Marge Fenelon recalls life lessons she learned from her mother-in-law, who taught primarily by example.
My mother-in-law, Mary, was a cherished matriarch who was known more for what she didn’t say rather than for what she did. That’s not to suggest that she was non-conversant. On the contrary, she was a welcoming person who often was sought for counsel and consolation from people both within and outside of her family. She would entertain a topic, discuss an issue, offer advice and issue admonishment, but only when merited. She never spoke simply to hear herself speak as some people do. She taught primarily by example. That’s why, when she spoke, people listened and took it to heart.
Widowed at 48, Mary was left with twelve children to raise on her own, the youngest of who was merely six years old. She was born during the Great Depression, weathered World War II and the Cold War years, held down the fort during the turbulent 60s, watched her children grow up, move away, and start their own families, suffered the tragedies of losing two of her adult daughters unexpectedly, and all the while continued to be an example of strong faith, Catholic devotion and motherly love until she died at 92 on August 8, 2020. By that time, she’d gained 40 grandchildren and 21 great grandchildren. When our Lord finally came to take her home to heaven, she’d been waiting 44 years to be reunited with her husband Richard. In all those years, and through all those joys, sorrows, and trials of life, Mary accumulated an abundance of experience, knowledge, and wisdom.
I learned an awful lot from Mom Fenelon, but there are three lessons in particular that I’d like to pass on to others. I’ve gone back to these words of wisdom countless times in raising my own children, carrying my crosses, and dealing with the challenges of life.
Ignore it and it will go away.
Frankly, when I first heard these words out of Mom Fenelon’s mouth, I thought she was crazy. Before my husband and I were married, I often visited the family home. One evening after supper, some of us were sitting in the living room just hanging out. Mom Fenelon was sitting on the couch reading the newspaper when suddenly there were raised angry voices upstairs and the three youngest brothers came tumbling down the stairs in a ball of fists and feet. Mom just kept reading the paper, seemingly oblivious to the racket. When I asked her about it, she calmly told me, “If you ignore it, it’ll go away,” and went back to reading. In other words, letting such behavior burn itself out can be more effectual than intervening. It wasn’t long before the spat resolved itself and peace returned to the house. Not only did this advice come in handy in raising my own children, but it’s been a great help in dealing with difficult adults as well.
A woman just has to put her feet up once in a while.
No matter how chaotic her life was at times, Mom Fenelon always took time for quiet, prayer, and self-care so that she could regroup and recharge. Her advice has echoed in my workaholic perfectionist mind all these years. I’m still trying to be as good at it as she was, and that’s why the only thing I asked for myself after she passed was her footstool.
The Law of the Little While.
Basically, it’s this: In the broad scope of things when looking back on your life any trial, crisis, hardship, irritation, frustration, dilemma, suffering or sorrow will have lasted only a little while. What you’re going through right now – no matter how terrible it is – will pass and seem to have lasted only for a bit when you look back on your life one day. I tried my best to truly live this law in my own life. If you’ve read any of my books or heard me speak, you’ll notice it pop up in my writings and presentations. I’ve clung to this law, sometimes desperately, ever since Mom taught it to me when my husband and I first became engaged. I’ve chanted it when up in the middle of the night with a crying infant who couldn’t sleep and sobbed over it when my cross became crushing. It’s by far the most important lesson I’ve learned from my mother-in-law and one that I’ve worked hard to pass on to my children.
My husband and I received one of the teacups from Mom Fenelon’s collection. We have it now as a keepsake, but perhaps I might use it from time to time to remind me of the lessons I’ve learned from her. When I do, I’ll be sure to ignore the chaos around me, put my feet up, and ponder all the little whiles that have come and gone.
Copyright 2020 Marge Steinhage Fenelon
Image copyright 2020 Marge Steinhage Fenelon. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Marge Steinhage Fenelon is a wife, mother, award-winning author and journalist, blogger, and popular speaker. She appears weekly on Relevant Radio's "Morning Air Show" and other Catholic radio shows. She blogs regularly for National Catholic Register and at MargeFenelon.com. She's author of the best-selling "Our Lady, Undoer of Knots: A Living Novena (Ave Maria Press, 2016) and many other books on Marian devotion and Catholic spirituality.