The MIL-DIL "Stew" - Part 6 - Blessing Your In-Laws

Ah, the MIL-DIL "Stew." There is so much more that could be written about in-law relationships, and this series has only dealt with Mothers-in-law and Daughters-in-law!

We've examined various reasons for conflicts, changing roles, the challenges and positive aspects of differences, expectations, and the need for boundaries. But I don't want to leave this topic without suggesting some positive ways that we can bless our MILs and DILs.

I firmly believe that in-laws are special opportunities from God to practice a number of healthy, edifying attitudes. I believe there are six ways that you can bless your in-laws:

First, there is The Blessing of Acceptance. It's so easy to accept our natural blood relatives, even when they are quirky and eccentric. They are our relatives, and there is an element of familial pride involved. But when a couple marries, there will always be in-law adjustments. This does not have to be a threat. Rather, it can be an opportunity to learn new ways and stre-e-e-etch our old ways to fit a larger family. Acceptance is key. And yes, acceptance sometimes takes time, repeated exposure, and determination. But it has to start somewhere. Let it start with you. Accept one another (Romans 15:7).

MILs, understand that no matter what, your DIL is likely to put her own mother first. That is natural. Accept it. Understand that, even though they may experience conflict, your DIL's loyalties will normally align with her husband. That is normal; a good thing. Accept it. Try to see her viewpoint.

And DILs, understand that your MIL is always going to have a soft spot for her son. She'll always be his Mama, even though he's now a grown man. Respect that and accept it. Try to see her viewpoint.

Elisabeth Graham writes* that there are "two gracious acts of acceptance" often reported by DILs who have good relationships with their MILs: "She's a good listener" and "She never judges me." There is no room for hypersensitivity in acceptance. Though it's natural for a DIL to turn to her mother, an accepting DIL will take care not to make her MIL feel like she's playing second fiddle. She will value her MIL.

If you have seen the lack of acceptance or lack of valuing in in-law relationships in your heritage, ask God to help you end that cycle now ... with YOU! Remember that forgiveness (Ephesians 4:32) may be a prerequisite to your being able to accept your in-law. And God wants you to forgive for your well-being, not only the offender's benefit.

Closely related to acceptance is The Blessing of Affection. This is an outgrowth of love. It's another attitude that needs to grow in the in-law relationship. Unconditional, caring love is going to look different in each relationship, but it still is based in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. Try viewing your in-law through this lens of biblical love, and ask God to help you show genuine affection ~ even if it is not returned.

And if your in-law is just plain nasty to you? Remember that God said we are to even love our "enemies" in practical "do good" ways, and pray for them (Matthew 5:44). It's not about our feelings. Determine to show affection to your in-law for Jesus sake; and if you still cannot love, ask Jesus to love her through you. Be a humble, willing channel (Romans 12:10), and watch what God does.

The Blessing of Affinity is a special opportunity as a woman of God. Though you and your in-law may have many differences, you also are both women with many experiences to share to help the other woman grow. Affinity is empathy, "being on the same wave length," insight with warmth.

Affinity takes time ~ we have to be hospitable (1 Peter 4:9) and spend time together before we understand each other and begin to think about what is important to our in-laws. If you will take the time to search for something in common as women, you may find the way to your in-law's heart.

Hopefully, each of you will enjoy The Blessing of Assistance. It is the proud woman indeed who thinks she needs no one. The truth is, we need each other. Women in the Body of Christ need each other for growth and edification; and if you have an in-law who does not know the Lord, she needs you, perhaps more than she knows. She needs to see Jesus "with skin on."

Pray for your in-law and ask God to show you practical ways to assist, serve, or care for her (Galatians 5:13b). Perhaps there is a way you can help her carry a burden (Galatians 6:2).

(This doesn't mean that boundaries can be violated. Be sure to ask your in-law if something you want to do is OK with her, first.) Service begins with humility, so be sure your heart is right.

Work toward The Blessing of Aspiration. Aim to give your in-law hope. Encourage her belief in God or spiritual growth. Spur her on; be her cheerleader (Hebrews 10:24)! Build her life (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Graham wrote that as she looked back over her years as a daughter-in-law, she realized that her relationship with her MIL improved as her relationship with God improved! So don't neglect your own walk with God. He can change attitudes and actions!

And finally, don't forget The Blessing of Appreciation. Express genuine thanks to your in-law for services rendered, counsel (asked for and) given, material gifts received, emotional encouragement, kindness expressed, etc. (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Perhaps you are not ready to enjoy all of these blessings at this time, but they are all worthy goals. They are, after all, "blessings." I pray that you will find innumerable ways to bless your in-laws in the days ahead!

* Mothers-in-Law vs. Daughters-in-Law: Let There Be Peace, by Elisabeth Graham (Beacon Hill Press, 2010), p. 103


The Rock of Israel

I have experienced this Easter season as never before. Following along with Nancy Leigh DeMoss at Revive Our Hearts in her "The Incomparable Christ" series, which began March 9th, put my focus where it should be ~ on Jesus and what He accomplished on the cross and in His resurrection.

But I also have great memories of walking in Jesus' steps in Israel just a few months ago. As I walked, I collected rocks from various locations, and they are all labeled on the bottom side of each rock.

I've already written about one rock ... the large one in this picture from Gideon's Spring with the engraved "C" for courage. But there are also lots of rocks from Israel from the ruins of the Temple, the Temple Mount, the Southern steps, an old Jewish cemetary, Gethsemane, Meggido, Capernaum, Bet-She'at, the Jordan River, the Mount of Beatitudes, near the Sea of Galilee, the Golan Heights, Tiberius, Antonio's Fortress, Caesarea Maritima, and Golgotha and the Garden Tomb.

As I turn over each rock and look at the labels, I remember the sites and how I knew this tour of Israel would change me. I will never read the scriptures again without picturing these places and remembering what I saw, heard, smelled, and felt. It was a time of commitment, as well.

I've served in a revival ministry and in various churches and ministries since I became a Christ-follower. And I've learned that sanctification is a process. I've had my low points of faith and obedience, as well as mountain-top experiences. But through it all, there has been one continuing truth. God has been my Rock. He is solid; I can lean on Him.

He is the Rock of my salvation (Psalm 62:2, 7), and my continuing, mighty Rock and fortress (Psalm 18:1-2; 91:2). The Almighty Lord is our help in time of trouble, and we are wise if we quiet ourselves and remember Who He is! (Psalm 46).

Fortresses are usually made of strong rock, or at least, built upon a firm foundation. Unlike the broken-down walls in Jerusalem, God cannot be overcome. He cannot be shaken or moved. He is our firm foundation ~ our Mighty Fortress ~ in these days of turmoil.

May 5th is the National Day of Prayer, and this year's focus is "a Mighty Fortress is our God." I looked up the words of the song by that name, and found some of the original words Martin Luther wrote:

"A sure stronghold our God is he, a trusty shield and weapon.
Our help he'll be and set us free from every ill can happen."

Our country is in desperate need today ... and believers must pray desperate prayers for ourselves, our families, our churches, our neighborhoods, our government, and our nation. God, our Rock, can surely change us, but we must come to him in humility, recognizing our need. I encourage you to begin praying now, as we head toward Easter, and also on May 5th.

God is my "sure stronghold" ... my Rock. Is He your foundation and source of strength today?

Note: "The MIL-DIL Stew" series will conclude next week.


The MIL-DIL "Stew" - Part 5 - Boundaries Are Good!

In the last post, I mentioned that boundaries are good ~ a healthy part of in-law relationships. I wanted to dig into that a bit more.

Boundaries bring clarity and provide safeguards against hurt feelings or misunderstandings. It is up to both MILs and DILs to clearly communicate where they have placed their personal boundaries.

In Mothers-in-Law vs. Daughters-in-Law, author Elisabeth Graham tells the story* of her mother-in-law Esther's cold feelings toward her after she married her son.

"After our wedding she simply pretended I didn't exist," wrote Graham. "While we were at work, she came to our house unbidden and took our laundry home to wash. She rearranged our cupboards and moved items of decor around, just as she had done for Bill his whole life."

How terrible! I thought. But then Graham continued, "Esther enjoyed this freedom only because we allowed it. Bill didn't see it as a big deal, and I didn't want to hurt her feelings, so we said nothing."

Later, Graham and her husband moved into a duplex that their in-laws owned, and the visits became more frequent and interruptive. But Graham did nothing to resolve the conflict, giving Esther permission to continue overstepping boundaries. She says, in retrospect, that she now sees how she could have "kindly and respectfully" put their relationship on healthier ground; but events escalated until years later, with the addition of children and "Gramma" challenging for their attention, things got much worse.

"...I realized the extent of the damage being done to my marriage because of my lack of boundaries with Esther." She concluded that her only option was divorce to free herself from the "tyranny" of her mother-in-law." But it was, she thought, her fault for not setting up boundaries, and she sought God's help. In the process, she learned how to set well-placed and wise boundaries.

After reading Graham's book and various other sources, I believe there are some key things in-laws can do.

How to Set Boundaries:

  • Pray before setting any boundary. Ask God to show you your faults. Unhealthy relationships usually "take two." And ask God to help you see the other in-law's position clearly. (Matthew 7:3-5)
  • Operate from a spirit of unity, not selfishness ~ just wanting your own agenda. Annie Chapman, in The Mother-in-Law Dance,** calls this "Setting boundaries without building walls." (Ephesians 4:2-3) Be sure that the boundary will add to the relationship, not just make you feel better.
  • Wait until your emotions are right. Set aside any bitterness, anger or revenge. Ask God to give you a tender heart. (Ephesians 4:31; Hebrews 12:14-15)
  • Be careful how you communicate your need for boundaries, if necessary (not critical or unkind or judgmental). (Ephesians 4:15, 32)
  • But note: You may not have to even discuss the boundary. Consider how you might be able to adjust your own behavior to eliminate the problem. (For example, if a DIL always drops her kids off on Saturday afternoons, make plans from time to time to not be home... adjust your availability. The same would go for a MIL who feels she can drop in every Friday night, when that is the DIL's Date Night with hubby.)
  • A few issues: (1) Holiday boundaries can be tough. It can get complicated. But I like what Graham says: "Daughters-in-law play a key role here. Most husbands acquiesce to their wife's wishes when it comes to holiday plans ... A daughter-in-law is giving her husband and children a valuable gift when she chooses to honor traditions on both sides of the family." As families grow, it's usually wise to limit celebrations to immediate family, and then plan other special events with the extended family ~ but not on the actual "day" of the holiday.
  • (2) Financial boundaries are also tough, and parents should not interfere with their children's decisions. This is one area that in-laws can help when invited; but not step in, otherwise. On the other hand, older MILs may need financial help, but it is still wise to ask, unless they are debilitated.
  • (3) The best advice on boundaries to MILs? "Get a life." Don't depend on your children or grandchildren to bring you the joy that can be yours as you live a great adventure with God. Then, when they enter your life for events and get-togethers, it's a bonus!
If an in-law will not respond to you in a healthy way, don't let it change your goal to be a committed Christ-follower.

Annie Chapman tells the story of her competitive MIL with sadness. "...she never offered me her love and affection, not even when she was dying," she said. "Even though I've never felt such pain and rejection, I eventually came to realize that she was the one to be pitied. She voluntarily cut herself off from someone who truly cared about what happened to her... Being a Christian, I was able to fight through the hurt feelings in order to keep my eyes on the goal. I couldn't let how she behaved change who I wanted to be."

You can set boundaries and still be a nice woman. Really! Chapman writes: "We train others how to treat us," and she quotes Matthew 7:12: "...treat people the same way you want them to treat you...." Boundaries ~ general guidelines for relationships ~ lead to healthier interactions.

Some practical "guidelines" (some, from Chapman's book):
  • Don't go to the in-law's house unless invited.
  • When invited, it's still a good idea to call right before you leave.
  • Never enter a house (or a room in a house with a closed door) without knocking first.
  • DILs - don't assume your MIL will always be a ready babysitter. (And don't lay on a guilt trip if she says, "no.")
  • MILs - don't call your DIL's house after the dinner hour (except in emergencies).
  • Don't overstep financial boundaries. MIL's (and FILs) should only offer money if the SIL asks for it. Let him be "the man" to the DIL.
  • MILs - don't side with your son against the DIL. (It's not a good way to bond!)
  • Don't overstay during family visits.
  • Be careful with bringing food without asking.
  • It's not usually wise to offer unsolicited advice ~ it may be crossing a line.
  • MILs, work hard ~ maybe with the DILs mom ~ to coordinate holidays so your children won't feel stressed; and don't make them feel guilty over making you feel "alone" if they choose to spend time with others.
Boundaries sometimes take time to set up, but they are valuable in "oiling the machinery" of relationships. Ask God for wisdom, and then try to establish healthy boundaries that will ultimately bless everyone involved.

Next week: Part 6 - Blessing Your In-laws

* Mothers-in-Law vs. Daughters-in-Law, Elisabeth Graham (Beacon Hill, 2010), pp. 84-87, 93
** The Mother-in-Law Dance, Annie Chapman (Harvest House Publ., 2004), pp. 57-58, 63-65


The MIL-DIL "Stew" - Part 4 - Those Expectations!

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received regarding in-laws is "Let go of your expectations." I found that once I did this, I could relax and cultivate a fresh new relationship.

Expectations in relationships can equal pressure and stress ~ and not the good kind!

Often our expectations for MILs or DILs come from cultural influences in our lives. For example, the stereotypical mother-in-law on television sitcoms and in many movies is the "mother-in-law from hell." I think of Marie on the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond! Perhaps experiences in our past also color our expectations. Maybe you saw a poor example of in-laws ~ a lack of love or respect, perhaps ~ and you believe all MIL-DIL relationships are that way.

I love what author Elisabeth Graham says about in-laws: "Your in-law is not stereotypical. God doesn't create stereotypes. She is an original design who has been molded by both positive and negative circumstances, all of which were allowed by God to equip her for her life purpose. The fact that she is your in-law means God has a specific purpose for the two of you being connected by marriage. You both bring things to the table that the other needs. The adventure (nightmare?) comes in finding a way to exchange these things without destroying each other.... A faulty in-law relationship is never one-sided. Both parties bring 'self' to the table. Both have unrealistic or negative expectations ... But to enter the relationship expecting trouble is a sure way to find it. *

What are some of the expectations MILs or DILs might have?

  • The holidays often cause expectations to rise to the surface. Where will you spend the holidays? Whose family will you see, and for how long? What about gifts? How much is expected? How much is too much or too little? Is it a matter of quantity time or quality time? Oh, the expectations!
  • Some DILs believe that MILs should be seen but never heard and consider anything a MIL says as "interference," while the MIL yearns to share her experiences.
  • Some MILs want the DIL to treat her as another mother, but the DIL isn't comfortable with that and prefers to develop a simple friendship.
  • Some DILs expect MILs to drop everything and babysit. Some MILs expect to have the freedom to "drop in" anytime. (Neither is a respectful attitude.)
  • Some MILs expect that DILs will parent like they did, when the DIL just wishes the MIL would give her the benefit of the doubt that she's a good mom.
  • Some DILs expect that the MIL will not "spoil" her children in any way, while the MIL wants to express extravagant love within reason.
The list could continue. But the point is, expectations are as varied as the two women involved.

I've found five things that help with expectations:

First, practice good communication. The Bible encourages us to speak the truth in love to one another (Ephesians 4:15a). Be honest, but sensitive. Think of how you would want someone to speak to you. Speak with respect and kindness about what is important to you, but don't be selfish. Romans 12:10, says, "honor one another above yourselves." Don't expect that your in-law will see things the same way you do, so listen and seek to understand. Be careful with gossip, criticism, and unkind words (Galatians 5:15); but instead, use words to encourage and build your in-law up (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

Second, set appropriate boundaries. "Boundaries" is not a bad word. They help us care for ourselves or others with wisdom, prevent enabling behaviors, and keep us or others from getting hurt. Love seeks to prevent harm (Romans 13:9b-10) and it overcomes evil with good (Romans 12:21). So define boundaries (or parameters) you would appreciate concerning holidays, visits, time with grandchildren, financial issues, privacy, etc. Learn when to say no, and how to say it with love and respect, considering the other person's feelings. DILs, perhaps you can establish a private password with your spouse, to signal when to end a visit with in-laws. Keep your private life private. Be careful not to vent about your marriage or your relationship frustrations in a Facebook status ... in-laws may be reading!

Third, be willing to stretch. Realize that your way isn't the only way. Don't judge your in-laws (Romans 14:13); instead, accept the extended family (Romans 15:7). Take time to discover your in-law's heritage (cultural roots) to better understand and accept the way they are. Don't expect perfect relationships, but work toward positive ones. Bear with each other's differences, and forgive, forgive, forgive! (Colossians 3:13). Deal with non-negotiable circumstances with grace, and try to help your in-law with the burdens she carries (Galatians 6:2) Open your home to her as a gift of hospitality (1 Peter 4:9). And serve your MIL or DIL as you are able, and as your schedule allows (Galatians 5:13b). Barbara Graham, a columnist at grandparents.com, says, "The heart is a generous muscle, and there's enough love to go around."**

Fourth, develop trust. MILs, follow your DIL's rules for her children. If she sees that you are working with her and not against her, she will trust you more. Keep confidences. Don't tell your grandchildren to tell your DIL anything that is issues oriented; speak directly to her about any concerns. DILs, create an atmosphere that assures your MIL that you are not speaking negatively about her behind her back (James 4:11). She has to feel she can trust you, too. Practice loyalty within the family and in the way you project your in-law to others.

Fifth, pray for your in-law. When we pray, as we are instructed in the Word of God (James 5:16a), we open ourselves to the wisdom we need.

As you have probably noticed, many of these scriptures are the "one another" verses (another version here) that we apply to our relationships ~ and there is no reason why they should not be applied to our in-laws!

Issues with expectations often are attitude problems at the core. I love Graham's story* about a young woman who hated Mother's Day because she didn't want to buy her mother-in-law a Mother's Day card. She felt the cards were all too sugary and nowhere close to describing her nasty MIL. But one year, as she stood in front of the card rack, she began to cry in frustration. She prayed, "God, help me find a card for her."

The still, quiet voice she heard in response told her to buy her mother-in-law a card that she wished described her.

She did so, and she did the same thing on her MIL's birthday, and the next Mother's Day, and the next birthday, and so on. And then one day she realized that the cards describing her dream mother-in-law now described her actual mother-in-law.

"She had changed. Or I had changed," she said. "Or maybe we both changed! I don't know. I just know that somewhere along the way, she had started to become like the woman my cards described."

So my advice to you is, "Let go of your expectations, and concentrate on loving your in-law in as many practical ways as you can."

To review ... remember to:
  1. Speak with love and wisdom.
  2. Set appropriate boundaries.
  3. Stretch a little and serve as you can.
  4. Work hard at trusting and being trustworthy.
  5. Pray for your in-law!
And watch God do His perfect work in your lives.

Next week: Part 5 - Boundaries Are Good

* Elisabeth Graham, Mothers-in-Law vs. Daughters-in-Law (Beacon Hill Press, 2010), pp. 26-27, 31.
** http://www.grandparents.com/gp/content/expert-advice/family-matters/article/mother-in-law-daughter-in-law-relationship-rule.html