The MIL-DIL "Stew" - Part 3 - Vive la Différence!

Seldom are a Mother-in-Law (MIL) and Daughter-in-Law (DIL) carbon copies of each other. There may be some similarities; sons often see something in the girl of their dreams that resembles dear old Mom. But both women are unique. Sometimes their only common ground is the man they love ~ Mom's son; wife's husband.

Just think of all the ways these two women might be different.

Certainly there's the age difference. The DIL brings energy and enthusiasm and freshness to the relationship, and the MIL may feel revived just being around her. (Perhaps young children that arrive who make her a "fun grandma" ~ or she may feel that she can't keep up!) Older and hopefully wiser and more mature, the MIL enters the MIL-DIL relationship with the advantage of experience. The MIL's responsibility is to not beat her DIL over the head with wisdom, but to share it in short spurts as the DIL is ready for it (or better, asks for it).

It certainly helps if the DIL recognizes and even honors wisdom when she sees or hears it, but that may not happen. Sometimes a DIL disagrees (sometimes strongly and appropriately) with the point-of-view or even worldview the MIL has, but the DIL should still attempt to honor the MIL's age. Respect for age is often lost in North American culture, and to our society's detriment. The Bible has much to say about honoring and listening to the wisdom of our elders (Job 12:12; 32:7; Proverbs 16:31; 23:22; Titus 2:2-3).

Beyond age, there are other potential natural differences between a MIL and DIL. Personalities and/or temperaments may be nothing alike. Think about the different personalities in your own family. In my family, we had shades of all four temperaments, and several personality quirks. We can't expect that a MIL and DIL will have the same personality or temperament.

They will likely have different skills. One might be a good cook, and the other good with finances. One might be a writer and attentive to details, and the other might be a fun, spontaneous party animal ~ and don't assume that the younger woman is the "party girl" there!

Christians have differing spiritual gifts. The MIL and DIL might be have the gift of teaching, or administration, or encouraging, or serving, or showing mercy. (There are various studies on gifts; I particularly like this Spiritual Gift Reference Chart).

The women's backgrounds might be different. City girl vs. country girl. Loving family vs. divorce and addictions. Money vs. poverty. Expressive vs. private. Humorous vs. serious. Big family vs. only child. Lots of "frou-frou" and bling vs. modesty and simplicity. The contrasts could go on and on.

And their current lifestyle might be totally different, too. A MIL might enjoy a comfortable lifestyle after years of hard work while a DIL is just beginning ~ scrimping and saving to buy a house. Or it might be the other way around. The MIL might be a widow, or the wife of an alcoholic. There might be little to no money to pay for even basics. The DIL might have "married into money," and be well-to-do right from the start.

You will no doubt think of other differences. But my point is, the differences are many and varied; and they can become hot spots in the MIL-DIL relationship, if we're not careful.

But let me suggest that they can also be points of great blessing, if our hearts and minds are
accepting and open to the differences as GIFTS. Acceptance goes beyond, "Oh, that's just the way she is," to understanding that "she" is special in her own right. She brings unique relationship perspective, attitudes, and life tools that the "other woman" in the MIL-DIL relationship might need. Shutting her out won't allow you to see and understand (and yes, even appreciate) those differences. And sometimes friction in the relationship is because one or the other of the women feels misunderstood or not appreciated for her uniqueness.

If you are in a MIL-DIL relationship, stop a minute and write down the categories listed above, and then score yourself 1-10 (10 being the best) as to how you see and appreciate the other woman in all those differences. If there is a low number, this is your homework ~ to create a happier, balanced relationship. Ask God to give you understanding. Speak words of praise or recognition that will help your MIL or DIL understand that you "see" her for who she is, and you appreciate and value her.

So ladies, Vive la Différence!

Next Week: Part 4 - Those Expectations


The MIL-DIL "Stew" - Adapting to Changing Roles

(Continued from yesterday's post.)

I concluded the post on MIL/DIL changing roles yesterday, by noting that the MIL and DIL both have totally natural “territorial” instincts.

The MIL is totally territorial about her children ~ and that continues even when her children leave the "nest." She can't turn off her mothering instincts like a faucet. But sometimes that "territorialism" comes across as nosy, or even pushy ~ especially if the MIL ever tries to manipulate the DIL or her husband.

The young wife is right to set up "territorial boundaries" around her man. They now belong together. Wisdom here is for the son/husband to make it clear from the beginning that his territory is now centered in the wife and his own children, but that his mother is welcome to "visit" their territory. (It helps if the DIL is of like mind.)

The MIL is supposed to be wiser and more mature, and the Christian MIL can take comfort in the fact that her Creator God had a good reason for the leaving/cleaving process. The parental role, after marriage, must take the back seat to the spousal role if her son's marriage is to grow in healthy ways.

The MIL also needs to understand her new role. She still can still love her son (and his wife and children). She can still share wise counsel (when invited to do so). But she must also acknowledge and respect the relationship her son is creating with his wife. And she has to do so whether she likes the DIL or not!

Traditionally, the greater burden is on the mother-in-law. A wise MIL will take care to watch her behavior and measure her responses until the DIL feels secure in her position. If the DIL feels threatened by the MIL, the MIL needs to ask why, and examine whether there is some way that she is intruding in the relationship.

But perhaps a mother-in-law does not have biblical wisdom as part of her background. She may not know how to respond in a godly, loving manner. A wise DIL will also examine her heart to see if there are unreasonable expectations concerning her MIL in this regard.

Ideally, the DIL's perspective (regardless of whether the MIL thinks it is valid) matters most, especially in the beginning of the relationship, and the MIL may need to swallow some pride to ease the relationship in difficult places. Perhaps, if you are a mother-in-law, you remember hearing the little ditty: "A son is a son 'til he takes a wife, but a daughter is a daughter for all of her life." One MIL told me she hated that quote. "It's so unfair!" she said. Maybe, but it's also life. And the sooner a MIL "gets" it, the better.

The MIL's relationship with her son also changes a great deal. Perhaps there is some awkwardness as the MIL realizes she has to release her son into adulthood and his own ways of leading in a home. Perhaps it is hard to stand back and watch him and his new wife create a life so different from the one the son grew up in, in her home.

One MIL told me the only time she ever feels at ease with her now-married son is when they go to breakfast together, alone. Elisabeth Graham, in her book, Mothers-in-Law vs. Daughters-in-Law: Let There Be Peace, related a story of a young wife who only wanted to have the MIL, Esther, come to their house.

She didn't like it when she and her husband Bill went to Esther's house. Why? In the MIL's home, Bill reverted back to being "Esther's son," and the young wife felt like "a guest in another woman's home." The MIL admitted that it was true. Her son returned to some of his pre-marriage ways in her home ~ propping his feet on the coffee table and rummaging through the refrigerator! (Clearly, the son needed to understand that things have changed, too.) Though the MIL admitted to enjoying her son's reversion, the wife felt awkward and threatened.

[These attitudes are not to be considered typical; in many MIL-DIL relationships, there is no tension, regardless of the home visited.] The illustration is a small example of ways that MILs, DILs (and the son/husband) need to adjust to changing roles. Recognizing the fact that it's necessary and positive to adjust is half the battle.

Even though the MIL needs to give the DIL time to adjust to her new role as a young wife, it is also helpful if the DIL understands that it may take the MIL time to get used to her new role. And the MIL will discover that she can indeed find new blessings in her role, if she takes her hand off her son's relationship with the wife and places her hand in God's hand, trusting Him, instead. James 1:5 tells us to ask for wisdom, and the MIL may need to pray that prayer many, many times.

MILs, DILs, if you are struggling, ask the Lord to show you where you may be fueling the fire of conflict regarding your roles. Ask the Spirit of God to help you make the changes needed so that you can create a woman-to-woman relationship that will bring glory to God.

And if the MIL or DIL won't cooperate? You be the one to sprinkle the fire of conflict with God's healing waters of love and grace!

Next Wednesday: The MIL-DIL “Stew” – Part 3: Viva la Difference!


The MIL-DIL “Stew” – Part 2: Adapting to Changing Roles

Last week I began a series of postings on the sometimes-controversial-but-potentially blessed relationship of mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. I said that one of the problems encountered in the relationship is changing roles of the two women involved ~ a reason for struggle, but not an excuse.

I've always thought about that answer a man gives at his daughter's wedding in answer to the question, "Who gives this woman in marriage to this man?" The dad usually says, "Her mother and I."

I've wondered how many moms are silently yelling, "Wait! Not yet!" And I've wondered how many mothers-in-law are thinking, "My baby!"

The truth is, at weddings, as happy as they may be, there are some subtle shifts going on. (Note: subtle shifts might not be the word; it feels like an earthquake to some!)

The Bible refers to marriage as two becoming one ("one flesh," Genesis 2:24); but there is also a necessary ripping apart of old relationships to make way for new ones. As bride and groom "leave" their homes and "cleave" to one another, the parents ~ especially the moms ~ may feel like a cleaver just chopped into their hearts. (Don't get me wrong. Dads also feel this deeply. I'm thinking of the bittersweet Steve Martin film, Father of the Bride.)

My point is, as wedding bells toll, roles change. The mother of the bride will always be "Mom" to the bride. But the mother of the groom will be her "other mother," if that. Some DILs aren't comfortable with having another "mother." They perhaps aren't even sure what they want the relationship to be. It has to grow into something the DIL can recognize as a blessing, perhaps. One MIL told me she feels like "an outcast." Another admitted to feeling "alienated." Clearly, the daughter-in-law (DIL) holds the key to the mother-in-law's (MIL) acceptance.

But the MIL and DIL will, in their different roles after the marriage, always have different views of one man. The DIL see him first as a man, her man. The MIL will always see him first as a boy, her boy, even when he is in his 60s!

The MIL has a brain full of memories starting with the baby bassinet and weaving through years of grade school events and teen antics. Maybe she got her first sense of separation as he drove or flew off to college. She's always wanted him to grow into independent manhood. But it still hurts. Her son's life is imprinted on her heart. Yet at the wedding, she senses that perhaps her life as "mom" has to fade into something new ~ the "ask to be invited" MIL.

On the other hand, the DIL breezes into new life with her Prince Charming with dreams and anticipation for change.

Nothing wrong with any of this, so far. It's totally natural.

The problem comes when these two women deal poorly with their natural "territorial" instincts.

(continued tomorrow, 3-24-11)


The MIL-DIL "Stew" - Part 1: Why the Conflict?

I have to admit that I laughed during the over-the-top 2005 movie Monster-in-Law when Jennifer Lopez ("Charlie") went toe-to-toe with Jane Fonda ("Viola"). Throughout the movie, the two women tried to out-do each other with silly, sometimes nasty tricks and put-downs. But in reality, the struggles between Mothers-in-Law (MILs) and Daughters-in-Law (DILs) is not funny at all.

Grandparents.com often carries articles about MIL/DIL relations, and many reveal a dark side of family issues. Mother-in-law jokes are many and mean.

According to the back cover of the book Mothers-in-Law vs. Daughters-in-Law: Let There Be Peace, by Elisabeth Graham, "Seventy percent of women polled expressed dissatisfaction with their mother-in-law or daughter-in-law. Comments ranged from 'I'm glad she doesn't visit' to 'I wish she were dead.' It's safe to say this is one of the more complicated human relationships. ... Often the only thing these two women have in common is their love for the same man. Neither of them is prepared for the ensuing struggle."

I'm a mother-in-law. I had only two sons, no daughters. And there are things I absolutely love about my relationship with my sons' wives. I am so thankful for the women that God ordained for them ~ they are fun, wise, good wives and mothers, and under-girding it all, they have positive, growing relationships with God. Yet ~ dare I say it? ~ there are a couple of things that could be improved in our relationship. But the need for improvement is true of all relationships, not just the MIL/DIL relationship.

I'm sure my daughters-in-law (who I prefer to call daughters-in-love, just as my husband's mother called me) have different perspectives from me on many things; yet, as Graham noted, however, we both love the same man ~ my sons, their husbands.

As I read quite a bit about this topic and listened to other women's comments, I got a glimpse into some of the reasons for the struggle, but also, many potential blessings, if we will allow for them.

I decided to write about this relationship; but to be honest, my first thoughts were: Will my sons' wives think I'm attacking them? Will they read too much into this?

Because I want to guard the relationship with my own DILs, I won't be sharing any personal examples! But after conversations with a number of hurting, bewildered MILs, as well as some perturbed, puzzled (and sometimes angry) DILs, I've decided it's worth it to dip into this murky stew. And stew is probably the best word to describe it, because often, MILs and DILs do "stew" about something wrong in their relationship.

What I plan to do in the weeks ahead (a number of Wednesdays) ~ using various resources ~ is to delve into some of the reasons for confusion or conflicts in this relationship. Reasons are not excuses for poor choices ~ we all have to take responsibility and respond biblically in circumstances ~ but reasons do help us understand.

First, Why the Conflict? There are many reasons for MIL/DIL struggles that I plan to address; but for now, I just want to list them:

  • Changing Roles and the tendency to be "territorial."
  • Individual differences ~ age, personality, gift/skills, or lifestyle
  • Various expectations that may not be met ~ and perhaps shouldn't be.
  • Interference or not respecting boundaries.
  • Rejection or apathy.
  • Communication problems, gossip, or a critical spirit.
Perhaps you can think of other reasons. (I'd love to hear them, if they don't fit under the list above.)

In the Bible, we find both bitterness and blessing in MIL/DIL relationships. We see conflict between a MIL/DIL in Genesis 27:46. Rebekah complained to Isaac that her daughters-in-law were making life miserable! Yet in the beautiful account of Naomi and her daughter-in-law, Ruth (in the Book of Ruth), we see another story ~ two women who blessed each other.

My goal in the weeks ahead is to take each of the "reasons" listed (not necessarily in that order, and sometimes overlapping) and share some positive ways to build "in-law" struggling relationships into "in-love" support relationships.

Next week: The MIL-DIL "Stew" - Part 2: Changing Roles


Courage to Be Different

In her book Set-Apart Femininity: God's Sacred Intent for Every Young Woman (Harvest House, 2008, p. 89), author Leslie Ludy said she read a speech given by a Jewish father at his son's bar mitzvah. He told his son not to apologize for being Jewish, but to embrace the holy calling of being a Jew.

"To be holy is to be different," the father said. "That which is holy is set apart. What is a Jew? It is the courage to be different. While the rest of the world strives to be loved, the Jew strives to be holy. While the rest of the world strives to impress their fellow man, the Jew strives to impress none but God alone." *

Ludy continued, "A set-apart young woman has the courage to be different." I thought, it's not just young women who need to hear that. I need to have the courage to be different!

Daniel dared to be different. I remember singing about him in Sunday school. "Dare to be a Daniel. Dare to stand alone! Dare to have a purpose firm! Dare to make it known!" (lyrics, Philip Bliss)

Daniel ~ captured by a pagan nation and taken far from home (Daniel 1:1-6) ~ could have succumbed to the traditions around him. But no. Daniel knew who he was. He knew whose he was. And he knew his significance was wrapped up in who God said he was.

Daniel resolved to identify with God and serve Him alone, no matter what happened in his new surroundings. His resolve influenced his choices, too (Daniel 1:8-16). He (and his three friends) refused the King's defiling food, and God honored their integrity. Daniel's resolve was evidence of his courage, but his courage arose out of his commitment.

We all are called, from time to time, to make courageous choices about who we will serve ~ God or the world system (or Satan or self or any number of false idols). We have to decide, well in advance, who is our Lord. When the king required that Daniel worship an an image he erected, Daniel refused. He knew that Nebuchadnezzar was not the one true God. He would not bow down to this false god, no matter the consequences.

The wonderful conclusion to the book of Daniel is that after all of his trials ~ including being tossed to some lions (Daniel 6:13-24) ~ Daniel survived. And he not only survived, he thrived! History records that God made him a man of influence far beyond King Nebuchadnezzar's kingdom.

I don't know what is ahead for America. In spite of thousands of churches, it is getting harder to stand for God. Or maybe, it's getting easier to compromise. We need men and women of courage, not afraid to be set-apart for God. God desires holy, revived, kingdom-focused children. We need people to model the love of God and truth of the Word of God. We need clear-sounding voices in days of moral mush.

And by God's grace, I will be one of those voices.

Will you, too, stir up the courage within to stand for Christ? Don't be afraid. The Lord will be your helper and never leave your side (Hebrews 13:5b-6). Like Daniel, have courage to be different.

* Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Never Fear Being Hated, adapted from an address
by Rabbi Shmuley to his son Mendy in synagogue on May 6, 2006.


The Drive to "Be Somebody"

Question: How many egomaniacs does it take to screw in a light bulb?
Answer: One. The egomaniac holds the light bulb while the rest of the world revolves around him."

I (Dawn) ran across a chat group on the Internet with the unusual name, "I Am an Egomaniac with an Inferiority Complex." [Huh?]

People were invited to share their stories and experiences. One person shared a story about his alcoholism problem, and how that habit fed his complex on both ends. "Made me feel like a hero and a bum... all at the same time," the person shared. [Oh, now I get it.]

I originally thought that an egomaniac and a narcissist were the same, but they're a little different.

An egomaniac is an abnormally egotistical person ~ conceited and self centered.

A narcissist is usually considered someone overly in love with herself or himself ~ always admiring self. But a true narcissist, from the psychological point of view, can be abusive and nasty to others, and there is usually an obsessive trait present.

The easy explanation is that a narcissist is always an egomaniac, but an egomaniac may or may not have the traits necessary to be a narcissist. It gets complicated from there on out.

And I don't want to oversimplify this, because I know that narcissism includes some serious disorders, but it seems to me that both problems are rooted in pride.

We all want to "be somebody." We want people to see us and admire us. Part of me says this is so right, so natural. But then I hear the words of John the Baptist: "He must increase, and I must decrease" (John 3:30). Simply, Jesus must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less. In the Amplifed Version, it reads, "He must grow more prominent; I must grow less so."

The Bible says much about the kind of pride that demands an audience to our greatness, pride that seeks prominence. We've heard many of them for years. (These are expressed in the Amplified Version.)

  • God sets himself against the proud and haughty. ~ James 4:6
  • [Paul says,] I warn everyone not to think of himself more highly than he ought (not to have an exaggerated opinion of his own importance). ~ Romans 12:3
  • For if any person thinks himself to be somebody... when he is nobody [of superiority except in his own estimation], he deceives and deludes and cheats himself. ~ Galatians 6:3
  • Look at the proud; his soul is not straight or right within him... ~ Habakkuk 2:4
  • Haughtiness of eyes and a proud heart ... are sin[ in the eyes of God]. ~ Proverbs 21:4
We all know there is a deep root of pride in our hearts, and God's remedy is humility and a righteous fear of God (Proverbs 3:7; 3:34; 15:33; 2 Chronicles 7:14; James 4:6).

But here's a question I've considered all week as I've thought about egomania: Is it egomania for God, or for His Son, to require that we admire, worship, and treasure Him?

Oprah Winfrey suggests that she cannot draw near to One who seems to be an egomaniac. Is God an egomaniac? Many people, in fact don't understand how a loving God could demand worship and praise from His people.

I think I found my answer. If you want to stretch your brain a bit, consider these words from John Piper: "God is the one being in the universe for whom self-exaltation is not a needy act of a needy ego, but an infinite act of giving ... for our enjoyment. This is not arrogance; this is grace. This is not egomania; this is love."

"Clearly, Jesus demands that we value Him over everything," John Piper said, in his message, "Is Jesus an Egomaniac?"

So, what about our drive to "be somebody"?

Piper says, "You weren't made to be somebody. You were made to KNOW [emphasis mine] somebody and to be thrilled to know the greatest person in the world as your friend. It's counter-intuitive at first, but when you scratch deeper, it's so right."

What do you think? Do you agree with Piper's words? How would you answer Oprah?