(I feel like I should start this post with the disclaimer that this post in no way demeans my relationship with my actual parents, who are truly wonderful human beings and who I love dearly and am endlessly thankful for. I wanted, however, to focus a post on my awesome parents-in-law because I know that my love for them is not average or regular. They are awesome, and I want to share some wisdom they have gifted upon me.)
Okay, so I’m sitting at my parents-in-law’s house (is that the proper grammar? Who knows?) at 11:00 on a Tuesday night, and my husband is not here. How many people do you know who feel comfortable bringing their two kids for a day and overnight without their husband to spend it with their parents-in-law? Not many that I know. But I have the greatest parents-in-law on the face of the earth. My parents-in-law have basically adopted me as their actual child. They love me unconditionally. They treat me like a queen. They are endlessly supportive and wonderful and kind and loving and seriously – how many people do you know who can say this?
I think it goes without saying (although I am going to say it anyway) that the typical parent-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship is sort of coined as strained. Daughters-in-law love to slam on their mothers-in-law as overbearing, hurtful, judgmental, etc. Mothers-in-law love to slam on their daughters-in-law as not good enough, ungrateful, rude, etc. But the relationship does not have to be this way. I think the great relationship I have with my parents-in-law comes from both sides. Here, I’m going to give some tips based on my relationship with my parents-in-law for cultivating a great relationship with your in-laws for both the child-in-law in question and the parent-in-law in question. (I feel like I should add here that our relationship isn’t perfect, just like all relationships. Sin enters the picture and makes us get frustrated with each other sometimes, and we don’t always treat each other the way I’m about to outline here, although we do try and succeed the vast majority of the time.)
Child-in-Law, Do These:
When I look at my parents-in-law, I see people who truly love Christ. I see amazing wisdom and value. I see an opportunity to grow and get better because they are in my life. And I treat them like this. I ask them for advice and then listen as they give guidance. I talk to them about my faith and my struggles. I speak to them in a respectful tone regardless of how I’m feeling at that moment. Letting them know that they are respected goes a long way. I make sure that they’ll never think of me as ungrateful.
Love is a choice. Love is action. I choose that no matter what happens, I love them. These people raised my husband. They made him kind, gentle, compassionate, merciful, hopeful, friendly, caring, strong, smart, etc, etc, etc. They made him that way! They contributed to his fun quirks and his good looks. They taught him to love Jesus first. They taught him to work hard for his family. I think a lot of people blame their parents-in-law for the frustrating things about their spouses, but they forget that they fell in love with their amazing spouse for his/her great attributes in the first place! I can easily treasure my parents-in-law when I look at the wonderful attributes in my husband because they put those attributes there in so many ways! I treasure that they love one another so deeply. They demonstrate long-lasting love, which is something that my husband and I strive for. They unconditionally love each other, and we get to see it whenever we are with them. What a treasure that is! Recognizing the gifts/treasures that your parents-in-law are to you is one of the first steps in having a healthy relationship with them.
Look at them as family.
When I look at my parents-in-law, I see relatives. They aren’t random people who I’ve been thrown into life with. Dumping them out is not an option. In fact, it would be a travesty for my husband and for my children, who need their grandparents in their life. With family, you get annoyed and frustrated sometimes (often, lots of the time!). But the key with family is love without condition! You don’t stop loving your own mom when she’s being obnoxious. You don’t stop loving your sister or your cousin. With family, we often shove aside irritating features, or shrug them off, because they are our family and we love them no matter how crazy or messed up they are. My parents-in-law are easy to love, which is, from what I understand, different than with other people. But even in those times when they are less easy to love because of frustration or dumb irritations, they are still my family. And family means that nobody gets left behind. Or forgotten. Oh, man, I started quoting Lilo & Stitch. But you get the point. You don’t abandon family. You work through it. You love in spite of it. If you view your parents-in-law as family instead of random people you’ve been forced to bear throughout life, there will be an underlying sense of commitment present, much like the underlying sense of commitment to your actual blood family that helps you to love them even when you sometimes want to punch them in their faces. This underlying commitment inspires you to love first.
As mentioned above, my parents-in-law just cannot be all that bad because they created and raised the man that I love more than any other person. They made him who he is. If they were able to raise him (and his sister, who is possibly the most wonderful person on the planet), then surely they are trustworthy. Surely, their ideas about raising our children must be okay even when they are different from mine. Surely, their driving is okay, because both their kids were driven around for years without any signs of terrible car accidents at their fault. Surely, their method of budgeting or cleaning or dealing with a difficult person can be trusted, because they have used what God has given them well and their house is always presentable and their children have excellent character. I trust them, and I will listen and try to apply their ideals with humility if they are presented to me.
Treat your spouse well, both behind their backs and especially in front of them.
One of the best ways that you can show love to your spouse’s family is in the way you treat your spouse. I could write another whole post about this, but the brief version is that our society tends to make husbands look dumb and wives look like b-words. The wife is always annoyed and nagging. The husband is always too stupid to do anything right. Both are kind of miserable forever and that’s just how life is supposed to be. This is ridiculous, and life doesn’t have to be like this! For me, this means not spending any time talking about my husband negatively. Sometimes I joke about how he won’t pick up his socks, or I kid around about him being a slob. Sometimes his mom and I bond over how he doesn’t notice or care that the lawn looks horrible and how this baffles us. But this silliness is not disrespect. I am careful to point out my husband’s good qualities and how they compliment his parents’ character much, much more often than I joke around about his not-so-amazing qualities. This has to be done genuinely; don’t be a suck-up and make up false things. But seriously, smack-talking your spouse in front of his/her parents is not going to make them like you better, and it is not going to change those behaviors that irritate you about your spouse, so it really serves no useful purpose except making you look like a jerk. Speak kindly of your spouse. Find genuine, honest, real things that you love about him/her, and point those out in front of his/her parents. It really makes a difference! They will appreciate that you love their kid, and you will actually start to appreciate those nice things about your spouse more because you are focusing on them. Moneyback guarantee, seriously, it works.
But what about…
Maybe you are the parent-in-law reading this, and you are thinking, “Well, sure, but my daughter-in-law is a little brat who doesn’t treat me like that and doesn’t feel that way about me!” Fortunately (or unfortunately, however you choose to look at it), Jesus doesn’t call us to treat others the way we are actually treated. He calls us to treat others the way we want to be treated. He even goes further to say that you should turn the other cheek, give them your coat as well, go two miles instead of one, etc. In other words, don’t just treat others the way you want to be treated. Treat them better than you want to be treated. I hate to say it because it can be hard to hear, but the truth is, if you are the parent-in-law, you have the responsibility as the parent-figure to treat your child-in-law well no matter how he/she treats you. And I bet/absolutely guarantee that treating your child-in-law well will make a wonderful long-term difference in the way he/she treats you.
Parent-in-Law, Do These:
As a daughter-in-law to amazing parents-in-law, I have to say that this is the biggest one to me. My parents-in-law make it clear that they not only love me, they treasure me. They value me. They like me. They think I’m funny and cute and clever. They laugh at my jokes and make me feel important. They think I’m smart. They acknowledge how hard I work. They let me know that I’m doing okay at this mom thing. They celebrate my joys and grieve my sadness. I matter to them. It’s like I’m their own kid or something!
Look at them as family.
There has never been a single day of my relationship with my husband where I’ve felt like I was worth less than him. They have adopted me just like I’m their own kid. They have accepted me into their home at any time. They have listened to me and guided me like my own parents do. They have helped me through tricky times and awkward situations. They have put up with crap from me to a certain extent and then called me out when I got out of hand. They have come to help. They have dropped everything to watch my kids so I could go to an appointment. They helped me for weeks after my kids were each born. They give us food and help us in times of trouble. These are things you do with family. These aren’t things you do with just anyone off the street. Now, you could argue that some of this is just because they were helping out their son and I am married to him so I got the good deal from that, but it’s more than that. I am included. Those decisions to help and that advice was for me, too, not just for my husband. I matter to them, and I know it because they have invested in my life individually AND in my life with my husband.
My parents-in-law do not ever make me feel badly about myself. I am good enough for their son! I know this because they tell me this! They point out the qualities in my character that are good for their son. They point out the ways we compliment each other. They point out why he needs me. As mentioned above, they tell me how good I am as a parent. They are kind and complimentary, and I know that they trust me with their treasures – their son and grandchildren. There is an ever-present understanding that our presence in each others’ lives is good for us and makes us better.
I understand that the relationship I have with my parents-in-law (like sitting here on their desktop computer in my father-in-law’s office typing at now-11:48pm when my husband is on a business trip in Chicago) is not normal and not easy to cultivate. I really believe, though, that if both parties put forth effort to see the great things about each other, the relationships can become a treasure. I am truly thankful for my parents-in-law, and there is never any doubt of this. Lots of times, people that know my husband’s family say things to me like, “Boy, you sure hit the jackpot with what you married in to!” and I couldn’t agree more.