The stereotypical mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship is often difficult. Daughters-in-law (DILs) frequently expect mother-in-law (MILs) to be intrusive, highly opinionated, and overly attached to their sons—and sometimes, unfortunately, they’re right.
While the relationships between my daughters-in-law and I are not perfect all the time, we’ve discovered what works for us. By sharing our insights and experience along with helpful Scriptures, we hope to help you too find an authentic and loving relationship with your mother-in-law.
During our research, we heard from many DILs in unhappy situations. Some were living the reality of a difficult MIL. Other DILs were creating drama that made the relationship unhealthy.
Where do we get our expectations about how our relationships with our MILs will work?
- They may come from our own observations prior to marriage.
- Perhaps we were influenced by the MIL/DIL relationships of sisters or close friends.
- It’s possible our hubby-to-be added his own spin on what to expect from his mama.
- Or maybe late-night TV comedians and the stereotypical Marie Barone of Everybody Loves Raymond have helped shape our expectations.
Mothers-in-law need a better public relations program; there’s a lot of bad press out there. Some of it may be earned, but much, if not most, is wildly exaggerated.
Have you believed that bad MIL/DIL relationships are the norm? Have you joined the ranks of those with high anxiety and low expectations regarding this important family connection? If so, you are living with a lie that suggests that the worst is the standard and nothing more is possible.
It’s critical to understand the role God has given the mother-in-law in your life, and what He expects. She is your husband’s mother and deserves to be honored. You may not like her, but respectful behavior is not optional according to the Word of God. Her behavior may make it difficult to have respect for her. It’s vital to remind yourself that you choose your behavior daily, and behaving respectfully is always the minimum standard of care.
What’s the outcome of disrespectful behavior toward your MIL?
- You fail to honor God’s Word. Christlikeness is nowhere to be found. Scripture commands us to reach out to those who are harsh; they’re unhappy people, often suffering (James 1:27 paraphrased).
- The opportunity to influence her for the Lord has been eliminated.
- Your husband may be terribly hurt. Even if he doesn’t love her behavior, he loves her.
- You set an example for your children, which, should they imitate it, will cause them to lose respect for motherhood in general and may cause them difficulties in their own in-law relationships down the line.
If having an open circuit of communication between you and your MIL has never been addressed, be the one to approach it. God has equipped you with all you need to approach a difficult conversation. James 1:27 warns us about the power words can hold. “A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it has the power to accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it,” (James 3:5 MSG, paraphrased).
The following suggestions can help build your relationship with your mother-in-law regardless of where it currently stands.
Tips on Making a Place for His Mom
Build a relationship with your MIL. Explore areas you can enjoy together. If she is showing an interest in you or your interests, nurture that. She’s attempting to build a relationship with you apart from being your husband’s mom.
Learn how to have conversations with your MIL without your husband as the go-between, unless it’s something you both need to say together. Asking him to be your mediator can make the situation more difficult, and it puts him in a bad position.
Learn what your MIL’s love language is. Does she respond more to acts of service than gifts? If so, offer to help clean up after a holiday meal instead of bringing her flowers. Does she appreciate words of affirmation? Acknowledge what a good cook (or mom or friend) she is. Knowing what’s most important to her can help create harmony.
Remember, this is a relationship for life. Approach it as a long- term investment. Keep things in perspective, and don’t let small things become big things.
Be flexible. Once you are married and understand how your husband’s family operates, you may be tempted to compare it to your family’s methods or feel yourself becoming competitive. Stop before it causes damage and hurt feelings.
Be mindful of the things you discuss with your MIL, regarding what goes on between you and your husband. If it’s not her business, don’t make it her business—that’s asking for trouble. She will feel the need to take sides. Plus, she will remember the issue long past when you and your husband have resolved it and moved on.
Once you start your family, have a conversation with your MIL about expectations. What type of child rearing advice, if any, do you welcome? Do you expect her to follow your rules when she babysits? Being clear on such matters is important; it gets you all on the same page.
Let your MIL know that you are interested in creating a unified family and would value the opportunity to be part of discussions that impact the entire group. Ask for shared decision making concerning holiday plans, birthday celebrations, and other family activities. It’s hard to feel part of something when you have no ownership.
Remind yourself that she is the woman who raised the man you love, even if your MIL is not a person you enjoy spending time with. Remember—you’ll be a mother-in-law someday too. If you sow grace and patience now, it will be returned to you. Sow contempt and unforgiveness, and you may discover that they make for a bitter harvest.
Pray for her. Ask God to show you how to love and respect your husband’s mom. It’s often the farthest thing from your thoughts, but God can do what you cannot: change her heart and mind—and perhaps yours too.
Wherever you find yourself on this journey, there are alternate roads to take. If the one you’re on isn’t working, perhaps it’s time to reassess your route.
October 27 is National Mother-in-Law Day! Deb DeArmond has written a book on the topic of the relationships between the women at the heart of the matter – MILs and DILs. The above is an excerpt from Related By Chance, Family by Choice (Kregel Publications), written with input from hundreds of survey respondents, interviewees, and focus group participants.
Deb DeArmond is an expert in the fields of communication, relationship and conflict resolution. A writer and professional speaker, DeArmond focuses on topics related to the family and women. Related by Chance, Family by Choice (Kregel Publications, Nov. 2013) is her first book and is focused on relationships between women-in-law. She is co-founder of My Purpose Now, a website devoted to Christian women 50+. Read more from DeArmond at Family Matters and My Purpose Now. Readers can also connect with her via Facebook,Twitter, or Pinterest.
Publication date: October 25, 2013