In-laws, Out-laws

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.

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12 thoughts on “In-laws, Out-laws

  1. I think this assumes that the d-i-l has gone through the courtship/dating process correctly and has espoused herself to one who is in right relation to his mother. What would your advice be to the young lady who was not so wisely guided and finds her new husband to be unwilling to “leave and cleave”? By this I mean his mother expects to fill roles in his life that are rightly the place of the new wife. The father of the groom does not curb his wife, and the groom will not stand firmly beside his wife when his mother oversteps her boundaries.
    Or how about when the husband stands beside his wife, but he is not at all respectful/honoring to his mother in the process?

  2. Another thing for daughters-in-law to remember is that mothers-in-law may feel just as awkward and uncertain, especially if this is the first marriage in the family. For instance, do we as a family do the usual birthday customs on the daughter-in-law’s birthday, or would the daughter-in-law rather do something alone with hubby? As things come up we just try to keep the lines of communication open and ask. But it takes a while on both sides to really get to know each other and feel totally comfortable.

  3. This column is always a blessing! Having only sons, I have learned that you are so right! The mother-in-law must “roll out the red carpet” and love and respect her daughter-in-law. After all, she loves her son and wants the Lord’s best for him, which includes a sweet relationship with his wife.

  4. This column is always a blessing! Having only sons, I have learned that you are so right! The mother-in-law must “roll out the red carpet” and love and respect her daughter-in-law. After all, she loves her son and wants the Lord’s best for him, which includes a sweet relationship with his wife.

  5. Nancy –

    If you’ve time to expound – or if you could point to a place where someone has expounded – I’d really appreciate more guidance in the area of “impossible.” I, and a number of my friends, are married to Christian men who have unbelieving mothers. This unbelief combined with sometimes vast personality differences can be tragic. I really struggle with how to honor my husband, and encourage him to honor his mother, because of her constant, active mean-spirit toward Christ and his Church, as well as her not so nice spirit towards me. I guess I, and I think i’m not alone, need help knowing what “pressing on” looks like. Other than prayer, of course, how do we bring glory to God, minister to our husbands and mothers-in-law, while at the same time protecting ourselves (and our children).
    Thanks for all that you do!

  6. What about a daughter-in-law who refuses to even try to love her mother-in-law, or acts like she wishes her husband was orphaned as an only child?

  7. Thanks for your words of wisdom! My husband is a great leader in this area which is a blessing since I have 2 mothers-in-law (you know the good ole divorce situation). It is still a struggle at times since it is hard to be close to either of them. Thank you for the encouragement to press on!

  8. After my mother and father-in-law realized I was going to marry their son, they began really spoiling me. They cooked me special meals when I came in town to visit and even took me on shopping trips. They were generous, thoughtful and welcoming. They have since commented to me that many of their friends wish they had the kind of special relationship that I have with the Brownlees. I wonder how many parents-in-law take the time to really welcome their daughters-in-law like mine did. I certainly felt blessed by them and hope to one day do the same if I am blessed with daughters-in-law! 🙂

  9. Allow me to point out that if you’re going to be guided by your husband (and I think you should) it might help to find out if he’s actually clued in to what’s going on around him. Since we have different political/theological beliefs from his parents there are certain conversations that he just doesn’t tune into too deeply. Then something would happen that would get my head in a muddle, and he wouldn’t have noticed what had happened when I asked him about it later. Took us three years to figure out why sometimes we’d have these frustrating conversations after getting together with his folks =)

    I should add that despite our differences my in-laws are wonderful people. My father-in-law in particular seemed about to bust, and kept going around asking people “Have you met my new daughter?” 😀

  10. I’ve never forgotten reading in an old credenda (by you) that you should always remember to be thankful to your mother-in-law, after all, she produced your husband!

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