The phone rang and she instinctively checked the caller ID. Margaret again. She had a way of regularly calling at the wrong time. Diane wondered what people did before you could know who’s calling before you pick up the phone.
When Diane and Vic married she had some concerns about Margaret. Vic’s dad died about a year before the wedding and Margaret became a little clingy with her only son. Diane understood that Vic’s wedding following so closely to Margaret losing her husband was going to make it hard. At first, she was calling almost daily just to say hello and check in. The calls aren’t nearly as frequent now but Diane can’t help it that Margaret seems to call just as she is leaving to run errands or Vic is just walking in from work.
Besides, Margaret will probably call back later in the week. As she walks away from the phone, Diane’s eyebrows press into a slightly quizzical look. For some reason she just realized that she never remembered Dad getting regular calls from her Nana. Hmm…guess they weren’t that close. Maybe that’s why she only saw Nana once a year or so.
The posts on this in-law series have recently focused on the parents-in-law. For the next few days I’d like to share some thoughts that may be helpful to children-in-law. Diane didn’t realize that her in-law views had been shaped by her upbringing. Because her father didn’t get regular calls from his mother, Diane unconsciously wondered why her own mother-in-law called so much. Sometimes she didn’t even mention to Vic that his mom called…
I’m reminded of Josh coming to me when he was about eight to tell me he planted a couple of pumpkin seeds on the hill in our back yard. “Nannie said if I planted the seeds where they could get lots of sun and grow downhill we’ll have pumpkins pretty soon! She said even you probably can’t kill pumpkins, Mom!”
The sparkle in his eyes prevented me from squelching his enthusiasm. Clearly my reputation for killing most everything I planted was well established. But even I knew that digging a little hole, throwing some pumpkins seeds in it and dousing it with a glass half full of water was not going to result in fresh pumpkin pies at Thanksgiving.
Well, until the vine grew all the way down the hill and cute little pumpkins started growing.
The first thing I want to share specifically with children-in-law is this: remember that you are sowing seeds will may reap in the future. I find myself regularly repeating a phrase Benny picked up somewhere years ago, “More is caught than taught.” Because Diane grew up in a home where there was little one-on-one contact between her Dad and his mother she found the amount of contact between her husband and his mother to be excessive at worst and mildly irritating at best.
In-law relationships are rule-less. There is no reputable handbook or list of laws that must be heeded about relating to your parents-in-law! And what is preferred by and works for other families may not be right for yours. That’s where the comparison trap can wreak havoc. Perhaps you have friends who rarely see or talk to their in-laws and it works fine for them, while others you know go to their in-laws every Sunday for food and football. Look long enough and you’ll find someone who has the kind of in-law relationship you prefer — whether it’s less contact or more.
The Bible talks about the principle of sowing and reaping (Galatians 6:7). What is put into the ground is what comes out of the ground. I can’t plant tomatoes and then be disappointed that I didn’t get cucumbers! While this verse is certainly not referring to in-law relationships, the principle is applicable. What was “planted” in Diane’s young heart was that husbands and their moms don’t have much contact and see each other only occasionally. This made Margaret’s regular calls to her married son seem a little strange to Diane. She wondered what in the world would happen when they had kids for her to dote on?
If you are the parent of small children I would suggest that you consider the seeds you are planting. After Benny and I got married it became more noticeable to me how infrequently he and his parents (who lived nearby) interacted. After we had children, and especially after his parents divorced, I found myself suggesting to Benny that he call his mom to say hello, invite her to the kids basketball games or see if she would like to join us for church events.
Some years later I realized what I was doing. I wanted our children to grow up seeing their dad reach out to his mom. There was something in my heart that hoped our sons would “catch” their Dad’s care for and initiative toward his mother. As her daughter-in-law, I not only wanted Jewel to be the recipient of her son’s love (especially because of Benny’s warm relationship with my mother) but I also hoped those seeds would be reaped in my life when my four little boys became men.
I’m not suggesting that how you treat your in-laws will automatically affect how your adult children will treat you. Perhaps Diane’s grandmother was perfectly content with the amount of interaction she had with her adult son and didn’t notice that he didn’t reach out except to make arrangements for holiday visits. But maybe she would have loved to hear from him more — if she wasn’t concerned about being perceived as a meddling mother-in-law or a nuisance.
Take a minute soon to look at your little ones. Those chubby arms and legs will grown lean and long. Before you know it your little boy’s voice will deepen and you’ll start seeing facial hair pop up on a face that is starting to look like it belongs to a man. The little girl who is turning in “pretty circles” to Disney music will be asking when she can start wearing makeup. Your children will become adults who will leave home and get married.
What will your relationship with them be like then? Who will be there to show them how to warmly love their parents ? Will they think to call sometimes just to say a quick hello? Will their eyes roll unseen on the other end of the phone or computer when asked to come over to Mom’s for dinner or drive into town for a holiday? Will they get so busy with their new marriage and life that they forget how excited you are when you hear their voice on the phone or as they walk into the front door?
Let me tell you a secret. You are teaching them — now. Let them hear you call your parents and parents-in-law or overhear you gently remind your spouse to do so. Show them how to treat you later by how you treat your parents and in-laws now.
And if you’re discouraged because there is so much turbulent water under the in-law bridge that you’re afraid it’s too late, remember the gospel. Jesus Christ’s death on the cross says it’s never too late to hope for change. Maybe your in-laws are mean and want little to do with you. Perhaps they are perfectly happy with living their lives apart from you for any number of justified or unjustified reasons. And maybe, if you’re honest, you prefer the way things are and don’t want more relationship or contact with them.
Again, just fast-foward a couple of years and ask yourself if the way you think about and treat your in-laws is the way you hope things will be with your adult kids and their spouses. Making any changes you think are needed now with your in-laws won’t guarantee good things later.
But you never know. After all, we had fresh pumpkin pies that Thanksgiving because a little boy was willing to throw seeds into some dirt and hoped they would grow.