“I’ve solved the mystery,” a newlywed recently told me. “I now fully understand why my husband never puts his dish in the sink or picks up his underwear off the floor where he stepped out of them. His mother raised him to be helpless.”
I laughed. She didn’t.
She recounted their cross-country trip for the Christmas holidays, which they spent in her mother-in-law’s home. “It was our first Christmas together as a married couple, but his mom had not been well and she begged us to come. Apparently her son is the cure for what ails her,” she sighed loudly as she recalled the trip. “She waited on him hand and foot. From the tearful greeting at the front door till the moment we left.You would have thought he was coming home from the war: My son! My son has come home! “Just something about that set my teeth on edge. His home is 2000 miles away. This is his mother’s home. He’s a grown man, for crying out loud.”
It was a tough situation. But most men come to the altar with something very real: the other woman, his mother, who has known and loved him far longer than “that new woman.” Mama probably also thinks she loves him more than any wife ever could.
You can come to the in-law party at any age. It’s not reserved for twenty-somethings alone. But the older you are, the more challenging a task to build a relationship with the other woman may be. Accepting and welcoming a new daughter might be easier when you’re 45 than at 60. We’ve spent more time on the planet at 60, selected and become committed to our way of thinking, living and being.
The same is true for the new bride. The longer you’ve been out from under your own mother’s purview and lived on your own makes a difference. Accepting the drama from a brand new mama may be a long way down on your to-do list. And the challenges between mamas and the girls who marry their sons have no expiration date. The distance and difficulty may remain in the relationship far beyond the first year of adjustment.
There are other twists on the scenario with the women in question smiling through gritted teeth at best, snarling and spitting at worst. All as we sit together around the Christmas tree in celebration of the birth of our Lord.
There may have been past hurts in the relationship between the MIL and the DIL. Other variations on the theme may be a factor, as well: today’s families are complex, with blended families, ex-spouses, step-grandparents and so on. Tensions can run high.
So how do we focus on the real reason we’ve come together? A couple of quick tips: don’t dredge it or dramatize it. Drop it, instead.
- Don’t Dredge It: Don’t make this year’s holidays unbearable by dredging up the past, obsessing about it for weeks in advance and assuming that this year, too, will be a disaster. It will create dread on your part and the potential to read something negative into everything she says. If you go loaded for bear, every movement in the brush gets a backside of buckshot. Let the past stay in the past.
- Don’t Dramatize It: It’s a brief season. Avoid creating drama over a few days spent together. I spoke to a woman who dreaded the holidays because her woman-in-law was such a drama queen, similar to the woman in our opening example. If she wants to make a fuss over her only son, let her – and stop rolling your eyes. He’s still going home with you when it’s over. And Mama, remember, his wife is the most important woman in his life. If you love him, treat her as he would expect you to.
- Drop It! Take past issues and hurts to the foot of the cross, drop them and, walk away. Make a decision to leave them there. Jesus is more than able to heal the hurt that comes from rejection by those who are supposed to love you – He experienced it. Whether you are the MIL or the DIL, if you are a follower of Christ, it’s what He expects us to do. I am not suggesting what you’ve experienced isn’t genuinely painful. I am suggesting that if you are waiting for her to make it right, you might wait a very long time.
Why not make this the year you make your move and choose a fresh start in the relationship? Consider it a gift to the man in the middle. Doing it will make more real the holiness of this holiday season – and it will make our Lord smile.
This topic is tough to address in a single post. My book, Related by Chance, Family by Choice, covers the topic of women-in-law relationships comprehensively. Written with the input of my own three daughters-in-love, it’s for every woman whether the relationship is just beginning, already difficult – or good, and you’d like to take it up a notch. You can find it at the links listed here at:
or at your local Christian Book store.