It seems to me that the mother-in-law has gotten pretty bad press. We are already behind the eight ball before we even begin, so we had better get a few ducks in a row so we can overcome all the stereotypes of the horrid mother-in-law. I still remember the chorus to some song in the sixties called, â€œMother-in-Law,â€ and my impression is it was not a song of praise.
The best place to start is always first principles. We are familiar with the passages in Scripture that teach us about marriage and family, husbands and wives, so from them we can derive a few guidelines for the mother-in-law. Pretty basic stuff here.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Your son or daughter has married someone from another family, with other family loyalties. This means an entirely different family culture is merging with yours. Your son has chosen a woman who has been raised by someone else. Think about all the things you have instilled in your own children. Someone else has done this with your daughter-in-law and your son-in-law. There is a whole life-time of experiences, training, family relationships and stories, ways of celebrating birthdays and Christmas, vacations, and favorite foods. A man will leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, making a new covenant household.Â Your daughter has been given in marriage to a man with another name, and she has taken that name. She is now a Miller or a Grauke or a Merkle or a Church or a Jankovic or a Wilson. She has different loyalties now; her household is a new creation. It is not identical to yours, even though she grew up in your home. There is a transformation taking place. Glory to God! What a privilege to watch it unfold. This is how God made the world. You want to cultivate a loyalty to this new household by holding it in honor and respect.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Of course you know that your daughter is to respect and submit to her own husband, so you want to reinforce, not undermine, this. Your son has assumed responsibility to lead his household and love his wife. You want to honor him for this and respect the new lines of authority in place.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â This does not mean you are no longer a mom. But your duties and role as a mother have changed dramatically. You are no longer responsible in the same way that you were. Your son or son-in-law has taken on new responsibility; your daughter or daughter-in-law is now under someone elseâ€™s authority. We believe this, we Amen this at the wedding, we have a high view of God’s design of the family, and so we should gladly live as though we believe it.
Based on these principles, what do the mother-in-law’s duties look like? I think our basic duties are loyalty and service. Letâ€™s look at some Scriptures here for help.
We want to set our children free, not load them with obligations and expectations.
Ruth sets her daughter-in-laws free; she does not put them under obligation to care for her or stay with her. â€œAnd Naomi said unto her two daughters in law, Go, return each to her motherâ€™s house: the LORD deal kindly with you, as ye have dealt with the dead, and with me. The LORD grant you that ye may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband. Then she kissed them; and they lifted up their voice, and weptâ€ (Ruth 1:8-19).
Ruth loves Naomi and determines to stay with her, and God blesses her abundantly for sticking with her beloved mother-in-law. Naomi is the kind of role model we need. When we set our children free, they do often come back like Ruth did. But Orpah went back to her own family. When parents set their children free rather than loading them with obligations and expectations, then they are free to come back, and they frequently do. But if parents lay a guilt trip on their kids, they will run away as fast as they can. So the mother-in-law ought to be like Naomi, trusting the Lord and setting her daughter-in-laws (and son-in-laws) free.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â We meet another mother-in-law very briefly is in Matthew 8:14-15, â€œNow when Jesus had come into Peterâ€™s house, He saw his wifeâ€™s mother lying sick with a fever. So He touched her hand, and the fever left her. And she arose and served them.â€ I think this epitomizes the duties of the mother-in-law: service. Jesus touched her hand, and then her hands got busy again. Peter’s mother-in-law got up from her sick bed and got to work serving. This is an impressive image. Now this will look different for each mother-in-law based on her gifts, abilities, and opportunities. Serving your married children can mean child care, meals, financial help, car help, moving help, cleaning help, or lodging help. Your own circumstances will determine what kinds of opportunities present themselves. But the good word to bear in mind here is bestowing, which means giving as a gift. It is not chasing them down the street and making them take something from us. And when we give, we just canâ€™t have any strings attached. That means if your daughter-in-law puts the coat you gave her for Christmas in her pile for Goodwill, you don’t get annoyed. You gave it with no strings. So direct all your service unto the Lord and be loyal to your kids.