3/23/11

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)

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