Good Monday Morning!
Sara Delano Roosevelt: The Mother-in-law From Hell
Sara Delano Roosevelt was a very domineering woman, especially when it came to her only son, Franklin. She was so controlling that during his years at Harvard, she moved to a home nearby.
Accordingly, her desperate unhappiness was no surprise when she learned that Franklin had become engaged to his distant cousin, Eleanor.
Franklin tried to console her in a letter writing, “I know what pain I must have caused you and you know I wouldn’t do it if I really could have helped it.”
Even Eleanor wrote to Sara saying, “I know just how you feel and how hard it must be, but I do so want you to learn to love me a little bit,” a hope that was never to be realized.
Sara asked Franklin and Eleanor to keep their engagement a secret for one year hoping that her efforts might end the relationship. She took Franklin on an extended cruise, and then arranged for him to take a position overseas. But her efforts failed and the couple eventually married.
Eleanor remained conciliatory and tried hard to establish a solid relationship with Sara in the early years of her marriage.
She had been orphaned at the age of nine and her childhood had been unhappy. “She grew up desperate for love and acceptance, a condition Sara recognized and of which she took full advantage.”
Sara bought an apartment for Franklin and Eleanor right next to her own, complete with connecting doorways on each floor so she could “pop in anytime she pleased.” Eleanor told a friend, “You never knew when she would appear, day or night.”
Sara never missed an opportunity to criticize “Eleanor’s friends, her clothing, her care of Franklin and the way she raised her children.” She tried to turn her grandchildren against Eleanor by instigating arguments and stirring up resentments between them, once telling them “I was your real mother. Eleanor only bore you.”
Over the years, as Eleanor’s confidence grew, she stopped caring about her poor relationship with her mother-in-law.
In a letter to a friend after Sara’s death, Eleanor wrote: “What ironical things happen in life and how foolish it all seems. I looked at my mother-in-law’s face after she was dead and understood so many things I’d never seen before. It is dreadful to have lived so close to someone for 36 years and feel no deep affection or sense of loss.”
JFK: ‘My Mother Is A Nothing’
Joseph P. Kennedy was a wildly successful businessman. He was wealthy, powerful, and ambitious, but he was also amoral, ruthless and deceitful. He had very little respect for women, including his wife Rose. He made all of the family decisions with a single goal in mind, the further glorification of Joseph P. Kennedy. Rose, who saw her husband as the “architect of our lives,” held very little power in the Kennedy household, which is likely why JFK once said, “My mother is a nothing.”
Kennedy instilled in his children the belief that winning was everything in life, that “coming in second was just no good.” He wasn’t concerned with how they won, or even if the achievement of a particular goal was important to them, they just had to win.
Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin said of him:
Not once in more than 200 letters did he put forward any ultimate moral principles for his children to contemplate. On the contrary, he stressed to his children the importance of winning at any cost and the pleasures of coming in first. As his own heroes were not poets or artists but men of action, he took it for granted that his own children too wanted public success, and he confined himself to advising them how they could get it. All too often, his understanding about their desires and his practical advice were fruits of his experience and his dreams, not necessarily theirs.
He once boasted that, “I got Jack into politics. I was the one. I told him [elder brother] Joe was dead and that it was therefore his responsibility to run for Congress. He didn’t want to. He felt he didn’t have the ability…But I told him he had to.”
His wife turned a blind eye to his philandering. Kennedy’s most famous mistress was actress Gloria Swanson, whom he flaunted. He brought her home to meet his children and even once cruised across the Atlantic with Swanson and his wife, Rose. Swanson said:
If [Rose Kennedy] suspected me of having relations not quite proper with her husband, or resented me for it, she never gave any indication of it. In fact, at those times during the voyage when Joe Kennedy behaved in an alarmingly possessive or overly solicitous fashion toward me, Rose joined right in and supported him.
Was she a fool…or a saint? Or just a better actress than I was?
Without consulting his wife, he made the horrendous decision to have his mentally retarded daughter, Rosemary, lobotomized, a decision that had tragic consequences.
His sons achieved the goals he had set out for him. In November 1960, JFK had won the presidency, RFK would be named Attorney General and Ted had won a senate seat.
The following year, he suffered a massive stroke, which confined him to a wheelchair for the last eight years of his life.
“His legacy lives on, without a hint of irony, at the Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Institute of Ethics (emphasis, of course, added) at Georgetown University.”