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Volume 17, Issue 1: Femina


Nancy Wilson

Daughters-in-law don't have nearly the amount of bad press that mothers-in-law have, and I'm not sure that is entirely just. They have it in their power to make the lives of their mothers-in-law full of joy or trouble, and like all women in every station, they can turn to God's Word for clear wisdom and direction, or not.

The Bible is emphatic that children are to honor their parents. I do not think it is a stretch to apply this same command to in-laws. A daughter should honor her parents, and a married daughter should honor her husband's parents in the same way. She should do this unto the Lord, not because she automatically feels the same way toward her mother-in-law that she does toward her mother. No one expects a married woman to suddenly become as attached to her husband's mother as she is to her own. But she should still strive to show a great respect for and bestow a special kind of honor on her mother-in-law. This means that a married woman will be courteous, kind, and thoughtful toward her mother-in-law in the same way she would be to her own mother. In fact, because she has years of an established relationship with her own mother, she may need to go above and beyond to make her mother-in-law feel loved (while taking care not to neglect her own mother).
Courtesy implies graciousness and politeness. And what is graciousness but extending God's grace into our manners, so we are not stiffly polite but rather genuinely warm and friendly? Courtesy is treating others as we would wish to be treated, and it includes the way you talk to and about your mother-in-law (even to your husband). Ask your husband to help you get to know her better. He can interpret her if you are confused. He can guide you in establishing a solid relationship with her.
Kindness encompasses everything from regular phone calls and cards to caring for her when she is ill or helping her pick up the groceries. It is sympathetic and generous, looking for ways to be charitable and tender-hearted. It is quick to forgive and unwilling to bear a grudge. Kindness doesn't take offense if your mother-in-law offers advice (without your asking!) but receives it with humility instead of defensiveness.
And thoughtfulness includes your mother-in-law in the wonderful blessings of your married life, namely your children. Sometimes it is a juggle to balance time with both sets of grandparents. But strive to see that your children have the benefit of time with both sets of grandparents. Adapt to your in-laws' style. Maybe they would love to baby-sit for you. If so, take them up on it. But if not, don't impose on them.
I occasionally remind young married women that they have taken a new name and their children will bear this name. Though they should of course continue to nurture and enjoy the relationship they have with their own parents, it is important that they really leave and cleave. Your mother-in-law did the same thing that you have done: she left her father and her mother, and she married a man with a different last name. She has been grafted into this family tree the same way you have been. You really have a lot in common. Of course Ruth exemplifies this beautifully for us: "…Thy people shall be my people, and thy God, my God" (Ruth 1:16b). Few women today are in the same straits as Ruth, but the principle of her stalwart identification with her mother-in-law is a good subject for our reflections.
You can identify with your husband's family in many ways. Find out your husband's family history. Make an effort to visit his extended family. Gather up the old family recipes from the great-grandmothers and find out about the family traditions. Make your mother-in-law know that you are honored to bear the same last name. Not only will your husband be pleased to see you reverencing his family and his name, but your children will grow up knowing the family stories and being proud of their heritage.
Don't compare your mother-in-law to your mother. As my own mother-in-law says, "Comparisons are odious." You want to be thankful to God for the woman she is and not be discontented or wishing she were different or more like your own mother. The fact that she is the mother of your husband should in itself make you grateful. Thank her for all she did in raising him to be the kind of man you wanted to marry. Ask her to tell you about him. And listen. Listening does not mean that you agree with everything. Listening is a way of honoring.
Now some of this might seem too much like a fairy tale. I know there can be big family problems. If your mother-in-law is a real pain, and you are not imagining things, then you are still called to honor her. You can return good for evil, you can let love cover a multitude of sins, you can pray for much grace to be kind to her for the Lord's sake. If she is not trustworthy, then I am certainly not suggesting you let her baby-sit the kids anyway. But even with the most difficult situations, you can strive to be a faithful daughter-in-law, looking for opportunities to treat her with kindness for the Lord's sake and for your husband's sake. God always blesses our obedience to Him when it is rendered in faith.
God has given you one particular mother-in-law to honor. She may be a delight or she may be a challenge. Either way, you are called to be a good steward of the opportunity you have. Be a source of blessing to your mother-in-law. And by being a blessing to her, you will be a blessing to future generations.

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