Developing Healthy Family Relationships

Let’s move on to the next truth in in-law relationships:

All the patience and privileges shown to family belong to those who marry in to it.

Countless jokes have been made and TV shows created that zero in on the dynamic at play when a new member comes into the family. We all laugh at the competition between Debra and Marie in Everybody Loves Raymond and, for some of you more mature readers (that’s a PC phrase for “older”), Meathead’s inability to do anything right in the eyes of his father-in-law, Archie Bunker, in All in the Family. Though the scenarios are exaggerated, something in them resonates with us as true. Far too often in life, the introduction of a new person into the family is met with friction instead of joy, and sometimes it starts even before the wedding. . . .

Three days before the wedding ceremony, a bride called her mother. In a panic, she lamented, “Mom, I just found out my fiancé’s mom bought the exact same dress as you did for the wedding.”

The bride’s mother was silent for a moment and then answered, “Don’t worry, dear. I’ll just buy another dress to wear to the wedding.”

“But Mom,” her daughter protested, “that dress was so expensive. What will you do with it? It’s such a waste not to use it.”

“Who said I won’t use it?” the mother retorted. “I’ll just wear it to the rehearsal dinner.” (Some of you men may need to ask your wives to explain!)

Already this mother was striving to be a step ahead of her son-in-law’s family, and already she was setting the stage for trouble.

Mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law in particular seem to struggle in adjusting to their new roles after marriage. Mom is afraid of losing her place in her “little boy’s” life, and the new wife is sometimes threatened by the long-standing bond of affection her husband has with his mother. This does not have to be. Scripture provides us with a poignant picture of a loving mother-in-law–daughter-in-law relationship in the story of Naomi and Ruth.

One day Naomi said to Ruth, “My daughter, it’s time that I found a permanent home for you, so that you will be provided for. . . .

“I will do everything you say,” Ruth replied. So she went down to the threshing floor that night and followed the instructions of her mother-in-law.

—RUTH 3:1, 5–6

I won’t take the time to repeat the entire story here, but I do think it’s important to note a couple of things. First, Naomi referred to Ruth as “daughter,” and as her “mother,” she took it upon herself to do for Ruth all that she would have done for her own biological daughter. Good mothers-in-law do that. They accept the new member of the family as their own and do not set a higher expectation for them than they do for their biological children. The same mercy and grace they show to their children encompass the new member of the family as well.

Maybe some of you mothers recognize yourself as lacking in this area. Maybe you realize that you have been placing heavy expectations on your daughter-in-law or son-in- law that you don’t even expect your own children to fulfill. If you have treated the new addition to your family, the spouse of your child, with less patience and privilege than you show your children, how will that young man or woman ever be able to honor you and value your input and instruction in his or her life? Remember the scriptural admonition: you reap what you sow.

Excerpt from “Happily… Even After” now available on Amazon.