Loving your mother-in-law can be a mixed bag. My mother-in-law made it abundantly clear that she didn’t approve of me from Day One. Her son, an angelic boy scout who surrendered to preach at the age of seven, could do no wrong. Helen had already handpicked Allison, her best friend’s daughter and childhood playmate, as an appropriate match for her perfect child.
Roger and I fell in love at first sight when I began my freshman year at Baylor University. He was a fiery young preacher who needed a pianist/singer to lead worship for his church services. I fit the bill. But I had not come across Mama Helen’s radar yet. When she heard of her son’s evil plot to thwart her arranged marriage, all hell broke loose. Although my future husband and I had been dating seriously for a year, his mom would not permit me to be photographed with him at his ordination.
Her reasons? I talked too much. I wasn’t from his home church. I was too charismatic. And he only wanted me for my body. Are you serious?
Finally, fifteen years and two children later, she decided I was going to stick around. We learned to love each other.
The Bible has much to say about mother-in-laws. Naomi, Moabitess Ruth’s mother-in-law, loved and cherished her widowed daughter-in-law. She was instrumental in helping Ruth to find a godly husband. Manipulative Rebekah caused her son Jacob to deceive her husband Isaac while he lay gasping on his deathbed. I imagine the integrity or lack thereof really influenced Jacob’s treatment of his wives, Leah and Rachel. The melodramatic story would top the ratings charts on daytime television. Lot’s wife’s worldliness almost got her daughters-in-law killed when she refused to leave Sodom under siege. And, Eve, well…how many mother-in-laws do you know who caused the fall of all mankind? Bummer.
Like it or not, if you have a husband, you married the kit and caboodle. You married a family. Whether parents-in-law or adult children realize it or not, the choices that are made are life altering for the entire clan.
For many parents, the grace to love and enfold these new family-members-by-law is a mere continuum of the parental love they enjoy with their own kids. However, some situations may require an attitude adjustment. Inevitably, embarrassing moments and even outright conflicts occur in in-law relationships. Sometime the problem happens not out of a vindictive, hateful motive, but simply out of ignorance or insensitivity.
Many women (and some men) complain that their mothers-in-law are meddling, over-bearing, critical, demanding and possessive.
Now I have walked in their shoes. And I have decided that “mother-in-lawing” is not easy. When I look at my daughters, I see them as little chicks protected under my wings. I can suffocate them and be driven by the fear that their husbands cannot take care of them. My daughters are wonderful! But I always walk the tightrope of watching my words and keeping my expectations in check. Plus I have learned to encourage, encourage, encourage. I also need to trust them to be grownups, to have their own families and to make their own decisions.
What does the Bible teach us about in-law relationships? Here are a few verses:
1. God commands spouses to “leave and cleave.” (Genesis 2:23-24).
A man and woman must leave their birth families and begin a new family, and they are to love and protect each other. A husband who allows his mother or his mother-in-law to interfere with his marriage is not living up to the commandment given to husbands in Ephesians 5:25-33. Husbands, love your wives by setting appropriate boundaries when necessary. Lead your family and mediate conflict.
2. God wants children to honor their parents.“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” Exodus 20:12. Honor may look like caring for them in old age, respecting them, listening to their wisdom and spending time with them when possible. Many extended families throughout the world often live together in the same house. Grandmothers and mothers-in-law often assist in the care of newborn infants. Share your kids with your parents and in-laws when possible. Don’t rob your children of half the toys; attention and hugs grandparents want to give!
3. Your mother-in-law has needs. “Jesus got up and left the synagogue, and entered Simon's home Now Simon's mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Him to help her.” Luke 4:38. Aging parents will need more and more care. Pray for them as well.
4. Be forgiving. Cut each other some slack. Try to walk in the shoes of the other person. My mother-in-law Helen cowered under her bed every night of her childhood, hiding from an alcoholic, abusive dad. She lost her pilot-husband in a fatal plane crash during World War II. She had an anxiety disorder. I should have seen how hard it was for her to live her daily life battling fear and depression. Christians can always give the grace of forgiveness (Ephesians 4:32).
If you can’t love your mother-in-law as a mom, befriend her. If you can’t befriend her, love her as your neighbor. If you can’t love her as your neighbor, love her as your enemy!
Dr. Julie Barrier, along with her pastor-husband, Dr. Roger Barrier, have taught conferences on marriage and ministry in 35 countries. The Barriers are founders and directors of Preach It, Teach It providing free resources in 10 languages to 5 million visitors in 229 countries and territories. The Barriers pastored 35 years at Casas Church in Arizona, Julie has served as a worship minister, concert artist and adjunct professor at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. She has authored or composed of over 500 published works.