Mother-in-Law is My ‘mom,’ too

Published 9:50 pm Wednesday, May 20, 2015

By Tonya S. Swindell

My mother-in-law, Constance, influenced my life for almost 23 years. Her name means, “Firm of purpose,” and it matches her personality. She is brilliant, strong, determined, kind, wise, practical, thrifty, truthful, supportive and sincere.

Another word I use to describe her is “glue,” as in: “glue that holds her family together.” She held, fed and changed diapers for all four of my children after they were born. When I returned home needing extra assistance because I was sick, she cleaned, cooked, sorted, washed, sewed and helped take care of her grandchildren.

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My mother-in-law listened while I cried and repeatedly said, “I can’t believe he’s gone,” after my father passed away. She comforted me with hugs and gentle words of encouragement, because she knew the heartache of losing a parent herself.

During another conversation she taught me about forgiveness. She explained that sometimes a person needs to save face or avoid feeling belittled or shamed after they’ve made a mistake.

Over the years, my mother-in-law traveled thousands of miles to assist me. The most memorable time was when she rode in a caravan of cars across four states so I could marry her only son. Other passengers included my mother, future father-in-law and sisters-in-law.

Just as we approached our destination, I discovered I left my wedding dress at home. Thankfully my future sister-in-law, who was 12 years old and also named Constance, confessed to doing something that changed my life. Before leaving home she walked into my mother-in-law’s bedroom, dug deep into a pile of clothes that was sitting on the floor and removed a little white dress. My mother-in-law told her not to take it because she already had a dress to wear; but Constance packed it anyway.

I remembered to take my shoes, earrings and hair accessories, but I left my wedding dress at home. The little white dress fit me perfectly, and I wore it during my wedding ceremony. My fiancé and I got married in a judge’s office located in a tiny town to which we had never been and have not returned. It was the most memorable experience of my life.

Recently my in-laws helped us complete some household projects. My mother-in-law cleaned, cooked, sorted, washed, sewed and helped take care of her grandchildren. She gave me rest, love, support and a friendly ear to get through another week.

My kids heard me call her “Mom” and immediately said, “She’s not your mom!” I said, “Well she’s my mother-in-law.” My mother-in-law is my “Mom,” too, and I love her.

Tonya S. Swindell is an occupational therapist in the mental health department of Hampton VA Medical Center. Email her at