I love my mother-in-law.
In fact, I am forever in her debt.
My mother-in-law tirelessly raised her son from the ground up to be the man I love most in the world, and that is a debt that can never be repaid. I will always owe her honor and gratitude for the years she has invested in the man that is now ours.
Your mother-in-law responds to love, she desires appreciation, and she loves her son with every bit of fierceness with which you love him.
The older I get, and the more time I spend immersed in the raising of my own sons, the more I'm saddened by the way mothers-in-law are referenced in today's culture. The way they tend to be criticized and dishonored. The way they are spoken about in impatient tones by younger women who may not value what these older women have given them.
Maybe you find yourself in that camp. Your relationship with your mother-in-law is strained—for a variety of reasons. Perhaps you've always struggled to understand her, to grant her access to your life. Even so, would you consider these truths with me?
Commanded to Give Honor
When we're young, we often see only what's in the immediate, at the expense of much else. Not enough life lies behind with which to claim humble perspective. And too much lies ahead, which has not yet been taught. This combination can lend itself to a pride that can too easily become cruel. And in my experience, mothers-in-law become the butt of too many unkind jokes, stories, and girl's-night tales.
If you have a moment, click on over and Google mother-in-law.
You'll see that the first several links you will find are all negative, each one implying a relationship that is strained, difficult, and unappealing.
Now, Google Scripture.
Take a look at what God imposes on man at the beginning of time. Exodus 20:12 is a time-worn passage, but telling. God commands the Israelite nation: "Honor your father and mother, so that you may live long in the land which the Lord your God gives you."
So great was God's desire for His people to honor their elders that the punishment of stoning was used to discourage cursing and rebelling against parents. And the New Testament reminds us that honoring fathers and mothers "is the first commandment with a promise" (Eph. 6:2). God intends for us to honor our parents. He designed the family, and in that design is the good plan of in-laws.
I fear we too easily forget the humanity of our mothers-in-law. That she is a person with feelings. That she responds to love, and she desires appreciation, and she loves her son with every bit of fierceness with which you love him. After all, she is his mother.
Of course, no mother-in-law is perfect, and the temptation to criticize her may be strong. But we have to remember that she's a sinner—just like us. And just as God's grace has been extended to us, we are to extend grace and forgiveness to others—and that includes our mothers-in-law.
Love and Appreciate Her Sacrifice
I've heard of daughters-in-law who whisked their men off into the sunset of their territorialism, never allowing them to return. I've heard stories of women my age who have prevented their in-laws from communicating with their sons and grandchildren for months, years at a time.
I realize there are exceptions to every rule, and certainly not all of us are blessed with smooth family dynamics. But I think we need to be careful that exceptions do not become excuses. God's Words are written to the rule, and His rule is that we honor. Always, honor.
Mothers-in-law are our parents, and as such, we are to give them honor.
We honor the mother-in-law God gave us through the good gift of our husbands, because that obedience is pleasing and good. And we encourage our husbands to invest love in their mothers always, because that honors her, and it honors Him.
Any of us with sons may be the mother-in-law one day. Don't you hope that when the time comes, your son chooses a woman who is kind? One who is appreciative? One who does not wrap herself in a shroud of criticism, but who sees all the years you gave for her husband? I do. I pray for two such women, even now.
Assessing Our Hearts
As Christians, we need to be careful to ever assess cultural trends through the lens of Scripture. And God's Word is clear on where we are to land on the issue of our in-laws. They are our parents, and as such, we are to give them honor. Proverbs 31:28 speaks of the response children should have to the years of sacrifice mothers make:
Her children stand up and encourage her, as does her husband, who praises her.
Your mother-in-law has spent nights and days, months and years loving and shaping your husband. She has put in a lifetime of mothering, fulfilling endless needs, living out the very same call that you now many days find yourself drowning in. Most likely, experience has taught her a thing or two. Don't allow culture to tell you that she has less value or a lesser place now that you have landed her son.
And if you've struggled to honor and love her, would you spend some time allowing God's Word to peel back the sin and frustration and anger in your heart? Would you allow grace to wash over the wounds of your broken relationship? It's humbling; but it's what Jesus calls us to do.
Love her. Stand up for her. Encourage her. And by all means, give thanks for her!