My mother-in-law: the maternal figure I didn’t know I needed

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Left to right: My brother-in-law, my husband, my father-in-law, my mother-in-law, my grandmother-in-law and me.

I didn’t know the US and UK celebrated Mother’s Day at different times of year until my first British Mother’s Day rolled around and my husband told me we had to go down to South London to see his mum.

Up until that point I hadn’t really thought about how I’d remember Mother’s Day, who I was going to celebrate or why. 

Luckily for me, my mother-in-law happens to be a truly exceptional person. And I hope that after you hear more about her, you’ll think so too. 

When my mother-in-law was a little girl, she was left without citizenship when Kenya declared independence from the UK. While she was allowed to stay as a non-citizen, when she reached adulthood most jobs were closed to her.

So, when her father died, she came to London from Nairobi, just like thousands of Kenyan-Indians who were seeking a new way to support themselves. When she arrived in the early 80s, she had very little, with only her 18-year-old brother as her support.  

At first, they stayed with another Kenyan-Indian family that had arrived in England before them, in a three-bedroom house with five other children and two adults.  

And once she was here, she and her brother made plans to find jobs and a home of their own, so they could achieve their most important goal – bringing their mother to live with them. 

But in order to reach those goals, that also mean she had to come over both racist and xenophobic hiring practices. You see, my mother-in-law is Indian, but her family is from Goa. That means she has a Portuguese surname.  

While she would be invited for interviews, their faces changed as soon as they saw her in person and realised she was a woman of colour. Eventually did find a job at a law firm, and with that she was able to achieve all of her goals and more.

In the years that followed she would marry and become a mother to two sons. Her eldest son, my brother-in-law, was born with cerebral palsy. As a full-time wheelchair user with limited motor control, he is in need of full-time access to care.

While the roles of caregiver have all been shared among the family, my mother-in-law has carried both the physical and emotional weight of caring for a child in need of ongoing care. Of course, she had help from her family, but at the same time, she looked after them too.

In the nearly ten years I have been in a relationship with her youngest son, I have come to see her as the backbone of this family. Because as kind and warm as she is, she is also incredibly strong. A strong woman. A strong mother. 

My mother-in-law is not an assuming person, she’s not the type to do things for attention or because she’s seeking recognition. She’s more of a silent matriarch.

She simply hands out acts of kindness because that’s who she is. She is kind.

I only came to see just how much she does by living with her. When my husband and I were in a dangerous housing situation, she quickly opened her home to us, even though there wasn’t much space.  

They gave us whatever they could, because we were family. While most of my memories from that time are a blur, I will always vividly remember how my mother-in-law made me breakfast the first morning there.  

It may seem like a forgettable moment, but it was an important act of kindness for me, when I was fleeing a traumatic event.  

I am so glad to have the mother-in-law that I have. She has made me feel welcomed and cared for since I began my relationship with her son. And I am so grateful for the person she raised my husband to be, who is in many ways, so much like her.

Happy (British) Mother’s Day to my outstanding mother-in-law, and every mother and mother figure who gives us the kindness and care we need in our most difficult moments.  

-Linsey McFadden

One Response

  1. Carrie Gaye

    Thank you for sharing this Linsey. It’s heartwarming.
    My late mother was also loved very dearly by my siblings’ partners. I think it can enrich a person’s life when their mother-in-law welcomes them into the new family with genuine warmth, and treats them with care and respect throughout the years.

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