In-laws. Most of us have them at some point in our lives. In 2017 in the US alone, 60.8 million people were classified as “married.” Each year a little over 2 million people become husband and wife. (statista.com). That’s a lot of in-laws and–potentially–a lot of strife. In our ministry with couples we see this as well. In-laws are one of the topics we receive the most questions about.
We decided to focus on two “action points” for the parents-in-law and two “action points” for sons-in-law and daughters-in-law. It’s our hope that if each person does his or her part, the family can grow in love and respect.
Foundational to a good relationship with our in-laws is giving grace because none of us is perfect. We all have flaws and failures so unfortunately, we will disappoint each other. When this happens, try to understand and forgive quickly so bitterness doesn’t take hold. Scripture gives the admonition to “See to it that no one falls short of God’s grace; that no root of resentment springs up and causes trouble…(Hebrews 12:15).
For the Parents-in-law
If you’re the parents-in-law here are two action points to cultivate a good relationship with your kids:
1. Respect the autonomy of your son/daughter and their spouse.
Many parents offend their children by disrespecting or breaking boundaries whether these boundaries have been communicated or not. Would you go into your friend’s home and rummage through their refrigerator or drawers? Probably not. Then don’t do it at your son or daughter’s home unless they’ve told you that you can. If you need something, ask permission first. If you want to see them, ask them for their input on the timing and plans. Many parents have gotten into unnecessary conflicts with their adult children by making false assumptions. Your child and their spouse have an independent home now and one way to respect them is to honor their privacy and not take anything for granted.
As parents it can be hard to recognize we don’t have the same freedoms with our adult children that we once had with them when they were younger. But God has designed husbands and wives to “leave and cleave” and we as parents can hinder that independence or we can help them succeed. Don’t threaten or manipulate your children to get your way. Sometimes they will have to learn hard life lessons with their spouse and that’s okay. Try to avoid giving unsolicited advice. Instead, say something like, “Can I make a suggestion?” If they say no, then be quiet and don’t say a word. Instead, pray for them (and you!).
2. Cultivate friends and activities apart from your adult children.
This will give you as parents a sense of purpose and fulfillment apart from your children. Friends also can be a source of wisdom, prayer support, and fun. When we were going through marriage counseling, one thing our counselor always told us was, “Even the best relationships need air.” Give your adult children some air!
For the son/daughter-in-law
If you’re the son or daughter-in-law, here’s a couple action points for you:
1. The Bible tells us to honor our father and mother.
That doesn’t mean we do everything they say, but it does mean we show our parents respect and we listen kindly to them. If your in-laws give you unsolicited advice or throw out their opinion, you can listen calmly and then say something like, “Okay, we’ll think about what you said.” Maybe their advice is good and you take it. If it’s not, then don’t do it. But let your in-laws be heard. And, honoring your father and mother doesn’t mean that their opinion comes before or overrides that of your spouse. You and your spouse are a team. Make sure you always put your husband or wife first.
2. Don’t take advantage of your in-laws.
Don’t invite them to your home just to work on a home project or babysit. Sometimes invite them over to your home just to enjoy their company. If they’ve done a lot of babysitting for you and saved you a ton of money, send them flowers or give them a gift card to show your appreciation. As your in-laws age and their lives becoming less interesting, try not to ignore them but instead instill value in them by continuing to call or visit them.
Another way to honor your in-laws is by remembering their birthdays and their anniversary. Appreciate them like you would good friends.
When God created marriage, he also designed for us to have in-laws. Today we challenge you to reach out to your parents in-law or your son-in-law or daughter-in-law and say something positive about them. Let them know you love them. Tell them you’re thankful for them. Perhaps you can express how you like that they are ________ (name a positive personality trait or a skill they’re good at).
Focus on the positive in your in-laws and you’ll honor God, honor them, and build your marriage.