Snow sprawled in pristine mounds across the open fields as a blizzard blew across the highways. Iridescent icicles reflected the setting sun hanging at various levels from rooftops. Inside the church, candles cast a glow on pine walls, creating a surreal scene of warmth and beauty as my oldest son married the woman of his dreams.
A few years later . . .
Sand clustered in golden dunes along the open beach as traffic created havoc on the highways. White capped waves reflected a fiery orange sun as it slid into the Pacific. Inside a small enclave above the shore, family and friends created an intimate scene of serenity and delight as my youngest son married the love of his life.
Two different sons, two unique weddings, two special daughters-in-law, and I gained a dubious title ~ mother-in-law. This new title did not particularly electrify me. In fact, I found it rather disheartening.
Motherhood was glorious, but mother-in-lawhood carried a stigma. After all, the role is common fodder for jokes and comedians.
However, the new role was here to stay, so I thought to make the best of it.
Lovingly, God’s Spirit urged me to move beyond that type of thinking, reminding me He would provide all the help and guidance needed to create a loving and enjoyable relationship with my new daughter-in-law.
I found my daughter-in-law herself was rather unsure of the new relationship. After all, she suddenly became part of a larger and more boisterous family than she had ever experienced. Growing up in a small town in the Midwest, the only child living with much older parents did not prepare her for our Southern California “cruizin’- in- the- fast- lane” lifestyle.
At times, she was completely overwhelmed. Unfortunately, it took a while for all of us to catch on to this. After her first visit to our home, my daughter-in-law told my son she never wanted to come to California again. Fortunately, she did come back.
My son soon learned to give her ample attention instead of spending so much time visiting with old friends. We learned to plan less activities, while she learned to go upstairs and regroup when our activities became too much for her.
Much to my delight, she asked me to help out when both grandchildren were born. Gradually, we have come to understand and respect each other.
By the time I had a second daughter-in-law I had come to understand how urgent it is to listen and observe with an open heart and mind to capture the true essence of this new family member.
There are miles to go before this new relationship becomes as familiar and natural as the relationship with your own children. Your ways may not be the same as the ways of this new family member.
Leave behind the motto: There is a right way, a wrong way and there is MY way. Learn not only to accept, but also to delight in your son-in-law or daughter-in-law and their unique individuality.
One of the wisest things I did was to forego being called mom by my daughters-in-law. I know this defies conventional wisdom, but I found both daughters-in-law relieved to be told, “Just call me Debbie.” It left us all free to ease into becoming an extended family.
Becoming a close-knit extended family requires lots of finely tuned communication.
Communicate about what is coming up; new family members don’t know your long established family patterns. At times, my sons and I have wrongly assumed that their wives knew what was about to happen within the family.
Further, sometimes the wives haven’t communicated their expectations or needs. We have worked our way through these stressful times of miscommunication by being willing to apologize, by learning together, and eventually by laughing together.
My motto has become “Give ‘em lots of grace.” We all need lots of grace and truthfully, I want them to give me grace ‘cause sometimes I blow it too.
Blowing it generally takes the form of unwanted advice. For mothers, or fathers, who have been chief advisor and mentor for years, it is hard to relinquish the role. Unwanted advice or forceful demands can create an us-against-them dilemma.
Our words and actions have a deep and long-lasting effect. Proceed with caution.
Proverbs has much to say about the value of words wisely spoken. It compares them to apples made of gold. Those would be highly valuable apples. Our own store of wisdom came as the result of years of experience, mistakes, and just plain ole living.
Sometimes, the couple will ask for your advice. At that point, carefully share concrete wisdom in small amounts, laced with large amounts of love and affirmation. When they talk, listen with your full attention and refrain from jumping in with loads of good ideas.
For example, my oldest son’s wife was terrified of becoming a mother. As we worked together to take care of the new little one, I encouraged my daughter-in-law at regular intervals. I also refrained from constantly dishing out advice, but rather tried influencing most by actions.
Sometimes as older and wiser ones, it is hard to allow the young‘uns work through untried situations. The young couple will learn best through their own trial and error. In fact, they might come up with a solution you never thought of trying.
On one occasion, my granddaughter would not stop crying no matter what any of us tried. Finally, my daughter-in-law scooped her up and started waltzing around the room while singing “Shall We Dance.” My granddaughter immediately stopped crying as she gazed adoringly at her mother’s face. In a million years this would not have come to me as a solution. But, it worked! It also created an enchantingly winsome memory for us all.
By the time our grandson was born, my daughter-in-law had become a relaxed and confident mother.
During one Christmas reminiscing time, my youngest son shared how elated he was to be married to his beautiful new wife. I grandly added, “And now I have a beautiful daughter-in-law!” With an impish grin, my oldest son’s wife said, “Oh! NOW you have a beautiful daughter-in-law.”
Very flustered, I blustered, “That is not what I meant!”
She’s had a lot of fun teasing me about that remark. It’s a good thing I’ve spent five years letting her know she is loved and accepted.
Being a mother-in-law is an ongoing challenge. I have learned, it helps immeasurably if you keep a sense of humor and lots of prayer in the mix.