Lessons I Learned From My Mother-In-Law

Leonor, 93 years young

One of the few pictures of all of the kids

One of the few pictures of all of the kids.  Oldest to youngest age range is about 24 years.

My mother-in-law recently passed away and it has been a sad time for my husband’s family.   A long life spanning 95 years, a marriage of 50+ years and 13 children.  She was a strong woman to say the least (how can you NOT be after raising 13 children??)  I happen to be married to the baby of the family, so many stories were shared on various occasions about the antics that happened their household.   Family events were Leonor’s absolute favorite thing in the world and the more chatter the better.  Gatherings soothed her soul and brought her back to health many times.  The following are some things I learned about her and other things I learned from her.

  • Go to church (many in the family did not share her faith, but it didn’t stop her from trying).
  • Say prayers before meals.
  • Keep the conversation clean
  • Be respectful and polite
  • Stand up for yourself
  • Be a good spouse
  • Know how to cook, clean and work hard

‘Mom’, as I was encouraged to call her, was always dear to me.  My husband often said she liked me better than she liked him and when he said that, she didn’t disagree, just smiled.

We shared the love of sewing and I was always grateful for that connection.  She was resourceful and creative and had many ‘life hacks’ before they were cool.

Marriage and Parenting
Since I was a single mother for years, I often wondered how she kept the upper hand with a wild bunch of kids – some twice her size.  She had shared that the trick to keeping a marriage strong was by building a house together  – one brick at a time and that meant making the bricks by hand.   Sharing a common faith with her husband and having similar values worked like a fine oiled machine to raise all of those kids.  Discipline was used, but the ground rules had been set way before the crime.  My husband said he deserved the punishments he received.    There was never a question of whether or not the children were loved.  She never stopped parenting and didn’t spare the guilt.  I remember my husband telling a off-color joke to his siblings and she leaned over and said he should ‘talk about something else’.  She had ‘The Look’ that could make a grown man cower if he was behaving badly, so everyone avoided receiving that kind of stare!

Daily Life

There was an abundance of love for her children and all of their friends.  If you found yourself in the house around dinner time, she would lovingly say something like, ” Call your mom and ask if you can stay for dinner.  Set the table, grab a plate, or go home.  The food is hot.”  Yes ma’am.  Straight up and direct communication was her style.

Beans and tortillas filled the hollow legs of growing boys and girls, and all of the kids took turns preparing meals, doing laundry and outside chores.  Hard work was instilled from a very young age, and teamwork was essential.   She was active in church and school to do her part and stay in touch with her community and neighbors.

A beautiful floral arrangement sent by a friend after hearing about the loss of my husband’s mother.

Marriage and Parenting

With 13 children comes many personalities and a fierce competition to be noticed and heard.  No wall flowers here!  It was encouraged to have an opinion and stand up for one’s self.  The word ‘spirited’ comes to mind which also brings my children to mind.   Differences of opinion were inevitable, but arguing was not allowed.  The current climate in the world right now is to assert yourself and stand up for what you believe in.  However, this is not always well received.  Differing opinions often push buttons and trigger arguments.  Leonor wanted respectful banter but no mean-spirited dialogue.  The struggle was (and is) real for many families who strive to respectfully get along and yet maintain individuality.  The baton has been passed to the next generation to execute this delicate balance of agreeing to disagree and still want to be around one another.

I will miss her presence and her unspoken ability to command a room.  I will miss her ‘God bless you’ right before we left the house because she believed it offered protection.  I will miss her feisty nature like here in the picture when she grabbed a wine glass and pretended to drink it.  She wasn’t allowed due to her diet restrictions, but always had a mischievous twinkle in her eye.  She made me laugh on many occasions.

Here being feisty pretending to take a drink

Pretending to take a drink just to be provocative

Near the end, she had some daily pain but her focus was on the people around her.  She was cared for by her children and we all rotated in throughout the week to provide a meal, visit, take her to church or run errands.   Food had always been a joy for her, so my husband and I would carefully plan a tasty meal and anticipate her cleared plate.  It was a simple pleasure we were happy to provide.

As a daughter-in-law, I do not claim to have the complete picture of who Leonor was as a woman, mother, wife and neighbor, but I have benefited greatly from what she stood for, instilled and modeled.
You are loved and will be missed.

Posted in Inspiration and tagged , , , .


  1. What a beautiful tribute to your mother in-law. It’s clear you love her & will miss her. She sounds like a wonderful woman.

    • Becca G,
      Thank you. Yes, she was a good mother-in-law, not the nightmare types you hear about. I am lucky. She left a great impression on us all.

  2. This is so sweet. Thank you Dana. She did love you, you know that. By the way, Mama never drank, never wanted to. She did goof around with us though.

    • Nora,
      I’m glad you liked it. She was a character! It was always fun to hear her reactions to things. You took great care of her.

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