I learned some of life’s most important lessons from my “other” mother.

Actually, Zenia was my mother-in-law. The notorious mother-in-law jokes would have never got off the ground if they were about her. As a matter of fact, if I could have a do-over and pick a mother-in-law of my choosing, I’d pick her.

 I was blessed to be loved and cherished by my late husband Jon. I was doubly blessed to be loved and accepted by his parents, Art and Zenia. Knowing how some mother-in-laws can be critical, I felt fortunate that my mother-in-law thought I was the best thing that ever happened to her only child.

A bookkeeper by trade, Zenia was also an accomplished seamstress. She offered to sew my wedding dress, saying, “This is my only chance to fuss over a daughter for her wedding.” She allowed me to design my dress. Our only point of contention was where the hem should land. I was a Hippie bride. I fancied my skirts at just below cheek level. After some friendly negotiation, we compromised at mid-thigh. Zenia fashioned a veil out of the vintage bead-work and Polish lace from her own wedding veil.

Although Jon and I lived in his parents’ finished basement for the first year of our marriage, Zenia refrained from offering advice or interfering in our affairs (tempting as it must have been at times). Jon and I experienced turbulence in our relationship as the result of our heavy alcohol and drug abuse.  Jon’s parents were both recovering alcoholics and active in AA. They did a remarkable job of letting go, and allowing us to find our own way (Jon and I were both delivered of our alcoholism when we became Christians in 1972).

Zenia’s example has helped me to refrain from offering unwanted advice or opinions to my daughter Aimee and her husband Andy in their marriage and parenting. The times I have offered an unsolicited opinion, I’ve regretted the words as soon as they came out of my mouth. Zenia taught me to respect my adult children and trust that they’ll find their way without my interference. For the record, they are doing a bang up job!

When Jon and I announced in 1976 that we were moving 500 miles away, Zenia never tried to dissuade us. She sent us off tearfully, but bravely, with her blessings. Our move later meant that she would be a long-distance grandma. That, too, she did with grace. I learned from Zenia to hold on to my children loosely.

Zenia lived by the principles of the AA program. The Serenity Prayer was ingrained in her:

God, Grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change;

The courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

Zenia had her share of struggles: miscarriages, a brain tumor, back surgery, and alcoholism. She was successfully treated for Bipolar Disorder. She lost her husband when he was just 62-years old. At his funeral, my husband began experiencing his first symptoms of the leukemia that would take his life less than two years later. Although she was heart-broken, I remember her saying, “I don’t like what’s happened, but I need to be about the business of accepting what I can’t change. I refuse to be a bitter woman!”

A few years later, when Zenia was diagnosed with Lou Gerhig’s disease (ALS), she refused to wallow in self-pity. When she could no longer manage to live on her own, she sold her home and made arrangements to move into a nursing home. Zenia left this earth with the same grace she lived her life – choosing to focus on the positive, never complaining. I’ve had my own share of losses and struggles. Much of what I know about accepting what I cannot change, I learned from Zenia.

On this Mothers Day weekend, I thank God for my dear mother Avalon, and the legacy of love she gave me. But today, on Zenia’s birthday, I thank God for my “other” mother, and for the life lessons she taught me.Zenia

Today’s Challenge: What are some of life’s lessons you learned from your mother? Did you ever have an “other” mother, in-law or otherwise? If your mom is still alive, be sure to love on her and fuss over her, but not just on Mothers Day – make it a habit.


  1. Marcia Wilson
    May 12, 2013

    What a wonderful tribute to Zenia! And what good advice to those of us who are mother-in-laws.

  2. Susan Wiles
    May 12, 2013

    I enjoyed this mother-in-law blog. You were very fortunate to have Zenia in your life.

  3. Nancy
    May 12, 2013

    What a great example to have in your life.

  4. Gail
    May 12, 2013

    Beautifully written tribute. We can all learn from Zenia…thank you for sharing!

  5. Mary Rantanen
    May 14, 2013

    I always love reading your stories! So well written and uplifting! Thanks for sharing and what an amazing woman your mother-in-law was!

  6. marianne
    May 15, 2013

    Thank you Kathy – what a great tribute to your MIL. WIth three sons, I need to take notes….

  7. Marilyn Bratt
    May 23, 2013

    Serenity prayer is on my list to memorize.

    Giving things over to God that I can not change is something I am finally learning.
    I have a wonderful daughter-in-law and yes, I don’t give advice unless asked.
    Thanks Kathy.

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