What’s a Mother-In-Law To Do?

As my boys marry, I am blessed with daughters by law. 
For those without sons, it’s like handing the baton to someone else and praying they will love and take care of your son like you did.
Yet you want to continue to hold the baton.
You want to interject, advise. You know better. You pray they seek some counsel rather than make mistakes by struggling on their own.

My mentor gave me this advise, “Never criticize who your son dates, for they may become their wife, and that criticism will remain a sore point.”
It is very tempting to critique the girl. After all, you won’t pass the baton to just anyone. But tell your husband, not your son. 
My husband reminds me how I was in our early married life. I was more structured. (His Mexican culture hadn’t rubbed off yet.) I controlled more things: wanting perfection in everything and trying to achieve it with a passion. 

With our older boys, I wouldn’t allow them to have toy guns. No violence.
When they made guns out of their sandwiches and shot each other with sticks, I realized I was dealing with a different animal than I was use to (remember I had five sisters). The guns were accepted.

My standard for cleanness slowly deteriorated to a lower level with each child.
My husband reminded me that we were raising men, not keeping a perfect house.
I didn't start out in our marriage with all the right principles, procedures, and perfections. Many had to be formed, beaten, and chiseled into me.

The same must be repeated for our now men who marry.
I raised them, not to know and do everything right now, but with the potential to learn what they need, and do what they must.
Same with the wives they choose.
They are not a seasoned wife and helpmeet.
They must grow together in their love and commitment and ability to help.
And my relationship with my daughters must grow in love. You can't instantly love someone. (Although I guess there is "love at first sight", especially with grandchildren.)

When we were counseled before marriage, the pastor told how he thought he loved his wife at the wedding, but looking back, he called it “puppy love.” His love had deepened through the struggles and blessings of marriage.
We have found it so, too.
I must give grace to my growing daughters-in-law. As I have done for my sons. For no one is perfect. Especially not me!

My mentor and my husband both mentioned that I might be a bit intimidating.
I ask, “Why?”  I struggle with EVERYTHING.
My husband has had to bolster my confidence again and again.
They see my successes—after years of work.
They don't see all my trials and failed attempts.
I hope the intimidation wears off quickly. Because I too am made of clay.

My sister, who has three sons, expressed disappointment when her daughter-in-law visited early in their marriage. My sister was ready to watch “girl” movies with her. She had waited for this bonding time. Her daughter-in-law patiently waited for a pause in the "girl" movie before asking to turn the channel to find the score to some sport. 
My sister realized her daughter-in-law would be a good help meet for her athletic son, even though she may not meet all her expectations as a daughter my sister never had. 
Daughters-in-law are not to fulfill our needs, or even the needs we think our sons have. 
They are to be a help meet for our sons.
They will, as my husband reminds me, “figure it out.”
That figuring may look different from how you figured it out or even how you remember how you figured it out.
But as a couple they make it work.

Initially when my son and his family visited, I wanted them to enjoy their stay and not feel like they must work—preparing meals and cleaning up, especially when they had little ones demanding their attention. 
Because I didn’t have daughters, I was use to preparing meals alone anyway.
The boys clean up and frequently ask how they can help. 

When some of our boys' girlfriends offered to help, claiming they felt better when they helped, I realized it was nice not to do everything.
When my daughter helped without asking after my surgery and I couldn't do much, I realized (again) what a gift I had been given.
When she  helped make tamales, I realized by “doing it alone” I had isolated myself, and hindered developing a relationship with them.
Many hands make the labor light.
I had lost opportunities to know the others better by my “I can do it” attitude.
But alas, I'm a slow learner and slower to give over “my kitchen.” So I'm sure I must re-learn it. But I do appreciate the help, even if I must let go of control to do it.

Come to think of it, when I helped my mother-in-law, she always told me that I must rest. But I always picked up a knife and started cutting things she needed, or washing dishes. Those times were when we caught up on the family news. I have since realized, she doesn’t allow many to help her. I feel privileged for those bonding times.
Yet saddened that I too would have lost without my daughters help.

I am finding, not only must they grow in their relationship with my sons, but I must develop a relationship with them, too. It doesn't just happen. I am use to being direct, forthright and blunt. That doesn’t work so well with girls. 

I must also allow my sons to make mistakes. If they don't ask, I do not give counsel (or at least try not to). That is hard. I want to prevent costly mistakes. When they happen, they are not for me to fix. They must learn their own lessons. By interfering, I postpone their learning.
In our early marriage years, I didn't ask my mom for advise. Why hadn't I?  

Then the grandchildren come. What blessing! What delight!
I can laugh at their antics and comments, even though it strikes horror in the hearts of the parents.
When one granddaughter was asked if she liked her great-grandma’s hat, she honestly said, “no.” 
As a grandparent, I laughed!
Their comments are not screened by anyone. Their response reflects an honest innocence. What a blessing in this world of deceit and hiding! They are treasures!

What can a parent say? Encourage them to lie?
I see my daughter's gentle response to their mistakes, patiently correcting them with a soft voice.
Even I am reprimanded. How did I think yelling accomplished anything when I was a parent?
It makes me thankful those parenting years, that sapped my energy, are over.
I can enjoy with pride how my sons and daughters are raising their little ones.
That is also a hard time not to comment, correct, and instruct. “When you were little, I did…” may illustrate how faulty my memory really is.
I share, not to correct, but to encourage they are not alone. I struggled too. But I hesitate to share too much. Maybe they are not asking for what I did.

Each child is so different.
What would I do with one so gifted?
Or even with a girl?
I am grateful, I don’t have to. I'm tired just thinking about it.
But I do treasure our times with each one of them.
They grow so quickly.
Faster than the sons that I raised. 

It behooves all mothers-in-law to remember how far we’ve come before we evaluate how much the daughters must do. 
And remember the sons we gave them weren’t perfect either, much as we tried. 
And as we watch, we realize we aren’t so perfect ourselves.
And extend grace and love to our daughters.

What’s a mother-in-law to do?
Be there when needed. Stand back when not. And somehow know the difference.
Pray for them.
And treasure the family God has given us.

Displaying all 3 comments

This is an absolutely great article! Being a mother-in-law is truly one of the hardest "jobs" there is, just so much bad press, and so many chances at miscommunication. And I really feel daughters-in-law are harder to develop a relationship with than sons-in-law. Since we're about to get our second d-in-law, I'm trying very hard not to make the mistakes I did before. I want to really get to know her and her get to know me before the wedding, not after years of not feeling close. I've already heard from this almost-fiancee that she's amazed at how many things I do, but I look back and most of what I do and who I am is from after the wedding. It's a mistake to think that only children "grow up," for I've grown much more as an adult than I ever did back then. Thanks for this article, I love it and plan to make a copy to reread occasionally to remind myself of the helpful points you make.

Bravo Sonya! Wise words and from the heart! We've come this far by faith, leaning on the Lord.

I write about what you---
women, wives and moms---
about your family, faith and future.
I write about what's hard, what helps and what heals.
I show you how it's done. And not done.
I hold your hand as you find what matters to the Savior.
And let go of those things that mattered to you, but not to Him.
I write about what Him.
               Sonya Contreras

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Author of Biblical fiction, married to my best friend, and challenged by eight sons’ growing pains as I write about what matters.

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