In the midst of my divorce, I had a conversation with my mother that stuck with me. She asked, “Are you sure you’re not going to get back together?” My answer was an emphatic, “no.” She stressed the point: “Are you POSITIVE?” Yes, I was positive. Then she said, “Because you may forgive him for hurting you, but your father and I won’t.” This was one of the first things I shared with my daughter when she got married: you can talk to me about anything, but remember that if you complain to me about your husband, it will be much easier for you to forgive him than it will be for me to do so. It’s that whole “mama bear” thing. Mess with me, fine. Mess with my child, and it’s on.
Having said that, I love my son-in-law like he’s one of my own kids. We can talk, we can joke, and we can praise Jesus together. He works hard to support his precious little (growing) family; he loves my daughter and their children deeply. Key point: it is their family. Although my daughter will always be my daughter, and although their household is part of my family, they are now husband and wife. Their own unit. Their own entity. The Bible teaches us in Genesis 2:22-24, “The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; She shall be called ‘Woman’ because she was taken out of Man.’ For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (New American Standard Bible).
When it comes to my own marriage (and the marriages of my siblings), my mother has followed a few guidelines, and I follow her example. Hopefully, this will make me the kind of mother and MIL that is honored as much as I honor my mom. Read on …
- Let them be their own family. This encompasses so many areas! Holidays immediately come to mind. It is OKAY for your child and his/her spouse to start their own traditions, to visit other family members, and to not spend every waking moment with you. Yes, this is hard, especially if you grew up in a family as close-knit as mine who had die-hard traditions when it came to the holidays. Please remember that your child married someone who has a family too. Please remember how hard it was when you got married and tried to lug the kids to several different homes (possibly while bundled up for the winter weather) in order to make everyone happy. Please remember that your child and in-law may create beautiful new traditions that your grandchildren will remember fondly one day. It doesn’t mean not seeing them, but please be flexible. The day after Christmas can be just as special – it’s about the memories, not the exact day. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18, NASB).
- Let their business be their business. Praying for your adult children and their spouses is absolutely appropriate. Sharing their confidences with anyone else is not. Be trustworthy. “Keep sound wisdom and discretion, so they will be life to your soul and adornment to your neck” (Proverbs 3:21b-22, NASB).
- Let them come to you for advice. This means don’t butt in with your opinions. Ever. I mean it. Just don’t. Unless you were blessed with a wonderful MIL, you remember what it was (or is!) like to have advice, opinions, and judgment pressed upon you when it wasn’t wanted. Oh, this includes your ideas on child rearing. Ouch. Let them be parents, and trust that yes, they will make mistakes. We did. We still do. But also trust that they love their children and are raising them the way they feel is best. That is their job, not yours. Now, if they ask for your advice, give it in a gentle and loving manner. “Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart” (Proverbs 3:3, NASB).
- Let them struggle. You may be thinking that is just cruel. No, it’s not. I do not mean you should abandon them, cut off all support, and hang them out to dry. However, I do mean that if you pay their way throughout their lives, they will never learn to stand on their own. Marriage is about struggles. Sometimes those struggles are financial, sometimes they are emotional, but without pain, we do not learn life’s lessons – and we most certainly do not grow or mature. There will be occasions when lending a helping hand (or dollar) will be appropriate. Do not let it become a crutch they depend upon every time they get into trouble. “And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10, NASB).
- Let them think for themselves. In the end, the struggles with “letting go” of our children comes from our inherent need to be in control. Face it, they are not small children anymore. They have thoughts and ideas and dreams and goals. They may not agree with you (gasp!) – and that means their spouses may not agree with you. Do not assume that every decision made in their home that you don’t like was made by the spouse. It doesn’t matter – they are now one flesh, united in God and in love, and they need to be allowed to make their own decisions as their own precious family. Love them. Encourage them. Emotionally support them. Above all, pray for them. “But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, ‘God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you” (James 4:6-8, NASB).
Women never stop being mothers. We will love our children until there is no breath left within us. We need to honor our God and our grown children by showing love, respect, courtesy, privacy, and encouragement. You are already an example – be a good one. “Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored” (Titus 2:3-5, NASB).