That touchy subject of mothers-in-law, what can we do differently and better?


Thanks to all who read Hannah’s guest blog post about being a good mother-in-law.

Old girl speaks to her younger self and to anyone else who cares to listen

Old girl speaks to her younger self and to anyone else who cares to listen

It was one of my most popular posts.

But it’s interesting.

While many seemed to read the post, there were a lot less comments. I’m not blaming anyone. I get it.

You see, my own MIL relationship was complex. If blogging existed many years ago, I might have added my own stories. But my MIL Ruth died 17 years ago, my stories are limited, now seasoned with time.

In the bathtub prior to her passing, I wrote my MIL’s eulogy and on that cold February day in a Lutheran church in Peru, Indiana, I attempted to speak words of appreciation through my grief. I loved her and still miss her. I know I’m not alone in that sentiment.

As the mama of three olive shoots and no daughters, I want to do it right. I realize it’s not totally up to me but I want to do all I can to facilitate the relationship.

Sadly, many women even in the church, women that I love and admire in many ways, they roll their eyes when speaking about their MILs. It’s like picking an open, festering sore when I ask for advice. Such hurt and pain. Godly, Jesus loving ladies speak with disdain about their MIL and this prospect frightens me. What can I do differently?

Wedding day with a very large headpiece!

So here’s my stab at what I wish my older Cindy would have told the new bride Cindy. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

1. Remember your mother-in-law is trying – She wants you to love her and like her. She’s going to make some mistakes, so will you. Remember this lady birthed your husband and she wants to be in your life.

2. Don’t take everything so personally – It’s hard being a new bride but don’t make

Ruth was a pretty bride! Love seeing old pictures!

things more complicated. Maybe she wasn’t trying to make a nasty dig at you, maybe it was not a poorly veiled hint that you are in- competent.  Give her a break.

3. Ask her to help you with something – Allow yourself to obtain instruction. Here’s an example, my MIL knew how to use a pressure cooker, she bought me one but I never used it. She bought me a cast iron pan which I really wish I would have kept. Let her assist you in something, it’s not a sign of weakness.

One of the few pictures we have of Ruth holding Aaron.

One of the few pictures we have of Ruth holding Aaron.

4. Listen to her life story – She has some wisdom. Appreciate the journey she has traveled. Glean from her victories and sorrows. It will give you a glimpse into her heart when you know her story.

5. Apologize – You’re not always wrong, she’s not always right. Extend grace and when there is a struggle, talk it over in a loving manner if possible. Your husband will be blessed that he wasn’t put in the middle. Your MIL wants your approval, you probably crave hers – MILs can be insecure.

6. Thank her – The Hubs, then only a fiancé was napping in the family room. I was sitting on the shag carpet, she on that miserable, uncomfortable couch when I said, “Thank you for raising such a good man. Although he will be my husband, I want you to know, he will always be your son.” I meant that. It was my intention to be the wife, not replace her as another mother. Ew.

My widowed father-in-law lives nearby and occasionally I will still thank him for raising such a good man, I want him to know how much I appreciate the way the Hubs turned out.

Truth is, life was difficult for my mother-in-law. It was hard seeing her struggle.

Truth is, life was difficult for my mother-in-law. It was hard seeing her struggle.

7. Pray for her – I married her son prior to my spiritual conversion to Christianity. This presented a problem when my MIL overstepped her boundaries in a very sensitive area of our lives. It didn’t go well and that’s putting it mildly. I remember searching for Bible verses to use in responding to a foolish letter she had sent me. Dumb. I was hurt and she shouldn’t have gone there. I wish I had prayed for her more. She needed it in many ways.

8. Encourage your husband to communicate with her – I must say this was something I was skilled at even early in our marriage. I wanted a good relationship with my in-laws and prodded the Hubs to contact his parents regularly. When Ruth was fighting terminal cancer, I urged him to go home often even when though we had a temperamental newborn. I don’t regret that aspect of our relationship whatsoever.

This is my partial list, what first came to my mind. Teach me, friends! I want to learn!

Questions – So what am I missing? What else is there to learn? Do you identify with any of my reflections?

13 thoughts on “That touchy subject of mothers-in-law, what can we do differently and better?

  1. Well…. I started to reply to Hannah’s blog, but it just seemed like too much. But since you ask….

    As a 5x mil, I have learned a LOT. One of my biggest joys/accomplishments is that I have a very good relationship with each of my in-law children including the X (2 sil’s, 2 dil’s, and 1xdil). We will always be connected by our little Blue-Eyed Boy, and I don’t want anything to interfere in that relationship.

    I consider them as my own children (well…the X is in her own category), and they know it. They even, maybe oddly enough, sometimes ask my counsel concerning their relationship with their own parents.

    We talk. If something is uncomfortable, we talk. I have told every last one of them, more than once, that I do not wish to be the mil that is the butt of all the jokes, and worse, I absolutely do not wish to be the mil that deserves to be the butt of the jokes. So we talk. In two more days, I will have 15 years of mil experience, and by the grace of God, so far so good!

  2. Not fair that you should write this at this very time…. going off in a huff to lick my wounds.
    Thank you for this… truly.

  3. I didn’t comment because I have an awesome relationship with my mother-in-law! (If only my relationship with my own mother could be more like that.) My MIL loves me because I married her son when he was 49 and she thought he’d always be single. LOL! Seriously, I am thrilled how much we have in common. And when she occasionally does have a “helpful suggestion” she says it once, kindly, and then does not mention it again. I appreciate that so much!

  4. Wow, these posts have given me a lot to think about and challenged me too. I am a way off being a MIL given that my eldest is 11, and the very thought of any of my 3 getting married is quite scary! On top if that, my middle child, our 8 year old son is autistic and I pray for his future spouse in the same way I pray for the others, but in my heart of hearts, I can’t imagine him getting married – but that’s a whole different subject!
    So I pray for future son/daughters in law but I have never prayed that I would be a worthy mother in law. Fail!
    Also, I am so so so fortunate because my MIL is just lovely and I am closer to her than my own mum in some ways. I am her only daughter in law (and she has no son in laws either) and I am secretly glad I don’t have to share her :-). But again, I don’t pray for her. She is not a christian so I need to be doing that, don’t I? Fail again!

    Thanks for giving me so much to think about!

    • Yes, you have much to think and pray about, as we all do even though we have different circumstances. I’m glad you have a wonderful MIL and it is humbling to think about being a good MIL. As your babies grow up, continue to seek the Lord’s face on preparing you for that responsibility. He won’t give you that status until the time is right, whenever that is. Two of my boys are in relationships and it’s an exciting time as I see them picking very wonderful young women. Be kind to yourself, sweet friend. The Lord is able. Bless you, be encouraged.

  5. My goodness it took me a while to get through this beautifully written blog because with every new photo it took me back to a long forgotten memory of my “adopted” Godmother. She sat with me on the night i was in labor with Jacob timing contractions with my mom. We still have a church bulletin with her handwritten notes. One question she wrote was “Will it be a Jacob or a Megan?” Haha.
    Few people knew of Ruth’s sad life story because she just didn’t share that. I think that is why it was so important for me to make her laugh. So for now, I thank you for sharing about your MIL. I didn’t contribute with a MIL story but you did bring back some long forgotten memories of seeing her hold my son for the first time, sitting at her kitchen table giving her a “news” report and my last funny story about snorkeling I shared with her to make her laugh from the belly one last time when she only had a very short time left on this earth. She was loved and you were loved by her.

    • Thank you Melenie for sharing! We always enjoy hearing stories about her and when I told Mark that you had written a comment, he thought that was great! I also appreciate you saying that she cared about me. I know we both tried and in the end, I’m sure she knew that we loved her very much. I so appreciate your kind words for all of us.

  6. I pray for my in-laws every Thursday. I have a list of different people to pray for on different days. It helps me to focus on people’s needs. Also, I sometimes find my FIL irritating, so this brings me to a place of humility and appreciation of him and his needs (not always easy lol).

    Just before our wedding my MIL was given a terminal diagnosis. She’s a lovely lady, she thinks the world of me, and is so glad that her son married me (I think he was the family’s confirmed bachelor before meeting me). Plus, I came along with three children, so it was four for the price of one, which my MIL in particular thought was wonderful. She now has dementia and we’re helping them both to find somewhere more suitable to live. I’m glad that God gave me experience of working with the elderly in a previous voluntary role.

    In general, relationships take practise – and they always go both ways. If someone exhibits a ‘negative’ behaviour, I have to recognise that I can either allow it or not allow it – just because someone is family doesn’t make it ok to behave badly (although we all have bad days). Equally, if someone behaves badly, it doesn’t mean I get to behave badly, it just means I gently set the boundaries (and stick to them). It is hard when families have a history of ‘allowing’ one member’s negative behaviour. You can be seen as ‘the awkward one’ when you say you find it unacceptable. But co-dependency is not Christ-like and it’s not loving!

    My MIL enjoys clothes, and I complement her on her clothes, which always brings a smile to her face. Little things go a long way. In the same way, with my own mother the word ‘no’ and a gentle-but-firm explanation also goes a long way. I do hope that’s helpful to someone – I have a feeling it is.

    God bless x

  7. Thanks Cindy for having me ponder this subject! Actually most of my recent thoughts on MILs have been about myself. As my son turns 13 in a few weeks, I find myself fearing who he will choose as a mate later in life. I have turned to the Lord on this subject, but what If I don’t like her? UGH! I guess I need more prayer time! 🙂
    But what I really wanted to say was my MIL was not with me long enough. She passed away at age 52 and there was so much I never got to know about her! The one thing that kept coming up, as your posts brought her to mind, was that she was always ENCOURAGING! Maybe she did not agree with everything we did, (or maybe she did) but she encouraged us, as a couple and as parents. I hope that my future DIL views me in the same light.

    • I really appreciate you saying something about being encouraging. I think we all need that more than we might admit. It sounds like you are mindful of the task the Lord will give you one day and want to do as good of a job at it as your MIL did even though it was for a too brief time. Thanks for your very sweet comment.

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