3/24/11

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!

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