Making Peace with the In-Laws
Becoming part of a new family is a tricky ordeal, but it is worth your time! It is also a great opportunity to practice forgiveness. I can say this because I can speak to the issue from both sides of the coin! For 31 years I have been a daughter-in-law, and for the past five, I have been a mother-in-law. When my husband and I were courting and considering marriage, both sets of parents had some reservations. Jody is quick to tell anyone who will listen that after three years of dating, when he asked my father for my hand in marriage, my dad replied, “No.” And, initially Jody’s parents were none too thrilled with me either. Jody’s parents wrote him letters trying to dissuade him from dating me. Mistakenly, Jody shared one of those letters with me. Now for my young readers, “letters” are like e-mail messages, but they are written by hand on stationary and are sent in the mail with a postage stamp. This is how we used to communicate with people who lived out of our city limits … and in the case with my in-laws … in different states. I am thankful that Jody and I had a big enough dose of the Gospel to forgive and forget and move forward. I cannot say that it happened instantaneously, but with time the wounds did completely heal. And, I’m glad my husband and I asked God to heal the wounds instead of letting them fester into bitterness.
Now in defense of our parents, they acted on their perceptions of what was in our best interests. My Dad says that he did not tell Jody, “No.” Instead, and because Jody and I were still so young and had not yet finished college, he says that he told Jody, “Not yet.” And, I believe, my husband’s folks were holding on to him tightly and didn’t want to see their little boy grow up. Because who wouldn’t want me for their daughter?! 😊 Today, Jody is a valued member of my family, and I feel very well loved by Jody’s folks too!
Now on the other side of the coin, in a quick three-month period of time, and just five years ago, my husband and I watched our two oldest children marry. Our youngest married only a few years later. Jody and I now have six God-given children – one set of three were birthed into our family, and the other set of three were gifted to us through love. Both sets had weighty and somewhat troublesome gestational periods. And with each of the six, Jody and I experienced a period of travail as they entered into our world. Two of our children’s chosen mates made perfect sense to us, but one did not – initially. So, if your in-laws did not instantly embrace you and see you as the perfect creation by God, that you are, remind yourself that your in-laws are human … just like Jody and I are.
In defense of parents, they spend all their time raising their children, praying for them and encouraging the natural talents and abilities that God has given to them. Typically, parents do not see their children through rose-colored glasses. They know their child’s strengths and challenges. Dare we say, weaknesses? And when their child brings home another young person of the opposite sex who has stolen their heart, parents look to see if this new person completes their child’s short comings. Parents look for a set of shared characteristics that they know the couple will need as adults braving all that awaits them in the world. This is not self-serving, it is practical. And if parents think they can quickly let go of 20+ years of dedicated protection without looking for these characteristics, they only fool themselves. It happens. My one child, gifted to us through love, who experienced the most difficult gestational period, knows exactly who he is. 😊
My daughter, Maddy, and her husband, James, began dating when they were very young and right after my husband deployed with the Army Reserve to Iraq. They got serious – very quickly. By the time my husband returned home 14 months later, James and Maddy’s relationship looked unbreakable. Jody and I panicked. We tried to talk Maddy out of her relationship with James. By the way, if you can be dissuaded, you should be! Marriage is tough and is no place for someone who is wishy-washy. But Maddy’s resolve was firm, and we conceded. I am sure we hurt James’ feelings, but I believe he now knows that our opinions of him changed over time. In my first draft of this blog, I wrote, "changed pretty quickly.” But I changed it to, “changed over time.” This was James’ only correction. Out of respect and love, I let him pre-read this post.
The ways in which James completes our daughter, whom we thought was already almost perfect, were subtle. Jody and I have seen that he brings some much-needed levity to our very serious daughter. James is also more extroverted and forces Maddy out of her comfort zone – a role that I had traditionally played. We have also come to know his character and appreciate the honorable young man he is. We admire him for his dedication to his family. And most important, we appreciate the way James loves God with his whole heart. He is every bit as loved as any of my first three children who, by the way, gave me stretch marks. Jody and I are thankful because he has not let his difficulties in this above mentioned gestational period linger in his mind. We are also thankful that James has forgiven us for our short-sightedness.
Now, and with some poetic justice, James and Maddy have a beautiful little girl! And, this angel already has her Daddy wrapped around her little finger. So, James will have his own opportunity one day to walk through these difficult murky waters. I pray that James and Maddy continue to live close by – it will be so much fun to watch!
I feel this is a valuable and timely topic as we approach the holidays. Why? It is a rare day that I meet a young married couple who feel like they had the in-law’s blessing from the beginning of their courtship. Often, and when exploring this further, one or both get very emotional. Everyone wants to be known and loved by those in their family. It is important deep down in our being. So, if the waters are still pretty rough between you and your in-laws, do not feel ostracized. Instead, take an opportunity this season to forgive and turn the other cheek. Not only will your actions of forgiveness calm the waters, they may also lead to you gaining a second set of parents, a second set of wisdom (Proverbs 1:8) and a second set of experiences to draw from as you walk through life. I realize that this will take courage, and determination and a generous spirit as you extend grace, but know that this is something that your spouse will appreciate. Even though your spouse chose you, he or she still loves their folks and wants peace between you and them. And if the in-laws are not believers, what a beautiful opportunity you have to show and share God’s love and forgiveness to them! So in this holiday season, bury the hatchet. Do not put your spouse in the middle one day longer. Start bridging the gap by earnestly praying for your in-laws. But I will warn you, it is hard to pray for someone and keep up a full head of steam of self-righteous “mad.” And after praying for your in-laws if the situation remains toxic, cling even closer to your spouse and pray harder (Genesis 2:24)!
Keep reading, friends and enjoy this holiday season with your entire family! Let Christ’s love be what we truly celebrate in our words and in our deeds!
Listen to your father, who gave you life,
and do not despise your mother when she is old.