The Mother-in-Law … Friend or Foe
By Diane Exner
The average loving wife will smile and nod when her husband casually comments, "Hey honey, my folks are coming to visit. They'll be here next weekend for a few days." For many daughters-in-law, this comment can give them a split personality, identity crisis.
The most sweet, caring woman can turn into a feisty feline seemingly over night in preparation for her mother-in-law's arrival. She will run around the home like the 'Mad-Hatter' for the week previous, cleaning closets, washing windows, dusting drawers and bleaching bowls (toilet bowls that is), to ensure nothing is out of place for the visit of royalty. By the time her in-laws arrive, this woman is too tired from cleaning and preparing her home, to enjoy a decent conversation with her guests.
Not being able to relax after the evening meal, her mother-in-law takes it upon herself to start clearing the dinner dishes. Her husband offers to help. It's his way of saying, "Thank you for all your efforts. Dinner was great."
After a half-hearted protest, daughter-in-law remains sitting and enjoys a cup of black coffee while making small talk with dear ol’ dad. She finds if she asks him about the weather, crops, or the latest in sports news, he has no trouble holding his side of the exchange for the next fifteen minutes. It's a win-win situation. She gets to relax over coffee and is still contributing to entertaining the in-laws, while mother and son are bonding by doing the dinner dishes together.
Upon mother-in-law’s return, she remarks, "Now wasn't that nice of ‘Junior’ to clear the table for you dear? He's such a big help."
"Junior’s" wife politely smiles and nods as her hands cup her coffee mug and she props her elbows on the table to take a long sip. Peering over her mug at her husband, her eyes plead with him, 'Don't let her get started.' Her husband squirms nervously.
* * *
The ball is in the daughter-in-law's court and the next action, or reaction, will set the tone for the evening and, inevitably, the next few days. Both women love Junior very much and are trying to make a good impression for Junior's sake. Both women are proud of Junior for his current accomplishments in life. Both are nervous and trying to read the other's actions and words for future conversations.
Take a few minutes to consider the 'other' woman in this scenario … the mother-in-law. As mothers usually do when confronted with the unknown and are nervous, they default to something they are experts on – their children. They've spent twenty-some years raising and caring for them before they leave home. They encourage, teach and shape their personalities to become the men and women everyone grows to love as they develop into fine young adults.
The daughter-in-law now has a choice to make. She can say in the politest way possible, "Thank you for your previous contributions in your son's life but he's my husband now and we don't need your advice or comments any longer." Then she can watch her mother-in-law squirm as her fears would be confirmed that she is no longer needed or necessary, and her relationship with her son is going to be distant at best.
The wife's other option is to seize the opportunity to learn about the early years of her beloved, and watch her husband squirm in disbelief at the unheard of bonding between mother and daughter-in-law, as it unfolds before his eyes. This is her opportunity to make an ally in her mother-in-law and have some common ground on which to build a future relationship.
Upon further reflection, she thinks her mother-in-law has obviously done something right in her son's upbringing because she herself has fallen in love and married him. She'd be curious to know from whom he got his sense of humor. His mannerisms and behaviors, that she loves, must have come from one of his parents. His mother must have taught him his polite and gentle ways. His father must be responsible for his love of sports, especially baseball. Maybe she can learn something about how he has interacted with his siblings to start to prepare her for the future of their own children…
* * *
Picture once more the scene at the dining table. The daughter-in-law has her cup to her lips, resting on her elbows, and is now peeking over the mug at her husband across the table. Their eyes meet. This time she has a playful look in her eye as she winks at him and politely smiles at her soon-to-be friend.
She brings her cup down to softly rest on the table as she replies, "Yes, it was thoughtful of him. Was he that big of a helper in the kitchen when he was young?"
Watch who smiles and nods now as the stories tumble off her new friend's lips and her husband settles back in his chair to listen to the tales he has heard so many times before. He relaxes, knowing that his two best friends have now begun their journey on the road to the inevitable mother and daughter-in-law relationship … on the same team.
* * *
"Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers … but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God." (Titus 2:3-5 NIV)
This article is dedicated to my mother-in-law, who has been an incredible encouragement and mentor to me in my Christian walk. She has not only talked the talk, but has walked the walk – leading by example.
Sadly, this tribute to her mother-in-law, marks the last column from Diane Exner as Editor of A Woman’s World. Diane is following God’s leading as He directs her down new and challenging paths. We thank her for her nine months of service to FaithWriters’ Magazine and wish her every blessing in the future. You can keep up to date with Diane’s writing and family through her website at http://www.exner-express.com.
From June, the new Editor for A Woman’s World will be the delightful Criss Bertling. We know you will love her.
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