By Jeannette Sanderson
I knew when my daughter fell in love that I would no longer be the most important person in her life. I expected to feel a pang when she and her fiancé looked at and spoke to each other like there was no one else in the room, but I knew that this was how life worked, how it was supposed to work. Kids grow up, they fall in love, they create families of their own. Part of my job as a mother was to make sure this happened, to make sure that my children were independent enough to leave me and create families of their own, families who would be there when I was gone.
But while I was prepared to share my daughter with her life partner, I wasn’t prepared to share her with another mother.
One of the first times I fully realized that there was another mother in my daughter’s life was at Thanksgiving dinner a few years ago. My daughter and her boyfriend were hosting their first Thanksgiving, and we were all sitting around eating the cheese and crackers my daughter had asked us to bring.
I was sitting next to my daughter’s fiancé’s mother. “You have such a great daughter,” she said to me. “I loved talking with her and helping her plan this dinner.”
“Yes,” I said, “me, too.” I smiled, but I was fighting an undertow of thoughts and feelings that threatened to drag me under. My daughter and I had talked about this dinner too, but not at great length. Had my daughter spent lots of time planning with this other mother? Was this other mother a better source of Thanksgiving dinner advice than I was? Was she a better mother than I was?
I wish I could say the green monster that reared its ugly head that day haunted me just that once, but I would be lying. Jealousy—and the fear at the root of it—has become a frequent albeit unwelcome guest in my heart, especially in the two years since my daughter and her boyfriend got engaged.
When my daughter says she’s talked to her fiancé’s boyfriend’s mother about some plan or other, or when this other mother tells me she has been texting my daughter, or when I hear that they are all getting together to discuss wedding plans, I have to tamp down the panic that threatens to strangle me.
I try to focus on how proud I am to have a daughter who makes a real effort to include her partner’s mother in their lives. I try to focus on how grateful I am that my daughter is going to have a truly lovely woman for a mother-in-law.
But I am also afraid. I am afraid of losing my daughter. I am afraid of being replaced.
Recently my daughter called to say that she and her fiancé were going to make the four-hour drive to visit his parents for the weekend. Due to Covid, they hadn’t been able to spend any real time visiting them in nearly a year.
“That’s nice,” I said, but my voice must have betrayed my fear.
“Mom,” my daughter said, “I don’t want to worry that you’re going to feel bad whenever we spend time there.”
“I know,” I said. “And I want you to spend time there. I think I just worry.”
I think it was more fear than embarrassment that silenced me for a minute.
I took a deep breath and plowed ahead. “I worry that I’m going to be replaced.” My daughter’s quick response rescued me.
“Oh, Mom,” she said. “I could never replace you. You will always be number one to me.”
And with those words, I started to cry.
“I don’t say it because I think it’s obvious,” she said. “Isn’t it?”
I was doing that messy laugh/cry thing now. “I’m always afraid of being left,” I said. “Blame my long-ago runaway dad for that.”
“But that’s not happening here. Like I said, you’ll always be my mother, my number one.”
I pulled myself together. “I think I’m going to need to hear that sometimes.”
“I might even just come straight out and ask you to say it.”
The words my daughter said that day buttressed my heart and mind. I expect there will be times when both will need a little shoring up. When that happens, I will ask my daughter to hear those words once again.
Jeannette Sanderson is the proud mother, and soon to be mother-in-law, of three wonderful young adults. She lives and writes in New York’s beautiful Hudson Valley.
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