All My Mothers-in-Law: A Tale of Diversity and Inclusion
When you think of the words diversity and inclusion, the first thing that pops into your mind might be race, but really it’s not just race, but a range of things including age, gender, sexual orientation, class, religion, physical abilities, nationality, political leanings, anything really, that makes us different from one another. In the strictest interpretation, everyone we’ve ever met fits this definition which means that we’d be remiss if we didn’t expand the diversity net to include all our friends, families and familiars.
We all started with some kind of nuclear beginning, a father and mother, two mothers, two fathers, or some other combination of that story, biological or not, whether they left when you were born or not, whether they raised you or not, whether they went to all your soccer games or coached your baseball team or not. I came from the regular old vanilla nuclear family of mom, dad, me and sis, but I preside over a blended family where my husband and I came to the marriage with our own kids. (I say preside because sometimes it does feel like I need all my lawyering skills to resolve disputes.)
With blended families comes more opportunity for diversity and inclusion since there’s more of everything in the mix, especially mothers-in-law. Here is our our mothers-in-law breakdown:
Ex-husband, at the time of our marriage, brings one mother to the partnership = First Mother-in-Law;
New husband brings one mother to the marriage = Second Mother-in-Law;
New husband brings one mother-in-law from previous marriage = Mother-in-Law-Once Removed;
Ex-husband remarries, acquiring another mother-in-law = Mother-in-Law-By-Patrilineal-Association.
I really could use a better title for the last mother-in-law — a lovely woman who by all standards has been wonderful to my daughter with ex-husband who she acquired as a granddaughter-by-patrilineal-association when her daughter and my ex-husband married — but Mother-in-Law Twice Removed seems so been there, done that, and it really doesn’t quite capture the complicated path to our association, hence, Mother-in-Law by-Patrilineal-Association. (Suggestions for a better name welcome.)
Anyway, my husband and I married when the kids were little: my daughter was 2, his son and daughter were 5 and 7, respectively. Tough going doesn’t even begin to describe the early days.
Five years before we wed, my husband’s first marriage ended in tragedy when his wife died unexpectedly, leaving the extended family to cluster around their remaining group of three, pitching in, propping them up, consoling them as best they could; together they all worked through their grief, attending to all the ADLs (activities of daily living) that a mom would normally do for her young children and husband, while everyone took time to heal.
Collectively, the involved family members had become one big mega-mom with many hands all in service to the good of the kids. Given the situation, everyone had staked some sort of claim on the kids and their growth, and by the time I arrived on the scene, despite the giant open fields of unspoken emotions, littered with landmines at every turn, the situation had stabilized, the kids ostensibly happy and resilient, albeit still in the silent throes of PTSD that would take many more years — if ever — to unravel.
As for me and mine, after seven years, a couple miscarriages and still no baby, my ex-husband and I had reached the breaking point and decided to split; ironically, it was then that I found out I was pregnant.
What’s the saying? Nothing like an idea whose time has come? Sadly, decision made, the end of our marriage seemed an inevitability and we went our separate ways to start anew. Not the happiest of times, but for the fact that I was about to become a mom — something I’d wanted for 5-ever— but the cataclysmic changes that had occurred to get there were pretty overwhelming so the PTSD thing was running amuck in my life as well.
With that kind of history, perhaps you’d think it wasn’t a great idea for my new husband and me to start again given how much each of our individual boats had been rocked, but what the heck? We went for it, and I’ve never regretted all the wading through extreme emotional waters for us to get to normal, assuming anyone on the planet knows what normal even is. I’m happy to report that today, everyone is pretty well-adjusted.
How did we get through it, you ask? Through diversity and inclusion.
Through shared holidays that crossed family lines, through myriad dinners and sleepovers that included anyone and everyone — cousins, step-sisters, half-sisters, and those who wanted to be — through Christmases and birthdays, through hikes and bikes and paddles down the river, everyone was welcome.
I didn’t birth my daughter’s half-sisters, but they seem as much a part of me and my world as my own kids given that I’ve been a part of their lives since they were born. The other night we all celebrated my daughter’s birthday, including my ex-husband and In-Laws-by-Patrilineal-Association, and it was great. My kids have grown up sitting at a table where everyone is welcome, and in its own weird non-linear, non-normal, non-nuclear way, it works better than anything else I’ve tried.
I’ve got a million of these stories, twinkling points of light and kindness that go on to make welcome differences, not only in my own life, but in the lives of all the people I am blessed to have in my wonderfully diverse and inclusive world. Yes, we could have hunkered down, played it safe, took the non-inclusive path and no one would have criticized us, but as I watch my kids pay it forward, I know I did the right thing. On the interpersonal highway of life, I took the road less traveled, and what an amazing difference it has made.