Proper and Improper Mother-In-Law Responses

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Proper and Improper Mother-In-Law Responses
October 11, 1977
A leading marriage counselors has said, "We talk of in-laws in general. But we must go to the core of the problem. Young husbands have been known to get into bitter conflict with their fathers-in-law. But that's a comparatively rare event. The real culprit, or guilty one, is the mother-in-law. In a recent American study of a thousand couples with in-law problems, mothers-in-law were cited as causing as much trouble as all other in-laws put together. Also, nine out of every ten complaints about mothers-in-law came from the daughter-in-law." So according to this writer, we are discussing the matter of in-law problems with the right group
of people, the women.

However we want to hasten on to assure ourselves that this need not be so that we (the mothers-in-law and the daughters-in-law) would be the ones who would cause unhappiness in a family. According to the results of this large survey just referred to, if you are a mother-in-law to a daughter-in-law there is a much greater possibility of ill will and hurt feelings between you than if you are a mother-in-law to a son-in-law.

As a group of devoted Christians, however, we dare not take these facts too seriously and set the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationship apart in a category by itself and sit back and expect trouble between us. We must realize that the basic principles of understanding, unselfishness, kindness and forgiveness apply in the in-law situation same as in any other. And when there are differences, we should frankly and calmly discuss the situation just the same as we would with any other good friend. It is very unfortunate that there is such a popular resentment and stigma attached to in-laws. This relationship can be a very warm experience if we allow it to be so. Some daughters-in-law have come to love their mothers-in-law more dearly and feel more closely attached to them than they do to their own mothers. It is time that we focus our attention on good in-law relationships. It is our attitude about in-laws which largely determines our dislikes or our appreciation for them. One person wrote, "In our day many marriages are badly upset, and some are completely broken up, by in-law tension.”

The foundations for some of these troubles can be put into the relationship before marriage ever takes place. If John isn't the one you had chosen for your Mary, or Mary isn't the one you had chosen for your John, you probably feel prejudiced and resentful even before that person is your in-law. And saddest of all, your feelings have probably been detected and felt by that one who was not exactly your choice for an in-law. Even though you might regret now that you felt that way, you will have to go the second mile to show that son-in-law or daughter-in-law that they are totally accepted.

We are told that the area in which mother-in-law interference is resented the most fiercely is in the management of children. Judging from the answers on the questionnaires that were given out, perhaps the suggestion offered the most frequently was, "Wait to give advice until it is asked for." We do believe that the mother-in-law (who would be the children's grandmother) has a place to fill in the molding of the lives of her grandchildren. Grandmother Lois filled such a vital place in the life of young Timothy that her work and efforts are mentioned in Scripture. As a grandmother looking on, it is sometimes hard to withhold our suggestions when we see the next generation raising their family. We feel we've learned a lot along the way and they are so new in this work. Guard your speech and your actions well when you feel frustrated. Perhaps one of the easiest ways to give advice would be to tell them in a kind way how we feel about some things as we look back to the time our children were little. We could tell them about the things we wish we had done differently. It is good for a mother-in-law to offer choice little tidbits that over the years have proven helpful to her. One daughter-in-law said that when young mothers are busy, some things that should be taught are sometimes forgotten or neglected. And this is where she really appreciates Grandma stepping in and quietly reminding the children of some little things thatcould use improvement. This same person said she enjoyed when Grandma would sit down with the children and begin by saying "When I was a little girl...." and then go on and use one of her own experiences to impress upon the child a needed lesson. As Grandmas we may help to teach, but we should let it up to the parents to train. And while they are training, we should be considerate and reasonable and not expect perfection. Never discipline your grandchildren when their parents are present then it's their job. If you are babysitting for them, that 's a different story.

The popular idea is that Grandmas spoil the grandchildren. We need not do this no matter how much we love them. We all detest the behavior of undisciplined children So let 's encourage the young parents to be lovingly firm. Never, under any condition, disagree with the parents in the presence of the chilren. The decision of the parents must be the decision of Grandma also. As a mother-in-law, I dare not constantly be telling the young parents how they should bring up their children. If I have done a good job of training my children, I should feel confident that they are prepared for the task of parenthood. One who answered said, "Sometimes in-laws or grandparents forget their struggles of child 'training and when they see their son's or daughter's children misbehave, they get upset or interfere." Every parent knows his child better than Grandma does and we must remember that they were sincere in the way they handled a situation and we must remember too, that they might have punished differently if the in-laws had not been present. As a Grandma we love to cuddle our grandchildren, but we must never do it at a time that gives the child the impression we are siding with him after Mother spanked or disciplined in any way. Daughter-in-law, if you ask for advice then you should be open to receive your mother-in-law's counsel and not resent it. And, Mother-in-law, there are ways to drop hints that can be helpful and yet not overbearing. Be tactful and always give advice in the right attitude.

One questionnaire had this to offer - "In-laws should never go from one home of family members and talk about behavior problems of other members children." Remember, if they come to you and talk about the others in the family, they'll probably go to the others and talk about you.

One daughter-in-law wrote, “If my house is dirty when mother-in-law stops in throughout the week, it does wonders and gives me a better idea of how things should be kept when she asks, ‘Do you want me to sweep your floor?’ or ‘Shall I wash these dishes for you?’ or ‘Where shall I put the bean hulls on the porch?’ If you've had a busy day, little things like that without comment on how it looks help lift the load.” As a mother-in-law, we must remember that people do things in vastly different ways.

There are many right ways to do the various jobs involved in housekeeping. Never look around the house to find fault or to criticize. Remember when your children were little, things weren't always in tip top shape either and perhaps some days are still hectic for you, too. One sure way to destroy friendship is for the mother-in-law to talk about her daughter-in-law's housekeeping to other people. Never make it seem as tho regardless of how neat and clean things usually are they could be and should be better.

We should compliment their methods of housekeeping whenever possible, rather than shame them. So what, mother-in-law, if her ideas of arranging the dishes in her cupboard are totally different from yours or if her taste for color combinations clashes in your mind!!! So what! These things are strictly individual matters, and you should express no displeasure concerning them. Most mothers-in-laws are experienced housekeepers and could offer many time and money saving tips, such as good food buys, choice cuts of meat, freezing and canning hints, plus recipes. One daughter-in-law who answered the questionnaire said she felt suggestions of that nature would be much appreciated. She also felt the younger generation should share helpful advice or a good method of doing something with her mother-in-law. If you know of a short cut or a quicker way of doing something, this suggestion would probably be welcome also. Above all, don’t criticize. Self control is necessary to keep from this. What I consider neat , someone else may think of as extreme perfection; or what you class as laziness, I might feel was simply giving due regard to my physical health. Perhaps you arrive just as your daughter-in-law sat down to rest for ten minutes. The house doesn’t look too great, so you conclude that anyone who can sit down beside that mess must be lazy. This is unfair judgment. We must remember that we are not all made the same, even some young people tire more readily than others and rest is a must in order to keep feeling well and relaxed. Be ready to help if you are needed, but if you sense that your presense is bothering your -daughter-in-law, then leave and don’t feel hurt. If daughter-in-law feels you are intruding, this brings tension. Let 's always encourage the new, young homemaker or the mother of several preschoolers--never discourage her.

In other words we are talking about interference between our daughter and her husband or between our son and his wife. Years ago, it must surely have been before she had married children of her own, Ruth Brunk Stoltzfus wrote, “It appears that a woman must go through a difficult experience when her son or daughter marries.” “It must not be easy to turn over to a young, inexperienced man, the daughter she has carefully raised, or to a seemingly immature young woman, the son she thoroughly understands.

But one admires the mother-in-law who remembers the day of her own marriage and her confidence that she and her husband could make their decisions and build a strong, happy marriage together. Since the son or daughter is to “leave and cleave”, the parents must be willing to give up that special closeness which they shared over the years. They can still be close--but the relationship is now different. One questionnaire said this, “Mothers and mothers-in-law, we won't set you back on a shelf, but we do appreciate you letting go of your son completely. He is now one with his wife.” We must always bear in mind that the daughter now is not answerable first to the parental home, but to her husband. Keeping a tight rein on your child without including your in-law is bound to make trouble. Most of those who answered the questionnaires seemed to feel counsel concerning husband and wife relationship should only be given if asked for. A son or daughter should avoid going home to their parents with problems concerning their partners, this should be worked out between the young couple if at all possible. The exception to this rule would be if serious problems would arise and advice would need to be sought.

Mother-in-law, you must always remember and remind your son or daughter that their first loyalty now is to their partner and if at all possible they should work out their differences between them alone. In this, as in all other family situations, we dare never show partiality. Never make a practice of agreeing with your daughter against her husband. This will never bring happiness to you or to your daughter it will only create more problems. Mother-in-law, never pry your son or daughter about the in-law. Such - as “How are you being treated?” or “Does he or she respect you?” etc. If they are happy together, let them go their way and do things their way.

The first couple years especially are times of mutual adjustments of being on their own and learning to carry the responsibilities of married life. Decisions come thick and fast and it is only right for the happiness and development of the young couple that there should be no prying. Never feel that you must be taken into consultation on their plans. Encourage faithfulness to each other, it was their choice. Assure your daughter that by making her husband happy, she will increase her own happiness. A stable character, which we have tried to produce in our children, is able to meet the disappointments, the strains and the stresses of life without going under emotionally.

Always encourage your daughter to be submissive and your son to be kind and considerate. One person felt that it makes for a better relationship for a mother to admonish her son to be a bit more kind and patient than for the mother-in-law to tell him. Also it is in the mother's place (not the mother-in-law's place) to tell her daughter that perhaps the floors could be swept a bit oftener or the children dealt with a bit more firmly, if this advice is needed.

One person who responded to the questionnaire when she came to this fourth part simply wrote, "None of your business," and perhaps that sums it up pretty well. However, most of those who answered seemed to be agreed that parents or in-laws can be helpful in this matter also. If the young couple is struggling due to reverses or sickness and you are financially able to help them, surely a gift given with a right attitude would be welcome. Or if they want to buy a house and ask you about a loan, wouldn't it be our privilege and duty to help them if we have the means to do so?

An interest-free loan or a low interest loan would mean much to a young couple. However, if we loan them money this does not give us the right to lecture them on their inability to manage well. Never criticize your son-in-law for not being a better provider. Never pry into the financial situation of your married children. Since this is a new family unit, finances need not be discussed with parents or in-laws unless the young couple chooses to do so. If it is obvious that advice is badly needed in the matter of handling finances, remember, mother-in-law, this advice will probably be. accepted better from someone else than from you. We must exercirse Christian forbearance as we allow our children to handle their own finances. Express good judgment when they buy wisely and encourage them when reverses come. If the son-in-law is capable of earning a good living, then "Hands off" in trying to make your daughter dissatisfied.

Never encourage your daughter secretly that she needs this or that. Some of you have written concerning grandma buying things for the grandchildren. Some young fathers are made to feel inadequate if grandma insists on buying all the clothes for the little ones. It is probably wise for grandma to refrain from buying too many things for her grandchildren without the consent of the parents. Some parents want their children to be content with fewer things and they have a perfect right to such a decision. We don't want to spoil the lessons they are trying to teach. I believe we all share pleasant memories, however, of the little things grandma would give us. One daughter-in-law said there were some things they could simply not afford in their home and when her mother-in-law chose to provide some of these things for them, it was deeply appreciated. A probation officer with long experience of domestic wrangles in court says money was the most common cause of all family troubles. I believe there are times when advice from older folks is needed and is welcomed. A large investment can make or break a future, so, sound advice should be appreciated. But let’s not meddle into financial affairs that do not concern us.

We really don’t need to know how much our children paid for something unless they choose to tell us. It is our business as a mother-in-law to encourage sacrificial living and contentment.

The questionnaires that were handed out also asked those who answered to add any comments they wanted to in any other areas. There was an assortment of these.
1. If your son or daughter goes to a different church then you do, never belittle their church.
2. It is wise for a Mother-in-law to call before visiting her daughter-in-law.
3. Daughters-in-law welcome offers of help and they appreciate seeing mother-in-law enjoy her grandchildren. Just a hint here. If you want to give your grandchildren candy, wait until after a meal.
4. Mother-in-law, make your children feel they are welcome to drop in unexpectedly–even for meals.
5. It gives mother-in-law a warm feeling to be asked for advice occasionally.
6. Mother-in-law does well to look back and try to remember how things were when she was the daughter-in-law.
7. Unless you know you are expected to take the lead in a project at daughter-in-law’s home, you need to be content to follow her leadership.
8. Mother-in-law asking advice on different things occasionally helps daughter-in-law to feel accepted and appreciated.
9. Living too close together seems to create some problems. Someone has said we should not live close enough to see each other’s chimney smoke.
10. We should never wear out our welcome by going to their home too often. And in this, too, we dare show no partiality. Treat your married daughters and your daughters-in-law as nearly equal as possible. To give more attention to some than to others is likely to produce hurt, left-over feelings on the part of those who just are not noticed as much by mother-inlaw.
11. We make it easier for a new daughter-in-law by sharing some recipes that our son especially enjoys.
12. Compliment your daughter-in-law on seeing a new dress she made, or those new drapes she sewed.
13. Give advice and encouragement when frustration is evident. Always encourage them to keep close to the Lord.
14. Communication is the best way to develop warm feelings for each other. One daughter-in-law said at one time she felt like a hypocrite when she wrote to her mother-in-law who lived in another state and told her that they missed her, they wished she could come for a visit, and that they loved her. But she found out that in time these statements were actually the truth.
15. Love your in-law like you love your own children.
16. A good rule to follow is the Golden Rule.
17. As a mother-in-law I need to overlook the faults and look for the good points.
18. Praying daily for our in-laws will help much. Don't expect perfection. If you have an in-law, you yourself are an in-law.

The mother-in-law who does her part and more toward a congenial relationship is likely to have daughters-in-law and sons-in-law who rise up and call her blessed. Getting along well with one's in-laws will help favor happiness in marriage. Put yourself in your son-in-law or daughter-in-law’s place and imagine how you would feel if your mother-in-law would do what you did. Mother-in-law can be a rich blessing to all when we live for Christ only. We know this is true when we think about Naomi and Ruth.

Eugenia Price writes concerning this relationship that they were friends, even though they were in-laws. Love is not limited by the type of relationship between two people. We are not surprised at a deep love between two friends, between a husband and wife, between parents and their children – but a love relationship between a woman and her daughter-in-law is pathetically rare in the world in general. There is perhaps no better test of a woman's spiritual health than that she love her son's wife as Naomi apparently loved Ruth and Orpah.
– Anna Halteman