Charlotte “Charlie” Smith has been widowed for less than a year; her husband, Tom, died of complications from what was supposed to be a routine angioplasty procedure. Charlie now is the sole parent to their daughter, Sara, who is in first grade, as well as Ben, their thirteen-month-old son. Twenty years ago, Charlie met Tom at University of Florida, where they both attended college and where Tom was a star football player. Tom swept the somewhat shy Charlie off of her feet, and Charlie quickly and happily settled into marriage and family life with Tom.
Now a widow, Charlie understandably feels very alone and overwhelmed with shouldering all of the responsibilities for supporting and caring for herself and the children, a responsibility that she previously shared with Tom. Tom had a dominant personality and enjoyed playing the role of the “male provider and protector,” and Charlie undeniably came to rely on Tom over the twenty years that they were together. Like many marriages, Charlie handled “the details” as the wife in the family and Tom primarily took responsibility of financially supporting the family and assuming the role as the overall family provider.
After Tom’s death, Charlie’s only other family remaining (outside of the children) is Tom’s mother, Rose, who lives in Boston. Rose and Charlie never really hit it off, and while they always got along with each other in a cordial and formal sense, it mainly was for Tom’s sake. Charlie could never shake off the feeling that Rose didn’t think Charlie was good enough for her son. Fortunately, the fact that Tom and Charlie lived in Florida and Rose lived up in Boston kept any uncomfortable feelings to a minimum – if simply due to the geographical distance between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law.
When Charlie learns that she will be laid off from the pharmaceutical supply company that she works for, she feels numb and scared. How will she support the kids? What will she do? As it is, Charlie barely scrapes by to make the mortgage payment and cover the basic bills, and that is with her friend Dianne providing free childcare while Charlie works during the week. Now Charlie has to find a new job and start from scratch. Fortunately, her employer is able to give her a transfer to the Boston office; and after mulling over the opportunity, Charlie accepts the job offer to work in Boston.
Charlie informs Rose that she and the kids are relocating to Boston, and Rose is overjoyed that her grandchildren will be near her. Rose immediately suggests that Charlie and the kids move into her home, at least for a few months, to allow them to acclimate to the area and give Charlie a chance to save some money. Being that Charlie still has to sell their Florida home (and make the monthly mortgage payment until then), Charlie accepts Rose’s offer to share her home – which Rose claims is much too big for her since “Tom Sr.” died so many years ago. As Rose is a widow herself, it seems that she could use some companionship even though Charlie has never seen eye-to-eye with Rose. Rose’s blunt and often-critical nature grates on Charlie’s nerves and, at the very least, hurts her feelings. However, Charlie simply cannot say “no” to Rose’s offers to help, especially when Rose offers to take care of Ben each weekday and Sara, as well, when she gets out of school, which will save Sara a bundle in daycare costs.
After a stressful and exhausting fourteen-hour car trip with the two kids, their German Shepherd dog, and as many belongings as Charlie can pack in her van, the trio arrives in Boston and on Rose’s doorstep. While Rose and Charlie get off to a tense start, the two begin to slowly develop a friendship and companionship that they have never shared before. Charlie adjusts quickly to her new job due to her friendly co-workers and with Rose’s help with the kids during the week. Rose is there for Charlie and the kids as they adjust to their new life in Boston, and Charlie, in turn, helps give Rose a new perspective on life – and gently tells Rose that is not too late to consider dating again. Rose is baffled by the idea of dating, and she instead wants to concentrate her efforts of finding eligible bachelors for Charlie, although the prospect of dating is incomprehensible to Charlie at this point in her life, due to her responsibilities toward her children and the fact that Tom was the only lover she had ever had.
Dating The Mrs. Smiths is a poignant, heartwarming story about a daughter-in-law and mother-in-law seeing through their differences and learning to compromise as they live together and raise two young children. While the changes are not easy for Charlie, she finds Boston to be more refreshing than she anticipated because she does not have the stigma and pity as the young widow that she did in Florida. Also, Charlie is now able to see that while she loved Tom, he was not the perfect husband, and she helps Rose understand that neither Tom nor Tom Sr. need to be characterized as a perfect man in order to be fondly remembered and cherished – and this realization helps both women heal and take the next step in life, rather than being grounded in the past. The novel takes an entertaining and amusing turn as Rose begins dating after so many years and Charlie begins testing the waters, as well, and various eligible bachelors keep the reader guessing as to who (if anyone) that Charlie might end up with. I recommend this book to fans of women’s fiction, contemporary fiction, and to fans of romance, as well.