How to Live in Peace with Your In-Laws
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She came fluttering into my personal space, squealing like she’d made the best thrift store find in a decade.
“I’m so glad to meet you! I have the perfect man for you! He’s right over there, see? And very handsome, I must say.
“But you know the best part about him?” she added. “His parents are dead, so no in-laws!”
She squealed again and hugged me.
Have I mentioned that I’d never met this woman before? Yeah, I wasn’t impressed.
But it just so happens that I did marry that man. The too-willing matchmaker probably takes all the credit, but that’s beside the point.
It didn’t take long for me to begin realizing what life without in-laws was actually like.
There was no one for him to take me to meet at Thanksgiving. His side of the aisle at our wedding was populated by loving friends, but devoid of any family. When medical issues cropped up in his body, we couldn’t ask anyone about his childhood or hereditary tendencies.
These were sad and inconvenient issues to deal with. But the enormity of the situation didn’t really dawn on me until the day our son was born.
My husband stroked his new little baby’s face and cried.
“He looks like my dad,” he whispered. “I wish he could be here…so much…”
Many times since that day, we have mourned his parents together. They were not perfect people, not by far. They were rough and tough and left scars even in their passing. But there is still a void created by their absence.
I feel it most often late at night, when I’m talking with my husband about parenting and he says he wishes he could ask them this or that. There are so many issues in his life left unresolved. So many quandaries he wishes he could ask them about. But he will never have the chance.
Orphans are often idealized in literature, but the hard truth is that even adults need their parents, too. And when that role is neglected, misused, abused, or unfilled, then deep pain results.
That’s why we’ve decided to tackle the important subject of in-laws at Kindred Grace this year.
We’re teaming up with our friends at Club31Women to share our experiences together–the tender, the tough, and the teachable. Visit Club31Women for wisdom from Lisa Jacobson, Susan Alexander Yates, and others. And make sure to read on through the rest of this post for some (anonymous) mini-reviews from guest authors and the Kindred Grace Team. We’re sharing the books which have encouraged and enlightened us concerning in-law relationships.
Books for Mothers-in-Law and Daughters-in-Law
The Mother-in-Law Dance: Can Two Women Love the Same Man and Still Get Along? by Annie Chapman
Annie Chapman gave us a real gift–beautiful in language and heart–in The Mother-in-Law Dance. Embracing a Titus 2 spirit, this book is the same class of books for Christian women as Susan Hunt’s Spiritual Mothering. Using the metaphor of a dance, Mrs. Chapman explains the unique dynamic of the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship. Who is supposed to lead in this dance? Mrs. Chapman charges that the mother-in-law, as the older woman, should lead in the relationship with her daughter-in-law. She should do so not by parenting the relationship and new marriage, but rather by politely taking a step back.
This back step, an act of humble service, allows her son to freely cleave to his wife as admonished by scripture, and it gives the young couple the gift of having their own home. Mrs. Chapman is cautious to not share personal stories about her mother-in-law or daughter-in-law, besides her own revelation to approach her daughter-in-law more as a friend than a child, as she already has a mother. Instead, she uses extensive polling from her travels as a singer to bring a human and personal touch to the pages of her book. While being honest about stereotypes, jokes, and the intense pain that may be present, her tone is gentle and sweet, full of encouragement that love is stronger than hurt. Angled more toward the role of the mothers-in-law, reading this as the younger woman filled my heart with hope that this challenging relationship can indeed prevail as the women involved find their rhythm on the dance floor of life.
Related by Chance, Family by Choice: Transforming Mother-in-Law and Daughter-in-Law Relationships by Deb DeArmond
From the perspective of a daughter-in-law who’s not navigated her relationship with her wounded mother-in-law with any sort of confidence, I was hoping for practical advice in this book. I found it because the author refers over and over again to the best Book. I appreciated the biblical wisdom in Related by Chance, Family by Choice—and especially the chapter written by her daughters-in-law!
While I wish my relationship with my mother-in-law was as healthy as theirs (and it was hard to read a book by ladies who seemingly have it figured out), I still gleaned advice on this oh-so-precarious relationship dynamic. The last chapter about setting expectations during engagement would have been helpful to read before I ever got married (it should be at the front of the book!). The author is honest and helpful and infuses into every chapter hope in Christ and the truth that ultimate satisfaction is found not in healthy family relationships but in Him who “sets the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6).
Mothers-in-Law vs. Daughters-in-Law: Let There Be Peace by Elisabeth Graham
If you want to be challenged, Mothers-in-Law vs. Daughters-in-Law is for you! Elisabeth Graham writes both as a daughter-in-law and a mother-in-law and offers biblical insight to the challenging struggle this relationship faces. While her heart is ever present, she will not allow either party to remain a victim. Instead, she encourages the reader to be the one to give her in-law a gift, no matter which side of the relationship you are on.
The book is framed around the various gifts that can be offered, highlighting each one in its own chapter. As a daughter-in-law, I read through the gifts of Decreasing, Love, and Empathy feeling as though she was placing too much pressure on me to look the other way when offensive behavior and words arose; however, the next chapter on The Gift of Boundaries was a turning point and one that validated the hard work I’ve put into establishing a means of having a healthy working relationship with my own in-laws. The challenging first three gifts can honestly be worked out better through the structure that healthy boundaries provide. The final gifts, Acceptance, and Spiritual Maturity inspired me to press on for the long view of not only this relationship but its impact on my family as a whole.
I was greatly inspired by Mrs. Graham’s personal story of choosing to remain in her marriage after considering divorce (due to mother-in-law problems), as well as how her sons grew to see the flaws in their grandmother without her ever needing to say a word about it. A constant theme throughout the book is that it is so worth it to work at living at peace with your in-laws but that there is a need to die to self for this to happen. Elisabeth Graham will not let you remain where you are. That, paired with her own vulnerable story, is what makes this book so strong.
“Sometimes we react to others based on our experiences, which can cloud judgment. A reserved husband may see his in-laws as intrusive, when in fact, they are merely outgoing. To help gain a proper perspective, ask a trusted friend to observe and verify your perception of the situation.”
(John Townsend, Ph.D., coauthor of Boundaries in Marriage, in an article in Today’s Christian Woman)
Books for Daughters-in-Law
In-Law Relationships: The Chapman Guide to Becoming Friends with Your In-Laws by Gary Chapman
My in-laws are known in their community as being hard to get along with, so I walked into relationship with them from a place of skepticism (“This will never work! Why should I even try?”) and ultimately delayed the forging of a relationship because of it.
Being a good daughter-in-law employs the same technique as being a good friend or wife or coworker: listen more than you speak, consider their feelings too, don’t expect everyone to think or feel just like you. Reading Gary’s book In-Law Relationships reminded me that I need to employ these very cliche tactics to my in-laws just as much as I need to utilize them everywhere else.
- Remember to respect even the peculiarities.
- Avoid speaking in “you” statements and instead use “I feel” statements. Speak from personal experience rather than perceived ultimate knowledge.
- Listen more intently and focus on understanding why our in-laws do what they do.
Gary does a great job of creating a guide that is applicable to the daughter-in-law, the mother-in-law, and the sister-in-law without judgment but full of wisdom.
Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss
It may seem strange to included the fictional journal of a 16-year-old girl in a list of books for daughters-in-law. But Stepping Heavenward follows Katy into her life as a newlywed when her husband Ernest brings home his father and sister after the death of his mother. The journal entries are candid about her struggle to feel any of her usual cheerfulness with her sober hypochondriac father-in-law in the house. Katy is also sorely disappointed when her spinster sister-in-law proves not to be the makings of a close friend, but instead seems to want only to take over the housekeeping (which becomes the source of many a misunderstanding between Katy and her husband).
Katy relies heavily on the trusted advice and godly example of her widowed mother (who can’t live with them now that her father-in-law and sister-in-law are in the house!) and her beloved pastor, Dr. Cabot. The lessons are not easy; they are learned at sick beds (including her own!), through many severe trials, and upon tragic loss of loved ones.
Every time I read Stepping Heavenward, I feel like I’ve gained a more eternal perspective on all my relationships, but especially that of my relationship with my in-laws. This journal reads less like a work of fiction and more like a study in one’s own character–and that of the others around you. It unforgettably illustrates how very different perceptions and opinions may be due to personality and circumstance. Read it, again and again, that you, too, may learn the secret of Katy’s prayer “More love to Thee oh Christ!” (which is indeed the line of a hymn written by the book’s author, Elizabeth Prentiss, whose own life was inspiration for much of the book).
“An in-law problem can sometimes be a marriage problem. Favoritism, intrusiveness, and other conflicts can be perpetuated by a spouse who is unaware or unwilling to deal with the issues. Though you and your spouse love your parents, you should be more aligned with each other than with them.”
(John Townsend, Ph.D., coauthor of Boundaries in Marriage, in an article in Today’s Christian Woman)
Books for Mothers-in-Law
“If you are a mother-in-law and want a little sound advice, never interfere with your married children, their homes and their possessions… If your opinion is sought, give it; but be circumspect how you give it. If your opinion is not sought, don’t volunteer it just because you feel you ought.”
Loving Your Daughter-in-law: What YOU Can Do to Have a Better Relationship With Your Daughter-in-law by Cheryl Oliver Pollock
One of my favorite things about this book is how, interspersed throughout each chapter, are answers to the question: “What’s the best thing your mother-in-law ever did for you?” Cheryl delves into stories of mothers-in-law from Scripture–like Rebekah and Naomi–but also relates them to modern-day MILs. Then she goes through each age and stage of your son’s life and offers sound advice for many a situation. Be prepared to examine yourself (Do I have a habit of deception? Am I causing division?) and your relationships (Would my daughter-in-law be able to say this about me?).
Cheryl provides many practical suggestions for conveying love and support to your daughter-in-law. There’s even a “Mother-In-Law Covenant” that you can adapt and present to your new daughter-in-law. Not all the ideas were my style–and all may not fit you and your situation. But Loving Your Daughter-in-law will be creative inspiration for any mother-in-law seeking to be a blessing to her daughter-in-law. And, as Cheryl points out, that opportunity begins long before your son meets his bride-to-be.
“Loving and treating your own mother-in-law with respect is one of the best things you can do for your daughter’s future relationship with her mother-in-law.”
(Loving Your Daughter-in-law: What YOU Can Do to Have a Better Relationship With Your Daughter-in-law by Cheryl Oliver Pollock)
Barbara and Susan’s Guide to the Empty Nest by Barbara Rainey and Susan Yates
A few years ago, Barbara Rainey and I were facing the complexities of the empty nest. It was scary, uncharted territory. We wondered how to relate to adult children–how to find that balance between “hovering” and “letting go.” Then we watched them marry and our roles really changed! Barbara has 6 married kids and I have 5. Both of us desperately desired to be good mothers-in-law. We wanted our in-laws to like us! But we had no experience in this new season.
So we interviewed women across the country and wrote a book together: Barbara and Susan’s Guide to the Empty Nest. In the process we learned so much from others. We have included a chapter entitled, “How do I relate to my adult kids now?” It has tips not only on building a positive relationship with your “new son” or “new daughter” but also specific ways to nurture the relationships with their parents. There is also a chapter about caring for our parents as they age. We hope you’ll be as encouraged, as we have been, in learning from others who are a little bit ahead in this season of life.
(from Susan Alexander Yates)
“Your relationship with your children and grandchildren will tend to go more smoothly and to be richer if you do not rely solely on them for gratification. No one can live entirely and constantly through others and stay happy and healthy emotionally.”
(How to Be a Good Mother-in-Law and Grandmother by Edith G. Neisser)
Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children by Jodie Berndt
“Marriage is glorious but hard.”
That’s what Tim Keller says, and I think he’s right. Marriage is tough—and not just for husbands and wives. It can also be tricky for parents, as we release our own children and welcome their spouses into the mix.
I don’t know how your family has been formed, or what your child’s particular leaving-and-cleaving challenges will be. I do know, however, that even the most well-suited couples, from the most similar backgrounds, will find themselves tested. It won’t always be easy. And as parents, we’ll want to help.
And we can. Through prayer.
God has good plans and purposes for our kids, and prayer is His invitation to join Him in the work he is doing in their lives. You’ll find hundreds of biblically based prayers for all sorts of young adult needs—needs like job concerns, relationship challenges, health issues, and more—in Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children.
It doesn’t matter how old your kids are; you never stop being a parent. And parenting, like marriage, is both glorious and hard. But thanks be to God, He doesn’t ask us to go it alone. Our Heavenly Father knows what we need—and what our kids need—before we ask Him (Matthew 6:8). Let’s come to Him on behalf of our children and their spouses.
Let’s do our best parenting through prayer.
(from Jodie Berndt)
“One of my favorite verses is Luke 1:37, ‘For nothing will be impossible with God.’ No circumstance, no spouse, no child, no in-laws, no job, no relationship or tragedy is too hard for God.”
(Letters to My Daughters: The Art of Being a Wife by Barbara Rainey)
If you’re looking for some inspiration in your in-law relationships that you can absorb while you’re folding laundry or driving to work, check out the audiobooks and radio broadcasts below for more encouragement:
- In-Law Relationships: The Chapman Guide to Becoming Friends with Your In-Laws (Audible audiobook from Dr. Gary Chapman)
- Letters to My Daughters: The Art of Being a Wife (Audible audiobook from Barbara Rainey)
- Boundaries and Boundaries in Marriage (Audible audiobooks from Dr. John Townsend and Dr. Henry Cloud)
- Stepping Heavenward (free audiobook downloads from Librivox)
- Establishing Boundaries with In-Laws (Focus Marriage Podcast with Dr. John Townsend and Dr. Henry Cloud, 8 free episodes)
- Establishing Healthy Boundaries with Your In-Laws (Focus on the Family Broadcast with Dr. John Townsend and Dr. Henry Cloud, MP3 purchase)
- Becoming Friends with Your In-Laws (Focus on the Family Broadcast with Dr. Gary Chapman, MP3 purchase)
Don't miss the rest of our series on loving your in-laws!
Featured Post at Club31Women:
7 Beautiful Ways to a Better Relationship with Your Mother-in-Law
Photography: JenniMarie Photography
I didn’t know there were books about this! I will definitely check them out. My MIL has a heart of gold, but is from a different culture (Soviet Russia), and my husband lived with his parents until he was 35 when we were married. So, yeah, there’s always something! I definitely couldn’t have picked better-in-laws and I know not everyone has that privilege.
Thank you so much for giving us this perspective. It’s so easy to take for granted the fact that we have in-laws. I am grateful that you reminded us to start with a perspective of thanksgiving, even in a potentially tumultuous relationship like this. Thank you!