One of the greatest challenges couples face in marriage is knowing what to do about their parents and their in-laws. In fact, we dedicate an entire night to the subject in our Making Marriage Make Sense
course at Highpoint Church
. After hearing so many stories of problems, lingering issues and extreme dysfunctions, I have concluded that something needs to be offered to the parents/in-laws out there to prepare them for the marriage of their son or daughter.
Below I have complied a list of helpful tips for new in-laws. This is not a guarantee that things will go perfectly, but it is a place to start. I can assure you that I base these tips on real life issues couples have brought to me. Often couples will share with me things they would never share with their parents or in-laws. So, if you are a new mother or father-in-law or perhaps about to become one, take these tips seriously. You may very well save loads of heartache and not only preserve but even improve the relationship you have with your child and his or her spouse!
1. Be patient. Remember it will likely take 3-5 years for you and your new son or daughter-in-law to develop a good, working relationship.
2. Play back. When your child gets married, give them the freedom to separate from you by “playing back.” Let your son or daughter know 3 things: You will not intrude on their new marriage. You will wait for their invitation to be included. You will check in once a week to let them know you are playing back, but still very interested and supportive.
3. Master the art of serving. Adopt the mind and heart of a servant as you relate with your child’s new marriage. Offer to help out in practical ways and leverage your talents, strengths and resources to serve them. Serving is a wonderful avenue to build trust and communicate support with your new son or daughter-in-law.
4. No strings attached. People smell manipulation a mile away. Love always gives freely without demanding a return. Don’t attach strings to any part of your involvement with your child or their spouse. This is especially true if you paid for some or all of the wedding expenses, paid your child’s college or grad school tuition or help out with your grandchildren. Show your child and his or her spouse that you give willingly to be a blessing without attaching strings.
5. Flex with holidays. It is no secret that more conflict arises with in-law relationships around holidays than just about any other time. Communicate your holiday flexibility with your child and his or her spouse and in return, you will likely enjoy more time with them. Young couples feel immense pressure to please each other’s parents; your flexibility can ease that pressure and foster a stronger bond.
6. Compliment and encourage. Your son or daughter-in-law likely wants to please you or prove to you that they are a good husband or wife to your child. Yet, they are very new to marriage and still have some growing to do. Don’t criticize. Instead, be quick to encourage and compliment when you see good things. You may very well be a voice in their life that helps them grow into the husband or wife God is leading them to become.
7. Ask permission. I know this will feel awkward for many parents; however, you must begin recognizing the adulthood of your child and his or her spouse. Ask for permission to come for a visit. Ask permission to share information about your child’s family with friend or on social media. Ask permission, especially, when it comes to your grandchildren. Defer to them as parents, even if you think you know better. They will have to learn some lessons the hard way, just as you did. But, who knows, as trust grows, that just might seek your advice.
8. Don’t compete. Many parents feel like they are in a competition with the other set of parents. There is not a competition for the time and attention of your child. Most people who get married want to have good relationships with each set of parents. Sometimes they end up favoring one side over the other. This is normal. Often this favoring reflects a special relationship between a child and parent. For instance, it is very common for women to be especially close to their mothers, just as it is normal for men to separate more from their families of origin. Likewise, certain dynamics, like the death of a parent, can cause a child to take on more responsibility with the remaining parent. There are also differences related to proximity. Parents who live closer to their adult children may very well benefit from their location. Occasionally, a child pulls away from his or her parents because of some type of dysfunction or manipulation and they simply don’t want to be around their parents. This is a good reason to be aware of how you behave in life and in relationship with your child. Parents who serve and honor their child and his or her spouse, their children and their decision making tend to be favored.
In-law relationships do not have to be a source of major drama and frustration. These 10 tips can certainly help foster a better opportunity for an enjoyable and healthy relationship with your child and his or her spouse. And, don’t worry, I’m offering a whole set of tips for your kids as well. Stay tuned...