Deciding to Love: Yes, Even Your In-laws
by Susan Besze Wallace
“She treated me like the daughter she never had, until the wedding, when I started to see how little she liked to give up control, especially to me.”
“I just want them to like me, but I never feel like I’m enough in their eyes.”
“I feel like my husband always sides with his mom, and I feel left out in the cold.”
How can those who raised the man you love make you so crazy?
Consider that they have known him his whole life. They don’t know you like he does. They might fear being replaced. You crave approval. There are few relationships fraught with as much potential for misunderstanding and missteps. But these relationships are also full of potential.
Someone once told me that deciding to love each day, no matter how you are loved in return, is powerful and life-changing. It may be the best piece of advice I ever received. To love is indeed a decision, not a “switch” we wait for others or circumstances to turn on inside us. Some days, when we’re hanging on by a thread, we even have to choose to love our kids!
Some women, myself included, have in-laws who are easy to love. (We despise those cheap in-law jokes.) They are eager to be a part of our lives in great, constructive ways.
Whatever situation you have, it’s likely that at the root of that relationship is a desire for approval. We want them to approve of their son’s choice, and our parenting, and maybe even our housekeeping or cooking. I sure yearned for that support every visit, every phone call, for so long.
If I’m honest with myself, I still do. Maybe not approval any more, but encouragement? You bet.
The chaotic truth of raising kids has taught me that our feelings of worth cannot be tied up in others’ opinions of us. It’s also shown me that we all want to be accepted. But you can’t expect something you’re not willing to give others.
One mother of three reflects what I hear so often: “I wasted a lot of time and energy being bitter. My mother-in-law was pretty critical of everything I did. And that hurt. But when I decided to just accept who she was and look at her with love — no matter what was looking back — I started to see what I thought was criticism much differently. Our relationship changed.”
Here are some more thoughts on improving or maintaining these unique relationships:
- Speak truth. About your own shortcomings, your desire to fit in, how you were raised. Gently opening yourself up may help you be better understood.
- Be careful not to judge the way his family does something. Different isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just different.
- Keep perspective. One friend was frustrated that her mother-in-law didn’t seem to notice all that she did, just what she didn’t do, like noticing the empty box of Band-aids. She’s the first to tell you: Let. It. Go.
- Make a pact of respect with your spouse about discussing parents. There is never a shortage of in-law conversation around MOPS tables. Make sure gossipy venting isn’t happening in your circles.
- Look through the window. Getting to know your in-laws will continually pave the way to better understanding your man and what has influenced him over the years.
- Pray for maturity and wisdom in your actions and words. Both make all relationships better. For those relationships that seem particularly hopeless, continue to hope. And pray.
- Remember that you have married someone’s baby. Imagine how it will feel when someone marries yours. Practicing the decision to love now will most certainly impact you later.
Susan Besze Wallace, author and editor of the MOPS 2012 devotional Always There: Reflections for Moms on God’s Presence, due out this Spring. She is enormously grateful to her in-laws for the gift of their son, and for loving them and their three boys so very, very well.