up came from my MIL lips. Another aspect I admire of my MIL is that she would never brag nor say things such as, "Well, when I was raising the kids we did this" or "You should do it this way". IN fact every bit of knowledge of have got from her has been at my request. Or, if I admire some aspect of her home or something hubby or SIL told me, then I can coax it out of her. It seems those who need to say, "Oh it was this way and great" are those who in fact probably wished it was that way and are still trying to convince themselves! No, the story of my hubby and SIL rearing has come about in their stories, photos, and if I bothered to ask my MIL. She is always the first to say, "Well, that's how I wanted it dont, but you might like to do it differently".
    I also don't mean to think that only good people come from perfect surroundings, because it wasn't perfect. There was no continual father figure around. MY MIL Step father is the terror of their family. We joke as a family about how evil HE actually is. There was much adversity to overcome and how she overcame it is what I most admire, I believe. She gave order from chaos and it made a difference. I think we can overcome any bad aspects of our childhood, but in so doing, hopefully would not reintroduce them to our own children, but as I have said, I have not raised a child, so who knows, perhaps I would sit my kid in front of Barney for hours on end and yell at him all through school, one never knows, but I would try my darndest NOT to, I think.

  18. Oh-and I WISH I was as organized as she! I have to say, I sort of hold her up as my ideal in organization. If I could some day be half as organized, well in some ways this project is leading me that way. Again, she has never said, "Oh, you should do this or throw that away" but you go to her home and if she has ever asked me to get something for her and we lived with her during part of our marriage, she has no disorderly drawers. I remember being amazed when I once went into the attics to help her retrieve something and saw even her 'surplus' items such were neatly labeled and arranged. I have some drawers I would not want a stranger to open (my goal is to not have that some day, as I feel it is another aspect of an unsettled life) but she does not have that. She, on the other hand, grew up in some chaos and her response to that was to never have it herself. I am going on and on about her, which is odd. I admire her, but I have never really though about how much I did, all because one of you asked me about her. Isn't it wonderful how community and communication can lead to our own understanding of ourselves? Introsepction often comes from an outward reflection.

  19. I think you are right in most of your post about raising a child, but I also think child raising is not "modern" in these modern times. Most children I know are terrorists! I raised son much like this, with lots of love, a tidy home and nice clothes - and boundaries. I have many nice old things and I didn't want to move all of them up or pack them away. I only removed a few especially treasured things, because accidents do happen. He was told "no" when touching these old things, and I tought him to be careful. You have to this a thousands times dealing with a toddler.

    Today, he is 16, and unfortunately he does not fold his clothes, and does not tidy up his room, unless I've asked him to do so 117 times. He only cleans the house for money - teenagers can be bought. So it's not always it works out the way we planned.

    I hope you show your MIL this post. :)

  20. 50sgal,

    My grandmother is much like your MIL in organization--quite possibly the cleanest and most organized person I have ever known. I so want to be like her and struggle daily to do so. This is one of my biggest disappointments in myself right now. I just can't seem to get organized in any one area of my life. It is extremely frustrating. Nonetheless, I keep trying.

    What brought me to post were the similarities. My gramma also grew up in some chaos and then continued into a marriage of more of the same. She, too, chose to react by bringing order into her life. A hardworking mean-cleaning machine, she is. At the same time, and this is one of the reasons that I admire her the most, she loves family and never fusses when we are all over—20 to 30 of us at Christmas time—and make messes. She just loves us to be around. Wonderful woman, she is. I love her to death. She will be 87 on Saturday, and I dread her leaving this life in probably not too many more years.

  21. Zebu-That is the same with me and my MIL. Though she has a clean ordered house with beautiful things, we are never felt that we cannot sit upon things or use them. The other night we took out the stereopticon that was some great great relatives. It has hundreds of original slides and I have seen these in museums, but it is part of the house and therefore for us to use at our leisure. We spent an hour looking at the old slides, some of which were a series that tell a story of sorts. I love this feeling of beautiful well maintained antiques that were loved and still are. We would never treat them roughly, but use them as they were meant. We never feel as if we cannot set a drink down, or not lean back and relax. I know someone mentioned houses that had plastic on the furniture. I have heard of this and seen it made fun of on tv but have never actually encoutered a home which did this and can't imagine anything worse on a hot august day than sitting on plastic sofa cushions!
    Enjoy your grandmother while you have her, which I am sure you do. Make her tell you her stories and write them down while she recalls them. They are a gem and jewel to our women's history of the home!

  22. What a powerful reminder for me of the type of home I should be creating. Thank you so much for this. I'm catching up on blog reading today.

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