There is often a special bond between a mother and a son, so when the “other” woman walks onto the scene, there can be a lot of unforeseen emotions for both of them. The daughter-in-law/wife may feel like she cannot measure up or be as important to her husband and because of that bond between him and his mom, she can feel like she has to compete. Mom may feel like she’s lost a certain dynamic in her relationship with her son that she has always had since he was born.
I think that may have been true for my own mother-in-law and as much as I tried to understand that, I don’t think I was very good at it, at least not to start with. Now that I have 5 boys of my own who are almost all grown, I can begin to imagine how it might feel to experience that transition. It is a natural one and needs to happen, but I can see how there could be feelings of grief or loss. That isn’t something I could really relate to as a young bride. Because of that, I gave into the temptation to talk to others about my frustrations in our relationship. Although I tried to be careful who those people were, there were a lot of things I realized later didn’t really need to be said.
The reality was that by talking negatively about my relationship with my mother-in-law I compounded the problem and often fed the frustration in my own heart.
Navigating a new marriage relationship is daunting enough, but dealing with the awkwardness that can often be felt in the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship can be almost overwhelming. As believing wives our best source of wisdom is always God’s Word. Although there are not many scriptures that directly address this particular relationship, there are some solid principles we can work from to help have healthier mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationships. God has been gracious to remind me of some of those principles and promises throughout my last 28 years as a daughter-in-law.
1. Be thankful for your mother-in-law.
Whatever good qualities our mothers-in-law possess, we can thank God for those. If nothing comes to mind immediately, remember that if she had not given birth to our husbands, we wouldn’t have these men in our lives that we love so much. She is the one God used to bring our husbands into this world; He had a reason for placing your husband in that family (Romans 8:28).
2. Walk humbly in your family life.
We need to never, never forget that we are sinners saved by grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-9). As much as we are trying to walk out a godly life, it’s His grace that called us and saved us. If it wasn’t for His grace, we would be trapped in the depths of sin and headed for Hell. We need to remember that and ask God to help us extend that same grace to our mothers-in-law. It’s one way to “walk humbly before our God” and our God is able to do above and beyond all that we could ask or imagine!
3. Pray for your mother-in-law.
Actively pray over your relationship with your mother-in-law, asking God to move and to bring redemption. God is both our Healer and Restorer. Jesus said, “Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27–28, ESV). Another translation says “mistreat” you. Those mistreatments can be small and annoying or bigger and more obvious, but the instruction is still the same. Have you ever tried to imagine what might be motivating our mothers-in-law to act a certain way toward us? I believe it can be a deep-rooted pain that they aren’t aware of. We can pray over that. We can also pray for a hedge of protection around our relationship so that the enemy cannot get a foothold.
4. Live in peace with your in-laws.
Remember Romans 12:17-18: “Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.” This does not mean we may not need to set boundaries, but that we must do so prayerfully, respectfully, carefully and lovingly. (Read all of Romans 12 with this relationship in mind, it’s awesome!) We have to be careful that we are not intentionally provoking our mothers-in-law.
5. Be honest with your husband.
We need to be honest with our husbands about exactly what it is that deeply hurts us (Ephesians 4:15). We also need to remember that our husbands grew up with their moms and are used to what might seem like a very different family culture. Our husbands may be able to give us a better understanding of why their moms respond like they do.
I know that I was more sensitive and insecure as a young bride than I am now; there were more things that bothered me then. Over the years, God has helped me learn to let go of everything that I possibly can much more quickly. We need to pray for wisdom to narrow our concerns to deal with one or two things at a time and be honest with our husbands. It’s one way we protect our marriage from division. Mothers-in-law can be divisive, but we have to remember that ultimately it is the enemy of our souls that is behind those attacks. That is where the battle truly is.
6. Speak carefully.
Bear in mind that when we vent our frustrations about our mothers-in-law to our husbands, this can actually hurt them. They love their moms (even if they don’t get along with them) and we honor our husbands when we honor their moms. We are also setting an example to our children.
It’s always best to prepare by praying for his heart to be open to what we feel like we need to say and for the Holy Spirit to help us know what to say and what not to say. When we do talk to him about it, especially if it’s a hot topic, one of the best ways to do that is to use the sandwich method. Say something we appreciate about his mom, then share the thing that bothers us and finish with another thing we appreciate.
Exodus 20:12 (NLT) says:
“Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”
This is the first commandment given with a promise. This commandment is reinforced in the New Testament as well and doesn’t just apply to a child still under a parent’s roof, but is deliberately broad in scope. God is saying that if we do the right thing, He will bless it!
None of us walks this road perfectly, but God is gracious and will bless our efforts as we move forward in walking in obedience to Him.
Some mothers-in-law know the Lord, others do not. Some think they are Christians, but the fruit is not there. No matter what the circumstances are, God calls us to honor our parents and that includes our husband’s parents.
If we believe God is sovereign over our lives, we must also believe that He sovereignly chose our mothers-in-law to be part of our stories.
God knits families together. Even if this relationship seems impossible, He is our Redeemer and is fully able to make beauty from ashes. He is faithful!
This week's post at Club31Women:
7 Beautiful Ways to a Better Relationship with Your Mother-in-Law
Photography: JenniMarie Photography