“My daughter-in-law is the biggest pain in the rear.”
“My son-in-law is absolutely worthless.”
When I hear these degrading comments I can’t help but wonder what the other perspective might be. How would their in-laws respond? And how do these parents’ adult kids feel about such strong opinions toward their spouse?
I understand there are always those individuals (family members, in-laws, others) who truly are a pain in the…well, you know. But when speaking specifically about daughter- and son-in-laws (DIL’s and SIL’s), I’m convinced that many mother- and father-in-laws (MIL’s and FIL’s) can make choices that will produce a different outcome and improve the relationship. So, accept the challenge; rise to the occasion. Regardless of the past, you can build a healthy relationship with your son or daughter’s spouse, which may also help improve your relationship with your own adult child (and grandchildren, if you are a grandparent). And if your children are still young, read through to the end of this post to learn how to prepare for the future.
Here are five steps you can take to prevent or end the friction, or significantly decrease the level of frustration between you and your DIL or SIL, and build a more fulfilling relationship:
1. Change your attitude.
Stop succumbing to your automatic response (knee-jerk reaction) whenever you hear your DIL’s or SIL’s name. Pause a moment. Make a conscious effort to respond in a new, more positive way, which will help you change your thinking and ultimately the way you feel about your DIL/SIL over time. For example, if your DIL/SIL makes a sarcastic remark toward you, refrain from an emotional reaction. Instead, if you respond at all, make it a positive remark; take the high road. If you want to discuss the matter, quietly and cordially request to meet and talk privately with the intention to mend fences and build a relationship. (If your intention is to meet and merely give a tongue lashing, forget it.) You have an opportunity to lead by example, but you cannot succeed until you drop the blame game. Draw a line in the sand and make a decision to move forward in a God-honoring manner. Take a tip from the movie Frozen and just let it go! Need a starting point? Here’s another tip: When your DIL/SIL doesn’t show up for a family function because of their work schedule – or whatever reason – prepare a to-go plate to be taken home. Change your thinking, move forward to mend fences if needed, and do what you can to build a respectable and loving relationship.
2. Remove negative thoughts or words that are unkind or insulting.
When referring to your DIL or SIL, use their proper name. Refrain from name-calling or insulting remarks. Your grandmother’s adage works well here: If you don’t have anything nice to say, say nothing at all. I’d also add to Grandma’s wisdom and recommend to take some time and THINK of something nice to say about them. And then act on it.
Show respect whether you feel like it or not. We don’t always have control over our circumstances, but we do have control of our response. Some may argue, especially if there is a history of disrespect and poor relationship, that respect has not been deserved. Challenge yourself to find something in your DIL/SIL that is respectable. If you begin to show respect and press through the hard feelings or the rough exterior, you may be able to promote a more favorable connection. Persevere, and be careful not to throw in the towel. Keep trying. Look for common ground and grow from there. Unless there is a criminal or blatantly hateful attitude toward you or another family member that may pose a security risk, step outside your comfort zone and make a gallant effort.
4. Lead by example.
Does your family need a hero? Why not step up? You have an opportunity to be a hero in your family and cultivate a peaceful and loving environment. And if you have grandchildren, they deserve nothing less. How wonderful would it be if they saw you in such a light? But be forewarned: the super hero’s job isn’t easy. Expect to spend some time outside your comfort zone. After a while, it should become easier. And it will definitely be worth it. Plan some fun family events. Some of our family’s favorite times together is an evening spent together playing board games and just enjoying each other’s company. Don’t be so serious. Lighten up and laugh often.
5. Pray for your DIL and SIL
Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to stay angry or upset with someone when you’re genuinely and specifically praying for them? Try it. It’s the right thing to do. If you find it difficult to begin, try starting with praying for the willingness to pray for the one in question. Ask God to bless his/her family, grant him good health, and pray God helps him gain a desire to work on improving his relationship with you as well. Work on forgiveness, and don’t expect it to necessarily be instant. Forgiving someone can be a process that takes time, but it is always attainable.
Okay, I have a confession.
I don’t have daughter- and son-in-laws. I only have daughters and sons.
When my children were young (ages 3 1/2 and 5 yrs.), I began praying for their future spouses (if they should have one). I asked God to watch over them wherever they were in the world, and to surround them with people who love them and would raise them well. I spoke of them in my prayers as if they were my future children. So when my son and daughter became engaged I told their fiancé’s that they were already adopted. They soon came to learn that I would never treat them like an in-law (or it’s stigma). I treat my DIL and SIL as my own son and daughter.
The bottom line:
When our son and daughter married their spouses, and our family grew from having two adult children to four, I knew we had doubled our blessing!
I am incredibly grateful for my relationship with all four of our kids (okay, I’m a little bias but they’re great!). My husband and I often say that our favorite times in life is spent with our kids – all four of them. Thank you, God!
Note: These five steps work in reverse as well. You can build or mend a relationship with your MIL/FIL as well.
Are you willing to invest in your family even if it includes focusing on a difficult relationship with an in-law?