Connecting: Mothers & Daughters-in-Law
Let’s be truthful. When someone says “mother-in-law,” it is often followed by an eye-roll or groan. I think of the controlling, busy body, meddling character, Marie, on the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond. She justifies her behavior with one of her favorite lines, “What I do comes from love.”
My boys have jokingly said, “Mom, I hope you never act like Marie.” I do keep that in mind. I have been a daughter-in-law for over thirty years and have been a mother-in-law for almost three years, recently adding the second daughter-in-love, as I affectionately refer to them. I have made mistakes in both roles, but hopefully I have learned some things along the way.
The Example of Ruth
The book of Ruth tells us the true story of a mother/daughter-in-law relationship. Ruth raised the bar high in regard to the way we should treat a mother-in-law. Naomi wasn’t a great mother-in-law, by any means. She was a bitter, selfish, and, I would guess, miserable woman. Even after Ruth’s husband, Naomi’s son, died, Ruth cared for and honored Naomi. Naomi’s behavior was no secret to people around her, and they noticed Ruth’s kindness toward her.
Ruth left no room for an excuse concerning the way we are to treat mothers-in-law, even the difficult ones. Why did Ruth do it?
She chose to honor and be kind to Naomi, not of her own will, but out of reverence and honor to God. As a result, God blessed Ruth. She did it, not through strength of her own, but through God’s strength in her. Your effort in building a relationship with your mother-in-law is an expression of love toward your husband. It will bless your marriage.
In Her Shoes
It may help to try to understand a mother-in-law’s perspective when another person enters the scene, and her position changes. She was in the picture long before you were. Women are nurturers, and we want to protect our territory. “Mama Bear” can appear quickly and without warning if she believes her territory is being threatened, even if it isn’t.
Let her see you loving and caring for your husband. Pray for her and the relationship. Even if she is difficult, we are instructed to pray for those who persecute us and bless those who are against us. Show interest in her. Compliment her on something. Look hard, you can find something, even if it’s just the fact that without her, you wouldn’t have your husband. Honor her. Communicate with kind words and grace. That’s a hard one sometimes, but Ephesians 4:29 says that we are to let no corrupt talk come out of our mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
Suggestions for connection:
- If you have kids, text or email pictures of the grandchildren. Facetime is even better.
- Send random texts of funny things throughout the week.
- Share your hurts and concerns with her.
- Make her feel welcomed in your home.
- Ask her opinion about something (make it a safe topic).
- Invite her to do something with you. It doesn’t have to be something that takes all day, maybe just a quick trip to the store.
Pitfalls to avoid:
- Don’t put your husband in the middle of any conflict between you and your mother-in-law. There may be times when appropriate boundaries need to be set, especially in the early years of marriage. Discuss this with your spouse and have him firmly put those in place and follow through.
- Don’t have unrealistic expectations of your mother-in-law. Respect her differences without being offended.
- Don’t become discouraged. A good relationship may take time. It may never happen. We can’t change other people. Meet her where she is.