A fresh perspective…
Tobi Layton, married 7 years

I learned when I was in fifth grade that I can insult my family all I want, but woe to the outsider who dares follow suit. My dad was the coach of my basketball team. He is highly competitive. Fifth grade girls are not. I don't remember exactly what atrocities he committed during one practice, but they probably involved telling us to watch the ball or stop talking about boys.

Either way, it resulted in tears for my best friend, Laurie. I was furious with my dad! That is, until my other best friend, Tiffany, told me that my dad was mean. I couldn't have agreed with her more, but for her to say so unleashed a protectiveness in me that I have rarely felt since. That was my family she was dissing! I've often thought about this incident when the topic of in-laws comes up.

Ryan and I are each blessed to have wonderful in-laws. There have been very few conflicts between our little family and one or the other's family of origin. That's not to say that there are no differences in our upbringings. There are. But Ryan and I have always been careful to respect each other's families.

Our biggest source of in-law conflict arrived with the birth of our son, who happens to be the first grandbaby on both sides of the family. Since he came along several years ago, it seems that everyone is a lot more eager to see us (or more accurately, him). There aren't many weekends that we don't visit Ryan's folks, who live less than an hour away. Several times a year, we also make the 500-mile trek to see my family. This represents a significant increase in in-law traffic. And it has also caused an increase in in-law arguments.

After working a five-day week, I can be quite jealous of my weekends. And Ryan is none-too-fond of driving most of the nine long hours to Kansas. We value time spent with each other's family, but when it comes to putting the rubber to the road, we are both a little reluctant.  Neither of us resists family visits because we dislike the family. On the contrary, we thoroughly enjoy the time spent getting to know the parents who raised our spouse. But we both often balk at the suggestion of another trip to Mom and Dad's. Either trip means giving up time. And time is incredibly fleeting on weekends and vacation breaks.

It's hard not to take it personally when your spouse doesn't want to visit your family, no matter how legitimate their reason. "What do you have against my family?" Ryan will think, when I simply want to stay home for a weekend. And the answer is nothing, of course, just as I know Ryan has nothing against my family, other than the fact that they live too far away.

We both have great relationships with our parents and we are blessed to have in-laws who respect us as grown adults, capable of making our own decisions. Many of our friends cannot say the same. Many parents have refused to let go of their son or daughter, though the Bible commands that a man (or woman) "leave his mother and father and cleave unto his wife." Those are tough cases that will no doubt require prayer and resolve on a couple's part.

The rest of us should count our blessings, watch our attitudes, and do what all good couples in conflict do--compromise. We may not be totally up for an afternoon away from home or a weekend road trip, but more often than not, once we get there, we'll have a great time stepping into the environment that helped our spouse become who they are in this new family our marriage created.

A seasoned perspective…
Deborah Raney, married 34 years

There are three hot-button topics that are a source of conflict at some point in most marriages. Sex and money vie for first place, perhaps. But arguments about in-laws must surely be close behind. The issue of where to spend holidays, whose family traditions will win out, whose side of the family the kids will be named after, etc. are questions any couple with parents and siblings still living will have to deal with at some point. Even if your in-laws are deceased or uninvolved, you still deal with them—for better or worse—via the influence they had on your spouse.

Probably the biggest in-law issue (both parents-in-law and children-in-law) that we've dealt with over the years of our marriage is how much time would be spent with each set of in-laws. Of course, we each have tended to want to spend more time with our own family, to celebrate holidays the way they were celebrated in our family of origin, to prepare foods or keep our home the way our mothers did.

Fortunately, over the years, we've seen our separate family traditions meld into our own individual Raney family traditions—the ones our children will probably argue about with their spouses. Hopefully, we've honored each other's right to treasure and carry on meaningful family traditions. 

Thankfully, the in-law problems in our marriage have been few and far between. We believe there are several reasons for that:

• We both come from large families, so the attention of our in-laws has been "diluted" between numerous siblings and grandchildren.

• One set of in-laws lived 1500 miles away for many years and we only saw them once or twice a year. The other set of in-laws was involved in mission work and spent winters out of state or sometimes out of country. (If you have a strained relationship with your in-laws, it might be helpful to limit the time spent with them as much as is lovingly possible.)

• Both sets of our in-laws took a very hands-off approach. They were there if we needed help or advice, but they've never been overly involved in our lives. If anything, there have been times we wished they would visit us more often.

• Neither of our parents have ever sided with their child against the in-law. Instead, they have respected and honored our marriage and sought to encourage us in our relationship by praising the good qualities of the person their child chose to marry.

•Our parents pray for our marriage and for our spouse, and began doing so even before Ken and I ever met each other.

We've been blessed by the attitudes of our in-laws toward their relationships with us, and feel they have been very wise in their perspectives. Their thoughtfulness and maturity has all but eliminated a potential source of conflict in our marriage. We desire to adopt similar methods and attitudes with our own children and their spouses.

Discussion:

Read Matthew 19:4-6 and Ruth 2:10-12 (The entire book of Ruth is a wonderful study of in-law relationships.)

1. The Bible has many passages that refer to in-law relationships. Read the example concerning Simon's mother-in-law in Luke 4:38-39. What does this imply about Simon's relationship with his mother-in-law?

2. Read Matthew 10:34-36 and Luke 12:51-53. Jesus says that he has not come to bring peace, but to turn members of families against one another—including "a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law." What do you think this might mean? Have you seen examples of this in your own family or other families you know?

3. Have you struggled with your relationship with your in-laws? Has your spouse struggled with his or her relationship with your parents? Have you had conflict with the people your children chose to marry?

4. What is the source of those struggles? Competition for attention and affections? Envy? Pride? Disagreement on how life should be lived or how children should be raised?

5. Have you tried to be a peacemaker in your relationship with your in-laws? It's important to remember that all the Scriptures that apply to getting along with others also apply to getting along with in-laws. If there is strife in your relationship with in-laws, are you willing to take the first step toward reconciliation?

Make a list of the things you admire, respect and enjoy about your in-laws (either parents-in-law or children-in-law). Ask the Lord to help you concentrate on the positive aspects of their personalities and of your relationship with them.

Originally posted in March 2007.


Deborah Raney is at work on her nineteenth novel. Her first novel, A Vow to Cherish, inspired the World Wide Pictures film of the same title. Her books have won the National Readers' Choice Award, Silver Angel for Excellence in Media, and have twice been Christy Award finalists. Her newest series, the Hanover Falls Novels, will release from Howard/Simon & Schuster. She and her husband, Ken Raney, have been married for 35 years. They have four children, two little grandsons, and enjoy small- town life in Kansas. Visit Deborah's website at http://www.deborahraney.com.


Tobi Layton is a fifth grade teacher and freelance writer in southeast Missouri. Tobi has been married for eight years to Ryan Layton, a high school biology teacher. Tobi and Ryan are involved with the high school and junior high youth groups at their church in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. The Laytons have two sons.

Tobi Layton is the daughter of Ken and Deborah Raney. The Raneys and the Laytons share an August 11 wedding anniversary.