“Do you know the two most important duties of the mother of the groom?” My friend quizzed me on my upcoming role. “I’m not certain I do. This is my first MOG moment, you know.” “It’s fairly simple. Wear beige and keep your mouth shut.” She watched my face closely for a reaction, smiling with anticipation. She knows me well. I knew right then I was in trouble. Beige is not my color, and I nearly always have an opinion. Some have even suggested that I have a tendency to state it forcefully at times. I’d prefer to think of myself as passionate. It seems passion is sometimes misinterpreted. The good news is I was not required to follow the official mother of the groom manual for this wedding, nor for the other two as my remaining sons married. Three MOG experiences, all quite lovely. The weddings were all beautiful, God-honoring, and set the tone for the relationships with the young women I refer to as “the daughters of my heart.” I am blessed by the presence of these girls in my life and grateful my sons had the good judgment to recognize them when they showed up. Each daughter-in-love has blessed our family with her unique combination of talents, gifts, personality, and style. Friends who have raised girls suggest I have hit the jackpot to have these three wonderful daughters without having to endure parenting them through the challenging years. I inherited the effort and investment of their mothers—and am incredibly grateful for the skill with which they obviously performed those duties. The DIL with the most tenure has been part of the family for nearly twelve years. The other two for ten and four, respectively. I love each of them like my own. And I realize what a blessed—and unusual— story we have. Ours are not the typical mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationships. You are all familiar with the stories, the jokes, the movies, and sitcoms, I’m sure. The cartoonish characterizations of the ever-intrusive, overly critical mother-in-law—think Marie Barone on Everybody Loves Raymond. It has become the standard image. The younger woman in the equation may fare a bit better, but she’s not ignored in this three-ring circus of stereotypes. The daughter-in-law is often cast as lazy, conniving, and selfish. As believers in Christ, we live in a world that endeavors daily to shape our thinking, our perspectives, and our opinions. It is difficult to avoid the powerful influences we are exposed to on a regular basis. Add to this the real experiences we have observed or the stories we’ve been told by friends or family who have found hurt, disappointment, or sadness in their MIL/DIL relationships. We may realize our own expectations are low in this regard. We expect little, so when little shows up, we are neither surprised nor alarmed. It is what it is. And we do little or nothing to address it. We’ve fallen in lockstep with a worldview that does not represent who God asks us to be. We must challenge this lie. Survey Says! As I began to research this topic for my book Related By Chance, Family By Choice: Transforming Mother-in-Law/Daughter-in-Law Relationships (Kregel Publications), I made a sad discovery. According to the hundreds of women who shared their stories through focus groups, online surveys, and interviews, the relationships between most boy-mamas and the girls who marry their sons is no better in Christian families than those with no faith basis at all. Some of the surprising statistics:
- The vast majority of women surveyed (96%) identified themselves as committed Christians whose faith was foundational and guided their daily lives, including their actions and decisions.
- 78% indicated their WIL (woman-in-law) was of the same faith, but only 38% believed the principles of the faith were reflected in the other woman’s life. In other words, “I’m living it, but she’s not.”
- Nearly one third of the women surveyed characterized their in-law relationship as bad, which they described as “critical, distant, or that they simply felt off balance with the other woman, never knowing what to expect.”
- More than half (57%) said they were primarily to blame for the failure of the relationship or were at least equally at fault. Accepting responsibility is an important step.
- 70% said they’d be willing to make an effort to improve the relationship, if only they knew how.
- Love is not optional. “Jesus replied, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’” Matthew 22:37–39 (NLT). There is no asterisk next to this scripture with a note that reads, “Except for your woman-in-law.” This relationship is not exempt from what Christ describes as equally important as loving God.
- It’s possible to love the unlovable. Read Matthew 5:43-47. Some people are hard to love. They are difficult, arrogant, opinionated, prideful, selfish, and the list goes on. It does not matter to Christ. To love those who are lovable is nothing special—those who walk without Jesus can manage that. He asks us to love those whose behavior is hurtful and damaging. Loving those who are lovely is not difficult. God asks us to love those who despitefully use us. That’s a tall order.Being civil is not sufficient. Love those who seem determined to take you down, to hurt and demean you. Pray for the ones who use you in a spiteful way. Remember that before we trusted in Christ, we were just as unlovely in the eyes of a perfect and spotless Lord Jesus. If we can’t or won’t make this our goal, we are failing to follow the foundations of life in Christ.
- God can restore what seems lost. The five brief chapters of Ruth are a blueprint for creating family out of sorrow. For those who believe the “other woman and I are just too different” for this to work, this story offers hope. It’s the in-law happily ever after ending that God desires for us, and it honors Him.