The Mother-in-Law

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, “Mother-in-Law,” 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.

            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.  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.

            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.

            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 else’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.

 

Duties

Based on these principles, what do the mother-in-law’s duties look like? I think our basic duties are loyalty and service. Let’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. “And Naomi said unto her two daughters in law, Go, return each to her mother’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 wept” (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.

            We meet another mother-in-law very briefly is in Matthew 8:14-15, “Now when Jesus had come into Peter’s house, He saw his wife’s mother lying sick with a fever. So He touched her hand, and the fever left her. And she arose and served them.” 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 can’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.

 

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16 thoughts on “The Mother-in-Law

  1. Great stuff on the mother-n-law! Can’t wait to be one, but doesn’t look like any time soon. So, I just tuck this goodly instruction safely away and retrieve it the day I get to wear that hat! BTW, from the moment I wed my husband I had the privilege of living with my mother-n-law. We asked her to be part of our household due to her growing health problems and age and she accepted. It truly was a blessed 7 years with her in our home. She died of cancer right in our home. It was a beautiful and peaceful exit from this life and we were so grateful to walk together with her through that difficult time. We are confident we will see her on the side of glory! “The Mother-n-law” for me has become a treasure! God makes all things new – in how we can be as a mother-n-law and in how we can treat our mother-n-law! Isn’t God so good to give us those passages in His Word about them? Much love in Jesus to you, Nancy!

  2. Nancy, thank you. I needed this. As you know my own children are still young, oldest will be 14 in a few weeks and the only son after 3 girls is 3 weeks old now.

    I loved what you had to say and I believe it is indeed biblical and wise. However, when you come from another culture it throws a monkey wrench into everything. Now, I don’t mean that we should not be biblical, I mean cultural differences and expectations make it very difficult sometimes to do the right thing for both my own mother and my mother-in-law. I am middle-eastern, I am married to an American who descends from British and German stock. My parents are typical Iraqi Christian parents with all the trappings of the culture they were raised in (a crazy and schizophrenic culture that sucked up western feminism, materialism and made an idol of education mixed with Iraqi Christian family traditions and parenting. It’s crazy you would get a laugh out of it). My in-laws are Americans with all the trappings of the culture they were raised in (I don’t even want to get started on this one). This is actually a long conversation but I’ll try to keep it short. Cultural and family differences is something my husband and I deal with CONSTANTLY not only between the two of us but also in our relationship with both sets of parents.

    I’m going to keep it general here, I don’t want to “talk” about either one of them. Let me ask one question: In light of the fact that neither set of parents understands what we are trying to do for our covenant household, do you have any guidance for how I as a daughter and a daughter-in-law can deal biblically with their very different expectations of me?

    I know this is a huge topic and if you don’t have the time to address it I understand. However, writing something from a daughter or daughter-in-law view would be MOST helpful. I know your daughters and daughter-in-law are very busy also, but this would be a great area for them to contribute to. Although they all have the most wonderful privilege of having parents and in-laws with the same worldview (let’s hear it for covenantal faithfulness). Alas, we don’t all share that particular grace that the Lord grants to some of His people. May the Lord grant His mercy on our children and our children’s children.

  3. My mother-in-law has been one of the greatest blessings of my married life. I was not raised to be domestic, and she has patiently taught me so much. She is also a great grandma. I hope to be as good a mother-in-law one day, or at least close. It is so nice to have something to shoot for.

  4. I was a daughter in law long before I was a mother in law and I refuse to have my new daughter in law under the same bondage I have been under for the past 25 years – she’s free….

  5. As a new daughter in law, please, be kind to your daughter-in-laws. It’s hard on your sons to see thier mom be mean and hateful to their wives. And it’s difficult to care for a husband that struggles to take your side over a woman who has cared for him all of his life. No one wins. And although I chose not to leave a name, please keep my family in your prayers.

  6. I am reading this and am excited to see this. Our oldest son is getting married in a month and a half. I know it is hard for moms to release their boys but I will since I have four. Thank you for sharing. I would like to treat my new daughter in law with kindness, love and support in her new marriage to my son.

  7. I am a new MIL. My DIL has no respect for me. She does not allow my son to talk to me when she is home. I feel as though my son has died. I tried to be good to my DIL. I sent gifts to them both at Christmas, their birthdays and not even so much as “I received it” from her. My son did thank me for his. My son and I were always very close. I miss him so much. I have 5 more children and cannot bare the thought of this happening 5 more times. HELP.

  8. I wish I could help, but it is difficult from this vantage point, not knowing you or the situation. So I suggest you go to your pastor for help. One thing I do notice from your comment, though, is that you say your DIL won’t allow your son to speak to you. So if that is true, it seems the problem lies with your son more than with your DIL. He is the head of his home, and it sounds like he is not taking responsibility for this. You are not in a position to tell him to act like a man. But I would certainly pray that he would see his duties in this and put things right.

  9. My son just married this past weekend. I see this so clearly and I so appreciate the guidelines. I am the pastor’s wife so everyone is watching how I will handle this situation. I desire to do so with grace and scripture. I am waiting for the cd teaching on Mother’s in law and Grandparents. Thank you again for this insightful information.

  10. Your thoughts are noble and holy, but how I wish they are true in my life. My mother is a manipulative, bordering to mental person. She just have visited us for 2 days (more to go unfortunately) and my wife is already demanding a divorce. I caught my mother more than once manipulatively lying to me and making venomous remarks about my wife. Moreover, her favorite is to lay on the guilt trip on oh how hard she raised me and I am the ungrateful son.

    How I wish your fine thoughts from the Bible are true in real life.

  11. Alf,
    I hate to say it, but there are times when a godly son will have to stand up to an ungodly mother, even if the consequences are dire. Your loyalty has to be to your wife first. May the Lord give you the strength to do what is right.

  12. My mother inlaw lives with us. She gets mad and says, He is my son. She does not realize that she has no rights as a mom to him anymore. I mean that she thinks she has control over him like she use to. He is my husband now and she needs to get use to it. When we are not there, she bosses my daughter around and is very rude about it. She thinks it is a buddy buddy for her and I. Mike and I have our own lives and ideas. She trys to always get into the middle of everything. She has a major anger issue. ?she goes to church every chance she gets this includes bible sutdy, cloths closet, senior lunchons, visiting hospitals. When Mike and I applied Gods word to our lives, such as putting up scriptures on the fridge door, she gets mad and goes to Mike and asks him if he knows about it or she asks, is this aimed at me in an angery way. Unreal. Any help please write me.

    Sue.

  13. Sue,
    I suggest two things. One is to guard yourself from bitterness. No matter how wronged you may be, bitterness ends up swallowing your joy. Second, ask your husband to step in, surrounding you, so he can be the buffer between you and your mother-in-law. The answer is ultimately with him, but you can make sure in the meantime that you are sweetness and light.

  14. I have the problem too of getting to a blog and finding that I figure the conversation is already over hours ago. That’s the downside of putting the hour stamp on your comments by the way.

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