Many jokes have been made about in-laws. Mothers-in-law especially catch the brunt of attempts at being humorous – even to the point of some being nicknamed “monster-in-law”. In life, the things that are the most humorous usually have some element of truth. One of the reasons that in-law jokes are a staple of comedy routines is that there is some relatable truth there. Marriage is not just about a bride and groom, it is also about the mingling of families. It is this mingling of families that often creates tension and sometimes conflict.
Based on their experience, age and wisdom it seems that parents would enter into the situation with a better understanding. They have more years of life experience and marriage experience. They have already themselves seen the good and the bad of mingling families and should be better equipped to navigate the challenges it brings. However, emotions for our children tend to override our ability to live out the actions and attitudes that we wanted our in-laws to have. We fall prey to many of the same circumstances and instead of applying what we wanted our in-laws to apply, our judgment is compromised and we become the problem instead of the solution. Being a parent-in-law comes with some built in challenges. It is our job to take the lead in making the mingling of families more agreeable. Here are some challenges that I have been able to identify for parents-in-law.
We invest a lot into the lives of our children. Usually by the time they marry, most parents have been the primary influence and caregiver in the lives of their children for over 20 years. We have poured out time, money, energy, love, wisdom, blood, sweat and tears. We have experienced overwhelming joys and heartaches as well. We are truly committed to our children and to their success. When they get married, there is a measure of letting go that is required of parents. There is a Bible verse that is often quoted at weddings that says a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves, or is joined to, his wife. Most parents want their child to have a spouse to cling to. The hard part is that in order for the child to cling to his or her spouse, the child must let go of the parents and the parents must let go of the child. As with anything in which we have made a significant investment, it can be difficult to release it. It could be a house or business that we sell, or a position that we leave for someone else to take over. There is a certain amount of pain that comes when we let go. As parents-in-law, it is important that we learn to let go properly and give the new couple room to grow into their own family.
Accepting the Spouse
Our child is our flesh and blood. We love them unconditionally. The spouse on the other hand does not have that standing with us and we as parents-in-law have to be open and accepting of them as a new family member. Babies are easy to love. Adults are sometimes not. They come with their own opinions, worldview, baggage and experience that makes them who they are. Add that to the fact that they are a part of the reason for us having to let go of a child who we have such an investment in and the challenge increases. Understanding all of these factors helps us be aware of our responsibility to be accepting to this new member of our family. We usually do not get to choose the spouse of our child, but we do have a choice in whether or not we are going to accept them and make our family unit the best it can be. Remember that family is way more important than your opinion. The strongest family units are the ones that learn to accept one another and grow together.
Knowing When To Influence
Though it is critical to learn to let go when our children marry and work diligently to accept their spouse, our influence does not end. We still have an obligation to them as a new family unit to help guide them through certain land mines and challenges that all new families face. The best lessons in life are the ones that someone else has paid the price to learn. We should use the wisdom gained from our own family challenges to help our child’s new family. Though we should not try to offer our opinion about everything, we should not abandon our influence. We must learn to use it wisely and appropriately. Knowing when to use our influence can be one of the most challenging things a parent-in-law will face.
Though it comes with challenges, learning to be a good parent-in-law can be an excellent growth opportunity for both the parents and the new couple. Learning together and striving to make the family unit the best it can be will benefit everyone involved and offer a safe, thriving environment for everyone to enjoy. Don’t be the “monster-in-law”. Learn to overcome the challenges and be the parent-in-law your children need you to be.