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Volume 16, Issue 5: Femina

Mother-in-law

Nancy Wilson

As we look forward to our children being married, we have to realize that it means a change in the job description for us moms. Of course this has been happening all along: what a mother does for her infant is vastly different from what she does for her toddler or teenager. Becoming a mother-in-law is just another wonderful promotion. But like everything else, it is accompanied with unique temptations.

What is the stereotypical mother-in-law noted for? We all know this part of our cultural catechism very well: she is domineering, critical, opinionated, and a pain to be around. So the obvious biblical conclusion to draw from this is "Don't be like that." Sounds easy, doesn't it? Well, actually it is if we really think about it. We all have access to God's Word, we have the Holy Spirit to enable us to be obedient and godly, and we have a Savior who forgives us when we repent. It is also a great blessing if you have children and children-in-laws who are also quick to forgive, because you are going to need it.
Mothers are used to giving "input" to their children from the time they are born. Of course we are to taper off as they become young adults, but the temptation is going to be to continue after they are married. But it is imperative that parents are not critical of either your children or in-laws. Lay off. Let love cover it! Of course your in-law children did not grow up in your home, so they will do things differently. Learn to enjoy these differences. If you see something that is clearly ungodly, pray about it. Ask God to deal with it, but only after you have asked Him to deal with you first. Maybe you are not seeing the whole picture. Maybe it isn't as bad as you think. Maybe you are being a fuss-budget. Do not offer your two cents unless you are asked. Though you felt free to teach and instruct your children when they were growing up, it is now time to be done. You had your chance. Now be quiet. And instead of the criticism, replace it with gratitude. Thank your in-law children for all the wonderful things they do. Praise them! Tell your son what a sweet wife he has; tell your daughter how thankful you are for that husband of hers. No matter what faults you may see, there are far more virtues for you to rejoice in than faults. But if you have a critical spirit, you are blinded to many of the graces that may be obvious to everyone else. Repent of your critical spirit. Ask God to replace it with thanksgiving and appreciation. And start using your tongue to build up, encourage, and praise. And remember that a critical attitude can be expressed by a look or a tone of voice, even if you are not saying specifically negative words.
Don't take their decisions about what they do in their family personally. This is so important, so let me explain. Perhaps you home schooled your children at great personal sacrifice. But now that they have their own children, maybe they are thinking about using the local Christian day school to educate their kids. Don't blow up. Don't freak out. Don't be negative. Think of how you can help contribute toward their tuition, and make sure you go to every event that your grandchildren are involved in whether it is the Christmas program, Grandparents' day, or all those basketball games. Likewise, if you sacrificed to start a Christian school for your own kids, but now they want to home school their own children, don't take it personally. It doesn't mean they don't appreciate all you did for them. Think of ways to help pay for the books and supplies. Help out on the field trips. Be a hands-on grandma who is a cheerleader for your children no matter what. Nothing alienates your married (or unmarried, for that matter) children from you quicker than being critical of the choices they make regarding their own children, whether it is birthing at home or at a hospital, educational choices, childrearing decisions, alternative medical decisions, and so forth. Your kids need your support, not your icy stare. Many young married couples are worrying years in advance about how their parents are going to take it when they tell them what they have decided to do about x, y, or z. This only complicates their decision making. So set them free. Say something like, "Look you guys. We educated you in the Christian classical school. But you may decide to home school. We want you to know that we will support you 100% whatever you decide to do. Don't ever worry that we will be upset if you don't do it the same way we did. You are the parents, and you can count on us to cheer you on all the way." Imagine the tremendous sigh of relief on the part of your children. They will love being around you and will love telling you what they are planning and doing with their kids, because they will know that your love is unconditional and has no strings attached to any method. This is simply the golden rule. Many of you remember what it was like to feel your own parents' disapproval regarding these issues. Don't do to your kids what you wished your parents hadn't done to you.
Don't impose expectations on your married children when it comes to holidays. Set them free to spend time together as a family, to go to the other set of in-laws for Christmas, or to come to your house. Tell them you are flexible. Don't make them promise to be at your house. Share, don't demand. Don't put a guilt trip on them about how disappointed Aunt Suzie will be. Concentrate on making them feel welcome any time. And don't feel competitive with the other set of in-laws trying to out-give. Enjoy the fact that God has established a new household and respect and honor them in it. God (and your children) will bless you for it.

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