Mother-In-Law: The Dirty Word
The word mother-in-law may as well be a swear word to many women. If you have ever seen the old sitcom, “Everybody Loves Raymond,” you will see a mother-in-law in Marie which characterizes the commonly accepted and maybe even expected view of the mother-in-law figure.
She is overbearing, manipulative, dissenting, and even disparaging toward her daughter-in-law. Overall she might be a loving person, and a wonderful grandmother, but the tension always exists pitting the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. Often the son (the husband) is stuck in the middle trying to traverse the stormy waters between both women not wanting to disown his mother and yet simultaneously please his wife.
When my husband and I were first married, I struggled in my relationship with my mother-in-law more than was warranted. We were polar opposite personalities. She was no Marie by far, but it was still a definite transition for me.
I came from a family that functioned very differently from my husband’s family. His family spent a lot more time together. They ate together weekly, talked to each other daily, and well, it was completely foreign to me the amount of hours his family invested into one another.
This might sound delightful to many, but to a newly married, rather independent and selfish woman, I wanted my husband and the baby that came a year after all to myself. It took me a long time to learn how to share. It took me a few years to learn how to be a part of my husband’s family and to truly cherish and appreciate my mother-in-law.
When The Storms Raged
Within less than two years of marriage, life took a turn we did not expect. By our first year of marriage we had a new baby and my husband had graduated college. That college degree did not come with a subsequent job. My husband found himself struggling to find good work and so we needed to leave our apartment. We moved into my in-laws basement.
During a roller coaster of years consisting of a poor job market, two more babies, and a lack of a church family, my mother-in-law went from being a perceived “enemy” to becoming my friend.
My in-laws went above and beyond to help us, to support, and encourage us through such a difficult and trying time. They shared their wisdom, their home, their love. They were the body of Christ to us, and my heart changed toward them.
My heart changed toward my mother-in-law not just because of what they did for us but because I realized how very wrong I had been.
Giving and Earning Respect
I did not respect my in-laws when I came into their family. I expected to be respected, but I did not give freely in return. This is one of my biggest regrets in our early years of marriage.
How do you respect someone with whom you struggle so much to be around?
I have a few practical suggestions from my own experience:
1.) Do not speak ill of your in-laws to your husband. It is good to discuss issues with our husbands and to seek their wisdom as to how to rectify a situation. When our discussing becomes nagging, manipulative, and for all accounts unending ranting, we have crossed a significant line. This is sin, and we must call it for what it is no matter how justified we feel in the matter. Do not put your husband in the middle having to choose between his mother and his wife. It is a completely unfair ultimatum.
2.) Do not speak ill of your in-laws in front of your children. Be very careful how you speak of family in front of your children. Children are so perceptive and your feelings will inevitably rub off on them. Your children may even lose respect for you because of the hypocrisy. You teach them to be respectful and not gossip, yet you are practicing it. This will not just turn your children possibly against family or you, but habitual hypocrisy in Christian parents tends to lead children away from Christ.
3.) Do not speak ill of your in-laws to others. It is great to have a close, godly friend to cry to but guard your speech. If your friend is not giving you sound Biblical wisdom objectively and praying with you and for you about your struggles then choose a new friend. A friend that only encourages our happiness but does not challenge us to righteousness, is no friend.
4.) Serve your Mother-In Law. Make special and sincere attempts to bridge the gap even if its out of your comfort zone. When you sincerely try to make inroads with those whom you do not get along, God will bless. If your mother-in-law is ill, bring her soup. If your mother-in-law is having a difficult week, spend a spa day together or send her some flowers.
5.) Pray for your in-laws. When you pray for those you despise, bitterness cannot take root. Sin cannot remain where the Spirit resides. In your quiet time, pray that God would change your heart toward your in-laws and give you opportunities to serve them and bless them.
Learn to Compromise
There are many types of in-laws, some are definitely more difficult to get along with than others. Some in-laws may even be impossible to be around due to behavior or beliefs.
I have heard different women tell me that they practically disowned their in-laws over simple preferences. The mother-in-law gave too many sweets or did not respect bedtimes. There is a certain point where we need to reassess what are truly important issues versus what our personal preferences might be. What is vital versus what is in essence silly.
1.) Check Your Heart. We need to regularly reassess the motives of our own heart. Why are we doing what we are doing, saying what we are saying, and acting how we are acting? Our motives may be selfish, and our attitudes may be sinful. Whether we feel justified or not we may be able to give a little on our side even if it hurts out of respect for both our mother-in-law and our husbands. We need to seek for ways to meet her standards, and not just pinpoint where she does not live up to our own.
2.) Pray. I said this before, but you cannot pray enough that God would heal the divide. He did it for me, I know He can do it for you!
3.) Submit To Your Husband. I have already touched on not overextending the grace of your husband as you struggle with your mother-in-law. However, we as women also need to understand that as our leader, our husbands receive the final word over our struggle. We must submit to our husband’s authority and if he says “enough is enough” concerning the strife then we must do our best to subdue our emotions and seek God for strength and patience.
You may be in a situation where your in-laws are unsaved and you cannot submit your children to the lifestyle and beliefs of that side of the family. This should be a decision in which your husband has the final say. You must allow your husband to take the lead, and quietly submit to his authority. I say “quietly” because we women have a tendency to make our opinions known very loudly. Even if you cease to spend time with your in-laws, you still ought to respect them out of love and care for your husband. Choosing to end contact with family should never be a joyous occasion or taken lightly. It should be taken very seriously, prayed over, grieved over, and reassessed regularly as to your own motives and attitudes bearing in the situation.
Learning to Let Go
Relationships are never perfect with anyone. You may be trying very hard to do all of these things, and yet your mother-in-law or other in-laws just do not respond in kind. It is so difficult to keep loving when no love is given in return.
As Christians, remember we are called to love as Christ loved. We give until it hurts and then we give some more. This is not easy, but we pray for the perseverance to do it, and to do it with a sincere heart.
If there is one thing I have learned in six years of marriage, it is that “warm fuzzies” are not the definition of love. Love is first and foremost an action, not necessarily a feeling. When we love and respect others in and through our actions, God will bless.
My husband and I struggled during the first years of our marriage significantly, and much of it was due to my selfishness in relation to how I dealt with his family. It took an overhaul of my heart to be able to see and admit my own faults. I made many a mountain out of molehills. Life would have been a little easier had I submitted to my God and trusted the future He so carefully designed for me.
Now six years later, I can honestly say that I consider my mother-in-law my friend. I love her dearly, respect her wisdom and experience, and consider her a Godly woman in which I desire my children to learn from. I have learned much from her myself. I do not always do it all right, and neither does she, but I am so glad that God has blessed me with such a wonderful Titus 2 example of a woman.
How Do You Navigate Your Relationship With Your In-Laws?
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