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

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