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.