I’ve had a request to write something for daughters-in-law, and though there may be something stashed away in the archives, I’ll just try to whip up something fresh.
First of all, the daughter-in-law does not have the bad reputation that the mother-in-law has. All the trouble seems to be on that end, and though that may be a wicked generalization, we should at least acknowledge that the mother-in-law, being the older party, should be the one to roll out the red carpet and do all in her power to make life easy for her daughter-in-law.
For instance, consider that most all of us who are mothers-in-law are also daughters-in-law. That should give us a terrific advantage since we ought to remember how it felt to be the new one in the family, a family with a different name and background than our own. I had a very comfortable transition into my husband’s family since I knew most them before I ever met him, and I was already quite fond of his mother. But for some of you out there, this may not be the case at all. Expect this to take time. Don’t rush it.
I think there are a few weird expectations put on the daughter-in-law, and one of those is that she should feel the same way about her mother-in-law as she does about her own mother. (And by extension, she should feel the same way toward sister as sister-in-law, etc.) Now that is asking for something that is unnatural. You’ve had your own mother for many years, and your mother-in-law is brand new on the scene. So even if you come to love your mother-in-law dearly, she cannot instantly be in the same league as your dear old mom. Of course there may be circumstances where that comes to pass naturally, and that’s terrific and wonderful. But it should not be the unspoken expectation. If it is, then the daughter-in-law may be feeling a lot of false guilt about her inability to crank up the same emotional attachment that she has for her own mother. I think once a daughter-in-law becomes free from such an expectation, free to not worry about it anymore, she will have an easier time getting to know and like her mother-in-law. But if she is constantly hounded by the feeling that she is falling short, or if she is always striving to keep her affections tallied up equally, her connection to her mother-in-law will necessarily be all tangled up with comparisons. And comparisons are odious, as my own mother-in-law is fond of saying.
Many times a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law do become very attached to one another, as in the case of Ruth and Naomi. And of course that is wonderful, a sweet blessing. But the relationship should be able to stand alone, and not be in comparison to the relationship between mother and daughter. Otherwise there is the danger of jealousy and competition on the mother’s part. So you see, there is room enough to sin in just about every direction. In pursuing a good relationship with a new mother-in-law, a daughter should be careful not to slight her own mom. A good and healthy friendship has no room for comparisons or envy or competition. There should be room enough for both mother and mother-in-law without any squabbling.
A daughter-in-law should look to her husband to help her if she is having any trouble navigating this relationship with his mother. She should trust his judgment and follow his lead. He does, after all, know his mom quite well. And he is the one ultimately responsible for the relationship his wife has with his mom. These things take time and we all need to exercise patience. With a little tender care over time, these in-law relationships can become very sweet indeed. If you are starting out with a big deficit, it may take longer for the bonds of love to really take hold. And sometimes it is impossible. If you are in one of those impossible situations, simply take it as it is and press on. You might never be a close friend to your mother-in-law. But you can still pray for opportunities to overcome evil with good. And we serve a God Who delights in doing the impossible.