Is Alice a Monster-in-Law?

Prior to Carrie and Adam’s wedding, at the photographer’s request, she made a list of the must-have pictures she wanted from her special day. She was careful to keep the list at the number he requested since they had limited photo time before everyone involved in the wedding needed to get to the reception.

Toward the end of the photo session Alice, Carrie’s new mother-in-law, started calling her husband and children together for a photo with Adam. Hmmf. Carrie hadn’t even bothered to ask her if there were any special pictures she wanted. Carrie mentally ran through her list and realized this wasn’t one she had given to the photographer. Time was running out but she quickly remembered the photographer had agreed to deal with any requests for not-listed pictures. However, he seemed oblivious to Adam’s mother.

Suddenly, Alice started encouraging her hubby and kids toward the front.

“Carrie, I’d like a picture of Ralph and I with our kids if that’s okay,” she said as she gently took Carrie’s arm to move her aside.

Carrie’s eyes stole to Adam.

“Ummm, Mom, we don’t have much time,” he said, awkwardly. “We need to finish up the rest of the pictures in time for the recep…..”

“Oh, silly!” she chided. “Of course you want a picture with your family on your wedding day!” she concluded as she started placing family members around the new groom.

Carrie was hurt. Why would Alice want a picture on Adam’s wedding day that didn’t include his bride? And now this meant she needed to allot time for a similar picture with her parents and siblings so Dad and Mom wouldn’t feel slighted. Then when Alice decided after several shots were taken that her children needed to be placed differently for a few more, Carrie inwardly fumed. Precious minutes were being lost…

Alice was having a great time celebrating Adam’s wedding day with a picture of his family, one that would probably hang on the wall with…oh my!…Carrie realized now that there were two other family pictures at weddings with only one of the happy couple. Great. Now she would have to be reminded of Alice’s insensitivity and selfishness every time they went over to the house!

Alice and Carrie were off to a rocky start. Over the coming years their outwardly affectionate interactions were masking underlying issues. Alice was being insensitive to her new daughter-in-law on her wedding day and a thoughtful bride would have likely asked Alice for a couple of requests when she was making her photo list. Both women were likely judging one another’s heart and motives that day — and by doing so they were adding to an already growing list of normal and common misunderstanding between gals who love the same guy.

Why are in-law relationships so challenging, particularly between women?

Our culture certainly doesn’t help. I did some online research and found the following:

  • A site that says: “Next time you are fuming about your mother-in-law, visit us and find a sympathetic ear.”
  • Did you see the popular 2005 romantic comedy Monster-in-Law that depicts how the guy’s mother (Jane Fonda) tries to destroy his relationship with Charlie (Jennifer Lopez)?
  • In 2001 A&E did a series of “real-life” situations, also called Monster-in-Law. Families sit down with a relationship “expert” to talk through their problems. The site says it’s for all in-law relationships, but the name of the series puts the emphasis on the meddling, overbearing MIL.
  • Cartoons, picture and jokes abound that negatively depict an assumed inherent tension and rivalry between a man’s mother and his wife. (You see some of those here.)
  • Books including How to SURVIVE Your In-Laws; Toxic In-Laws; A Wife’s Guide to In-Laws: How to Gain Your Husband’s Loyalty Without Killing His Parents.

Wow. The assumption seems to be that in-law relationships stink and all we can hope for is survival, lessening the toxicity and trying not to kill one another!

A new book written by a Cambridge University psychologist who has researched this issue for years indicates that words including “strained,” “infuriating” and “simply awful” are used by 60% of women to describe their relationship with their mother or daughter-in-law. I wonder what adjectives the other 40% would use. Perhaps tolerable? Okay? Bearable? Decent? Would anyone say caring? Helpful? Affectionate? Or (dare say) warm?

The Bible doesn’t specifically communicate what healthy in-law relationships should look like.  And just as with any area in our lives, we don’t want to look to others as the standard of how of in-law relationships should work in our family.  Yet the Bible is clear on how Christians should treat one another  even when they are all-out enemies.

Benny and I have children-in-law (“New Kids”) with whom we share a close relationship: two sons-in-law and three daughters-in-law. Frankly, it hasn’t been easy to marry off our kids. We wrestled, cried, worried, wondered and did the whole “where in the world have the years gone????”  thing each time. (I admit it; I did more of all that than he did.) As the kids were growing up we told ourselves we would prepare ourselves for being replaced by young guys and girls who won the hearts of our sons and daughters. But no parent can fully prepare themselves for seeing the child they birthed, loved, nurtured, protected and cherished fall in love and start a new independent family. It’s exciting but sad, wonderful yet heart wrenching.

One day they’re in fifth grade talking about someone cute they want to invite to an upcoming birthday party and then…whoosh!…they’re a young adult falling in love for real and wanting to get married! It’s doubly hard when your child’s choice is someone you don’t like or don’t think has the character and maturity to make your child happy for a lifetime.

I’m obviously writing as the old person-in-law. While I want to identify with and share the perspective of the younger generation, my burden is that of one who has been on both sides of the in-law relationship for fifteen+ years. I have struggled on both sides. Yet, with God’s help three generations of Phillips women actually like each other and enjoy being together.

I want to both identify with Carrie and Alice as well as help to unravel some of the common heart issues behind their unspoken struggles. In the process,  I will share some of my own temptations and joys as Jewel’s DIL and the MIL of five beloved new kids.

Today I want to end by thanking PJ, Rachel, Rebekah, Lauren and Eric. Thank you for being patient with me in the learning curve of figuring out how be a mother-in-law to five uniquely wired but commonly terrific people. Thank you for answering my “what am I doing right and wrong” questions; extending me grace and forgiveness when I’ve failed; allowing me to be weak and flawed; never making monster-in-law jokes (at least in my hearing…smile); and spending lots of time at the house eating my food. A few of you and I have been through some pretty rough times together but God has been faithful, hasn’t He? More challenges will undoubtedly come because of the crazy family He put you into, but I wouldn’t trade any one of you for another new kid.

More tomorrow….

3 thoughts on “Is Alice a Monster-in-Law?

  1. I’m not sure you’ve realized what absolutely terrible things some MIL’s & also I’m sure DIL’s have done. Over a life time to their own children and then to their in-law children. It’s sometimes sick and saddening and it makes me (sometimes even righteously I believe) angry to see how terrible and abusive some parents treat their own children and then also their sons&daughters in law. Some parents are emotionally, physically, verbally, and even sexually abusive. Not only to that extreme, but some MIL’s you cannot imagine how bad it is. Truly. Some aren’t even Christians (and the worst is that some are) and some continue to pierce, humiliate, and truly destroy children’s lives in the process. I don’t believe your post really gives the full view on this subject. Although you are writing from your view, it seems you discount what has happened in the lives of countless other human beings in the world. I know you’re writing from your own perspective, but most importantly you’re also “giving advice” and when you do that you do have a big responsibility (especially if it’s “godly” advice) to write with full (as much as you can) understanding & knowledge. If you don’t then you run the risk of skewing who God is to others and what our lives should be like. Yes, we have control over forgiving and loving others. Yes, we have control over how respond, with God’s grace. Yet we don’t have control over the extreme evil that some of our spouses’ parents and our in laws seek to commit. Although we can give that fully to God, many people do need help navigating those stormy waters. You seem to be trying to “give advice” in your posts, but it leaves me feeling lost and so utterly hopeless. It’s hard to hear your advice for your very almost “perfect-like” life. No I know you don’t think it’s perfect, I’m sure. Yet, in many of your posts it seems you give an attitude of “this is the ideal, yeah i’ve fallen short a few or many times, but we’ve arrived at this ideal anyway, so ya’ll can have hope too.” Your weaknesses and struggles seem so trivial and light compared to others. You really run the risk of damaging people’s view of God– who He is and… “why He isn’t the same in others lives as He is in yours.” Some people don’t live in cities where they have a small group like you, it doesn’t mean God doesn’t love them as much as He is “kind” to you. What if some single mothers don’t have family members helping them, nor the money to live anywhere but a ghetto– or if their children don’t turn out loving God and turn to drugs because of the poverty we’ve been confined to live in… it doesn’t mean God isn’t as kind to them as He is “kind” to you and your family. What if some husbands are physically and emotionally abusive some days and the wife has to constantly decide whether or not to call the police and forever ruin his career or keep living with a man with rage spells no matter how many times people have prayed over him and how many pastors he has “submitted” to. We get it, God’s been kind to you. Not everyone’s lives are NEARLY as good as yours and the advice and counsel they need goes far beyond the words you are sharing. I think your blog is very timely and obviously helps many people, but I think the way you write sometimes seems a little bit like you just want to share how wise you are and how your life has turned out so well, even if you’ve failed a few times. It seems your blog should be more of a journal of your life, and not one that gives advice and even hope to others. Some people are struggling to stay alive. Some people live in small towns who have churches where pastors won’t even meet with them to counsel them, and church members won’t even lend a giving or helping hand for anything. Some people have been so deeply-heart-wrenchingly-hurt in churches– even sovereign grace churches. Some people are going through gut-wrenching pain– some people in this world are not even be able to put food on the table for days on end. Their children literally go hungry for days, and churches won’t even help them. That happens not only in third world countries, but also our country. If you want to write advice like this, maybe you should write it in the context of… “This is for Sovereign Grace women and the like… of for my friends who have lives like mine” Because I can tell you not many women can relate to what you’re writing no matter how badly they want a better life…. even if they’ve grown up as a pastor’s kid in a sovereign grace church and they know what the ideal is! Yes, God is GOOD, yes He is Kind…. but when a person is fighting to believe that on a daily basis living in conditions I don’t think you could imagine it’s hard reading your blog. Yes, it’s our own jobs to guard our hearts, and yes maybe those having a hard time shouldn’t read your blog. However, when you put it out there for the public to read and you include so much about God, I feel as if you do have a responsibility to at least be aware and so very considerate of these things. I hope you continue writing. I also hope your life continues to be blessed and that God continues to pour out all of these blessings and more onto you and your family. I also hope you continue to see God’s goodness and faithfulness to you. Also, I really don’t want my comments to be so very discouraging but in the least just enlightening to be considerate of these things. I’m not a mom yet and I’m surely not a grandmother yet, but I have always wanted a life like you describe in your posts. My life could not be farther from it at the moment and there seem to be no Christians around not only willing to give their money, but more importantly their time. Many Christians seem to spend a lot of time talking to their other Christian godly friends, but not much time counseling people in such difficult, confusing, and time consuming trials and suffering. If only Jesus were still walking on this earth, at least the broken and messed up lives would have someone to turn to. Christians these days are willing usually to meet with messed up people once or maybe twice, but when their phones ring late at night and continue to ring throughout the week… they’re not so willing to lay down their lives anymore. I’ve seen this in countless lives and it’s really not a surprise so many people have a bad view of God bc of how the “people” of God are so unwilling to help when it costs mostly their time not their money.

  2. K,

    Thanks for taking the time to write down your thoughts and impressions for mom. There are a couple thoughts I have in response that I asked mom if I could share. She has limited internet access this week, and I wanted to make sure your comment had a response, as you raised a couple of important points.

    The first point would be your perspective that mom could be skewing her readers perspective on God because she is not writing to every type of reader, especially those who are in very difficult or extreme circumstances. While I am sure mom would agree she wants to be helpful to as many people as possible, it would be impossible to speak to every situation in every post. Each post is rather short and has one or two points. So there is going to be limitations there. But the good thing is that the truth underlying what she is saying can be applied universally, no matter what situation a person finds themselves in. Most of her posts are written to woman, and I find myself learning and being challenged by the truth in what she said. Hopefully that is not because I am weird. I think it’s because even though I can’t identify with the specifics, I can easily apply the truth behind what she is saying to my own circumstances.

    Your second main point seemed to incorporate the idea that mom is projecting an image of an easy, sheltered existence, and should be up front about the fact that her posts are designed for similarly advantaged folks. My answer to the first point applies to this one as well, but I would add that your apparent perspective on mom’s life is simply wrong. She chooses to dwell on her blessings, and encourages others to do so as well…and writes in that way. It is deliberate, and I don’t think it makes what she writes any less real.

    There is probably more that could be said, and i am sure that mom would love to answer any specific questions.

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