Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Weekend

Kerry McLean: My mother-in-law had a monumental place in our hearts. Getting the call to say she was in hospital and to get there quickly felt unreal

Iris McLean with grandchildren Tara, Dan and Eve (front)
Iris McLean with grandchildren Tara, Dan and Eve (front)

By Kerry McLean

Mother-in-laws have had a bad rap over the years. They've been the target of many a comedian's clumsily aimed joke and have been stereotyped in TV sitcoms as overbearing, overly bossy and, quite often, just over at their children's homes far too often.

But while those outdated, lazy portrayals are, thankfully, on the wane, it's still fair to say that not all mothers of the bride or groom carry themselves in the most mature or even maternal way once their offspring has tied the knot.

Over the years, I've had friends who have had to cope with a lot, from the fairly minor conjecture that a mother's son or daughter isn't receiving the care and attention they deserve (one friend had to cope with complaints that her husband's undergarments weren't being ironed), to more serious interference in how they live their lives.

When I lived in London, a colleague went home to discover that her other half had put their house up for sale without telling her, following prompting from his mum who wanted them to move into a house which had just come on the market, right next door to her…

I'm fully aware that there are some people who would struggle to say anything nice about their mother-in-law. I'm very lucky in that I'd struggle to stop.

I was in my twenties the first time I met my husband's mum Iris and I think it's fair to say I was more than a little nervous. So much so, in fact, that I had to take a double dose of my inhaler to ward off an asthma attack, as nerves settled heavily around my shoulders. I had fallen hard for her son and I knew, from how Ralph talked about his mum, that should I not meet her approval, my chances of becoming Mrs McLean might be limited.

I needn't have worried. From the moment she walked into his little flat, she made me feel like a member of the family. She gave me a smile that would light up a building, never mind a room, took both my hands in hers and told me how happy she was to meet me.

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I was in shock, not at her friendly reception, although that came as a welcome surprise, but at the size of her. My husband is very tall and has spent his life ducking down to get in through door frames and clocking his head on ceiling lights. I had assumed his mother would be of similar proportions. Instead, in came this perfectly dressed and coiffed little bird of a woman, so slim and slight that I couldn't for the life of me figure out how she had created my giant hubby.

What she showed me that day and over the two decades that followed was a personality and a kindness far larger than her dainty, demure appearance suggested.

As good a mum as she was to her own children, I think she really came into her own as www to her five grandchildren. She'd tackled the hard labour of being a mother in the Fifties and Sixties without complaint, the daily grind of cooking, cleaning and washing for a young family in those days before Hoovers, fridges or even washing machines made life liveable.

She had more free time with her grandchildren and taught them everything from knitting to drawing, cooking to gardening and even playing the organ, something she had done in various churches throughout her adult life. But most of all, she had fun with them. Even into her late 80s, she would play hide and seek, sing songs and try to swing them around as they giggled hysterically.

Given what a monumental place she has held in all our hearts, it felt unreal this week when we got the call to say she was in hospital and that my husband was to get there as soon as possible. Just a few hours later, she slipped away from us, surrounded by her family.

I can't put into words how grateful I am to her for everything she did for us and the love she gave us. I hope I can be as good a mother-in-law and granny when my time comes, following her example. In life she was a guiding light and she'll always be our Northern star.

Belfast Telegraph


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