3/30/11

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

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