Sometimes It Takes Fifteen Years To Learn A Lesson

I just had an epiphany.

I did. Right here in my very own kitchen.

When D and I were first married, I always felt like I had to just outdo myself when Martha and Sissie would visit. As soon they’d walk in the front door, I’d pick up the pace and start washing loads of laundry and cooking meals and folding clothes and changing sheets and basically racing around my own dadgum house at warp speed because I felt like I needed to be superwife. On some level, I guess, I wanted for them to approve of the way that I was taking care of their son / grandson, so I’d work myself into a frenzy because I told myself that there was some sort of twisted honor in being the busiest person in the room. I actually have a vivid memory of zipping through the den with a full basket of laundry while Martha and Sissie sipped on some coffee, and as I sat down my laundry basket in the next room and picked up a load of clothes that CLEARLY NEEDED TO BE WASHED IMMEDIATELY, I overheard Sissie say, “Martha? Does she EVER sit down?”


I’ve mellowed over the last fifteen years, of course, but if I’m honest I have to admit that I still have that tendency to go into overdrive when Martha comes to visit. I create a pace that’s not really sustainable, so in the middle of trying to be the happy daughter-in-law who hasn’t missed a detail in terms of caring for her family, I usually wind up snapping at my husband or cutting off the little guy mid-sentence. There have been more times than I’d like to admit when D and I were barely speaking at the end of the night, but by diggity I was going to fire up one last pot of coffee for my mother-in-law and make sure that we had a plan mapped out for the next day that involved shopping at six different stores and getting lunch at that cute little place that serves the best chicken salad. The following day I’d wake up and be worn out by mid-afternoon and could barely muster a glare at my husband when he walked through the door, but LOOK WHAT A GOOD DAUGHTER-IN-LAW I’M TRYING TO BE, WOULD SOMEONE PLEASE GIVE ME A TROPHY?

This morning the little guy and I were supposed to drive to Mississippi to pick up Martha and bring her back here for a few days, but first we had to run by the car place because my oil light was on. We finally got on the road two hours later than we planned, and by the time we got to my hometown, I had that icky feeling of being hurried because we were running so far behind schedule. Martha kept me entertained with stories on the way back here, but judging by the traffic we were in, most of the residents of Mississippi and Alabama had rented moving vans and/or charter buses today and were perfectly content to hang out in the left lane and then speed up when I tried to work my way around them. I’ve never been one for road rage, but by the time I got to our exit, it felt like there were lead rods in my shoulders, and I wanted to lay on my horn if someone in front of me did so much as click on a turn signal. I was done. Congratulations, traffic, YOU WON.

When we finally got to our house, my initial instinct was to plaster a smile on my face and immediately start playing the role of happy hostess. But our early morning combined with about six hours in the car combined with traffic combined with an epic case of the frayed nerves left me feeling like I wanted to do anything but chit-chat. And for whatever reason, in an unprecedented change of relational pace on my part, I decided that I was going to do the smart thing instead of the easy thing. I helped Martha get settled in her room, and then I said, “If you’ll give me about thirty minutes, I need to check my email and decompress just a little bit.”

I DID. I said it out loud just like a real-live grown-up. And of course Martha was totally fine with that because, well, she’s Martha. She and the little guy found a show to watch, and I went in my bedroom and sat down in a chair and didn’t move for the next half hour. I even dozed off a couple of times. And once I finished that second catnap, I was a new woman. I got up and made us a pot of coffee, and when D came home about 45 minutes later, I wasn’t snippy or snappy or outdone because I’d spent the whole day without one centimeter of margin. Those thirty minutes changed everything, and I wish I could travel back to 1998 and tell the newlywed version of me to SIMMER DOWN, SISTER – IT’S OKAY TO SIT A SPELL.

I realize that all of this may sound cuckoo crazy if you’re a super laid-back person who never worries what other people think. But I’m a pleaser – albeit an occasionally resentful one. So doing what I needed to do instead of doing what I thought I was supposed to do was a new and different approach for me. AND IT WORKED. Changed the whole course of my day.

That was my epiphany.

And I’m totally doing the same thing tomorrow.


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  1. I’m in the middle of hosting my mother-in-law for two months. This is exactly what I needed to hear! I’m always worried that she’ll think I’m lazy if I don’t run around making sure everything is spic-and-span, but it always ends with my snapping at my husband and my mother-in-law feeling bad that I’m running around like a chicken with my head cut off.

  2. You are a woman walking in my shadow!! I’m such a “pleaser” person too that I’ll just make myself miserable to make everyone else happy. It’s probably taken me longer than 15 years but you know, I FINALLY don’t go all haywire and clean the house and make 50 desserts before our friends come over for a cookout or to watch a movie. But I think that on June 24th of this year was when i just finally had the real epiphany. Picture the Sunday after you step-daughters wedding, your husbands EX mother in law and 2 uncles pulling out of the driveway after crashing at your house WITH the bride and the rest of your family and then 30 minutes later 14 of your closest and dearest friends pulling in the driveway. Yep absolutely no time to cook, clean or do anything but to welcome them in and you know what? We ordered pizza and sat around and laughed and enjoyed each others company and NOT ONE SINGLE PERSON told me I needed to vacuum (because I seriously did need to). I’m glad you’ve learned to relax and I personally can’t wait for the Martha stories that will come from this visit!!! Enjoy and relax, you deserve it besides all the “superwife” stuff just might keep you from the best deal on the best jacket the Stein Marts has ever put on the rack!!! :0)

  3. Merri Jo says:

    Congratulations! Some of us never learn SIMMER DOWN, SISTER–IT’S OK TO SIT A SPELL! Thanks for being so authentic, & thanks for a healthy reminder to women everywhere!
    And as usual, thanks for a good giggle!

  4. I could so relate to this. I’m a “pleaser”, too. But, I’ve had a few reality checks in the last few years. For one thing, I put the high expectations on myself. Since I’ve realized that, I’ve enjoyed things so much more. It’s the relationships that matters; not my organizational skills. It took me too long to learn to SIMMER DOWN, SISTER. Thanks for the reminder!

  5. I can totally empathise with you. I’m not like it with just my in laws but with EVERYONE. I worked in a guest house in my youth and received military-like training on housekeeping and hosting. Since then, I just couldn’t switch off! If my partner and I have people over, I have to organise everything, with him becoming my waiter and kp. Poor guy! I’ve now realised my way is not the only way and I’ve begun to allow others to host so I can relax too. The ten to thirty minutes of quite is a god-send too!


  6. I can never remember if its Martha or Mary in the Bible that just can’t SIT DOWN and enjoy time with the Lord but whichever one it is, I can totally relate. I will need to try your method.

  7. Katherine says:

    Bravo, my friend! Thank you for calling out my “resentful pleaser” and telling her to “simmer down”! I think the stress level of everyone in my house will be much lower next time we have visitors! EUREKA!!

  8. Oh my goodness – you just made me look at what I do when my in laws visit. I also run around doing laundry or anything I can think of to make sure they know I am busy, busy and everything is perfect. I’ll work on the ” simmer down sister, it’s ok to sit a spell”. Great post :-)

  9. I could have written this some years ago…I’ve mellowed with age and learned to enjoy my company more than my house when I have guests. Also, the value of a short nap cannot be overstated : )

  10. Don’t we get wiser as we get older?
    I do the same thing around my MIL. After 14 years, I’m gonna take a breather, too :)

  11. Hallelujah indeed!

    Have a great visit-tell us about all the cute jackets at the Steinmarts :)

  12. I so relate to what you are saying. That has been me on numerous occasions. I want everything perfect and then I become exhausted trying to achieve it. Then of course, someone or me becomes mad. Grinning through gritted teeth is not fun. Relax and let go needs to be my motto. The hard part is doing it! Thanks for your post!! I’m glad to know I have company in this.

  13. The irony of being a people pleaser is that we end up pleasing no one especially ourselves and our loved ones. Being honest is refreshing .

  14. If I lived closer, I would totally bring you a TROPHY today. Good for you.

  15. I’m a people pleaser AND a newlywed so I greatly appreciate the wisdom :)

  16. Awesome post. I needed to take some notes from this:)

  17. This is me without question. I’m a pleaser, and a resentful one at that. Anytime we have people over, family or not, I feel this way exactly. Thanks for sharing, it’s always nice to know you aren’t alone in your craziness. My husband will appreciate the “simmer down” suggestion as well. My MIL cleans houses on the side. Because she loves it so much. So you can see why I can get a tad on the compulsive neurotic side when she’s here. In fact she’s coming this weekend and I’ve had my husband hang a new curtain in the dining room, repaint a wall in the living room and we went out and bought a new area rug. I guess what I’m saying is your post is a few days late. :)

  18. Wow. I need a little voice recording of “Simmer down, Sister” playing in my ear.

  19. Oh, how this post delights me.

    Hi. My name is Kathy. And I’m a pleaser.

    When I have company, I about kill myself trying to get the house spic-and-span. Nothing short of white glove clean. Dusting the top of door frames, vacuuming the pan drawer of the oven… if my guests are even going open that drawer.

    It’s nuts. I’m nuts, but I’m working on it.

  20. I guess it takes yrs. of marriage for the MS girls to see the big picture. I have done the same thing for 20 plus yrs.!!! Finally it may be sinking in….just hoping I don’t regress next time we have company. I am hopeful!!!!!!

  21. Well I think it’s safe to say that you’re not alone. I’m reading this timely (and well-written!) piece as I am flat in the bed from knocking myself out just yesterday for my husband’s promotion ceremony. Nervous about military protocol when the room was crawling with generals? check. Trying to show off for the other wives in the area? check. Ashamed of that second one, since we are chaplains’ wives? Double check. Wanting to please my husband and honor this biggest occasion of his career? check, roger, yes sir. Did about 5 times more than I had to? Sadly, yes.
    Proud of you for your one giant leap for mankind. :)

  22. Good for you! Sometimes a little R&R is all we really need to turn our day around completely.

  23. Again, related :)

    And so glad to read this. THANK YOU. I can barely muster any words related to what I WANT to do when people are over/with people in general.

    “Can barely muster a glare.” Hahaha! That exactly how I feel in GO mode!


  24. Melanie M says:

    Good for you, Sophie! That is a lesson more appreciated and better remembered because of the road you’ve walked. I am a pleaser, too, but I go into crazy mode when my own mother visits. My m-i-l is laid back so I can be too and I greatly appreciate that about her, which helps since we live 2 miles apart. Oh the things I wish I could go back and tell my newly married self! Thank goodness we are learning, right?

  25. I do it too! Why do we make ourselves insane like that? Thanks for sharing. :)

  26. Candace says:

    Oh, I totally get you. I am the same way. Why do we do that? I’m learning too.

  27. I want to be the MIL that welcomes DIL to relax….

  28. You just covered one of the most important things I think that ALL women need to realize. Perfection doesn’t count in the end. It’s the path you take and the memories you make along the way that matter. Loved your blog today!

  29. Sophie, did you just crawl up inside my brain? Oh my goodness gracious thank you dear Lord Jesus for sending BooMama to the internet!!!!

  30. Girl, you deserve a diet coke on the rocks and a nice big honkin bowl of queso and chips for that epiphany. And thank you for it. People pleasers and d-I-L’s everywhere so thank you!

  31. Sharon O says:

    Good job… she is not going to mind if you take a break, really, I am a mom in law and the best thing I think my ‘daughter’ could do is take care of herself.

  32. Wow, I wish I had read this last week. This happens to be EVERY time my MIL visits (and often when we’re visiting her). I didn’t realize I needed to rest until I was crying hysterically (albeit quietly) in my bathroom for about 30 minutes halfway into her 8 day visit. My husband confessed that he just didn’t understand, to which I replied, “you can’t…and you never will”. Boooo hooooo!!!! I then took a break, for an entire afternoon. Sooo needed it.

  33. GO. ON.
    That’s awesome! I need white space too. It took me a while to realize that I had to make it for myself– no one, even my husband that knows me best can’t do it for me (because I refuse out of guilt). When we visit my in-laws, I take about 40 showers — they have a large bathroom with some sort of magical showerhead. It’s the perfect place to collect myself.

  34. I do this ALL of the time – every time my mother in law comes over, I feel like I have to be busy so that she won’t think I’m lazy – not that she has EVER even HINTED that she thinks I am – it is so silly – thanks for writing this.

  35. I am a pleaser, too, and I totally understand this post! What an epiphany, a restful one, at that.

  36. Melissa says:

    Thank you so much for writing this! It is so nice to know I’m not the only one. I make myself CRAZY cleaning the house before my MIL comes over and my sweet man just does not understand it. The thing is, I have to do it before she comes because if I don’t, she will “help” with the dirty dishes and laundry no matter how many times I insist she is a guest. And this is not an overnight stay, it is an hour or so long visit. Last time I had done every dish in sight and what did I hear? “Oh my, what happened to your stovetop, will it not come clean?” Add that to my list of things that must be scrubbed the night before a visit. Sigh… if only she would just sit and sip coffee. Maybe if I had a maid my house would be as clean as hers…

  37. I remember the visit where I found my mother-in-law washing our windows. Probably trying to be helpful. But you know the next time they visited I took a day off work beforehand expressly to wash the windows. And then locked myself out of the house… Anyway. I honestly think I might relax, but the suggestions of helping me do this or that (which I had no intention of doing) keep me plenty busy. My husband usually does the dishes at our house, but immediately after dinner my mother-in-law always hops up and offers to help ME do the dishes. Just when I was going to escape for a moment. Meanwhile, she’s shooing my husband off to bed. My poor husband – he knows by the look on my face to stand around the kitchen and keep busy and UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES sit down, much less go to bed. ;)

  38. I know exactly what you are saying!! It’s so much pressure when family comes to visit. I’m glad that you feel the same thing I do!!