Jani: Hello, everyone. I’m so glad you’ve tuned into He Restores My Soul with Jani Ortlund. We’re going to tackle an Ask Jani today. I’ve been receiving a lot of questions regarding how to relate to our daughters-in-law from older women whose sons have married and they want to establish healthy, strong, godly relationships with this new woman in their son’s life. And so I’d like to take a few minutes today and talk to you mothers-in-law out there.
The Main Hurdle To Overcome
Jani: I know what it’s like, we have four children, three of them are sons and all of our children are married. So I’m blessed with three godly daughters-in-law. I’m so grateful. But you know, each mother-in-law has a problem because you love another woman’s husband. In fact, you’ve loved that man long before that other woman ever even knew him and he still chose her over you. What’s more, she’s younger and prettier than you are. Your love for your son has cost you much through the years. And yet, you know, way down deep in your heart, you know that your son will and, indeed, ought to cherish her as the number one woman in his life. You embrace that. You want that. So how can you as a mother-in-law build a bridge to your daughter-in-law’s heart rather than a barricade around it?
Jani: Well, your main goal as a mother-in-law is to promote the love and delight your son has for his wife. You long for their marriage to succeed. Indeed, that woman is the answer to years of earnest pleading with God for your father to provide a godly wife for your beloved boy. You waited anxiously for the day when your son would tell you, “Oh mom, I think I found her. I think I found the woman I want to marry.” But somehow, despite all your good intentions, you find yourself surprised at times, maybe even a little disappointed by what you see or hear in their relationship. And sometimes, you even ache over your new daughters-in-law response to you. You understand that there are boundaries you should observe but you want to develop a relationship that is both safe and honest with her as well as beneficial to the man you both love so deeply: her husband, your son.
Jani: To develop a loving and candid relationship with a woman your son loves should be satisfying and rewarding. You see you have the privilege of learning to love your son’s wife the same way you want your own daughter to be loved by her mother-in-law. In order to do that, I found it helpful to ask ourselves some hard questions like: “Hmm, whose feelings do I really hold most dear? Hers or mine? I wonder what matters more to her? Could this invitation for the holidays cause some tension in their marriage? Maybe then I better rethink it. Oh Lord, give me wisdom.” Or what about this question? “I wonder if this comment or story might help her feel more secure in my gratitude for her agreeing to give her whole life to my son or might it intimidate her or or disappoint her or discourage her? Oh Lord, again, give me wisdom.”
3 Ways to Strengthen Your Son’s Marriage
Jani: Dear mother-in-law, let’s talk about how to strengthen your son’s marriage.
Love His Wife
Jani: I think the chief way you can support your son’s marriage is by loving his wife. Here are some tangible ways my own godly mother-in-law strengthened her son’s marriage by loving me. Ray and I are now in our 50th year of marriage and for 42 years of our marriage, I had the most wonderful mother-in-law in Anne Ortlund. I’m so deeply grateful for her example. Here are some ways she helped our marriage succeed, deepen and grow.
Jani: The first way that you can strengthen your son’s marriage is by loving your daughter-in-law in tangible ways. Remember her birthday. Make sure there’s a gift for her at Christmas. Do you ever call her just to connect with her? Do you ever text her? Sympathize with her and seek to understand her life through her eyes. Look for ways to honor her as your son’s wife, both within her hearing and even beyond it. Romans 12:10 encourages us to “outdo others in showing honor.” So outdo others in showing honor to your daughter-in-law. Oh, that will help her marriage. Love her in tangible ways.
Give Their Relationship Precedence
Jani: Secondly, gladly give their relationship precedence. My mother-in-law was so good about this. I would encourage you to only offer advicewhen you’re asked. Oh, bite your tongue. You see, your daughter-in-law’s relationship with your son is a higher priority than his relationship to you. If ever your son has to choose between the two women in his life, help him to choose his wife over you. This may not always be easy, but it’s right and it’s good and it’s helpful to their marriage.
Jani: As I’ve said before, I was blessed with such a wonderful mother-in-law, Anne Ortlund. She never showed all the ways she could have been disappointed in me as her gifted son’s choice of a wife. She kept those to herself. She never once in the 42 years that she knew us as man and wife, she never once offered me unsolicited advice on how I could be a better wife or a better mother to her grandchildren or a better daughter-in-law even to her.
Jani: I remember one afternoon early on in our marriage. I was chatting with mom about some things on my heart. And I noticed a picture she had on her bedside table of her husband Ray and her son Ray Jr., whom we called “Bud”. They were sitting together at a football game that Bud had played in. Dad was down on the bench with him. Looking at it, I commented to Mom Ortlund, “Oh, aren’t they handsome? I’m so grateful dad was at that game when Bud got hurt.” She warmly agreed. And then I quietly mused almost under my breath, “Boy, I sure like Bud’s hair cut short that way.” “You do?” she asked almost timidly, “Oh, Jani! I thought he was letting it get so long because that was your preference.” I told her, “Oh mom, it isn’t. I don’t like it now that it’s growing so long. He wants it to grow past his shoulders. But I don’t know how to tell them. I’m afraid of becoming a nag and we’ve been married less than a year. How do I tell him when I know that he loves it long.” “Well Jani,” mom Ortlund said as she went over to her purse and got some cash out which she kindly put in my hands.
Jani: “Do talk with Bud. How else will he know what you really are feeling? But time your talk with him carefully. Pray over it. Don’t approach him when he’s just come home from work or is hungry. Find a free evening and take him out to dinner with this money. Delight in each other’s company and then when you’ve had a chance to catch up a bit and enjoy your food, tell him how you really feel. Try not to cry if it’s possible. With no tears and no fears and and no demands, just your quiet vulnerability, open your heart to Him. And then leave it with him.”
Jani: Oh, Mom was so wise I thanked her. You see, she had let her boy leave her and dad in order to cleave to his new wife, who happened to be me. I had ears to hear her advice, because she honored my relationship with her son as more sacred than her own relationship to him. And you can imagine the look that passed between mom and me the next evening, when Bud arrived home with a very handsome hair cut.
Jani: Well, we’ve been talking about tangible ways that you can love your daughter-in-law and how you can gladly give their relationship, your son and your daughter-in-law’s relationship, precedence over your relationship to your son.
Let Them Build Their Own Home
Jani: Thirdly, let me just suggest this, try not to fret over her abilities, or lack thereof, to keep house or discipline your grandchildren. You see, we had our chance to build our own homes and to raise our children in it according to what we thought was best. Now it’s her turn. Let’s lovingly free our daughters-in-law to become all they can be as their own homemakers and mothers. It is crucial not to respond to your daughter-in-law in fear or disappointment, but rather as her mother-in-law to show patience and openness. Ask your heavenly Father to help you cultivate an exemplary self control over your own anxieties.
Jani: You see, close family relationships bring the real issues of life to the surface. Be as generous with your daughter-in-law as you want her to be with you. Ask gentle questions like, “Oh, I wonder how you’re doing with going back to work full time and three little ones to care for. Oh, I admire your work ethic.” Or, “Is there anything I could do for you or maybe not do to make life a little bit easier for you during these busy days? Could you tell me what works for you?”
Jani: True humility steps aside at times and lifts others up. Your own desire to be heard and respected may be a threat to your son’s happy marriage. Is it worth it? Don’t compete with your daughter-in-law. Be happy that there are things that she’s better at than you. No one wins in a competition between a mom and a daughter-in-law. And your son has the most to lose.
What About When I Need To Say Something?
Jani: Now, you might be thinking, “Jani, what if I truly disagree and what if I even feel hurt by her?” Well, what did our Savior do when he was ignored or mistreated and disrespected. He absorbed it for the sake of the kingdom. He overcame evil with good. By His grace and for His glory. You and I can too.
Jani: You see, the best way to develop a meaningful relationship with your daughter-in-law is to spend time with the father of both of your families. Fill your cup to overflowing with God’s goodness, with God’s wisdom. Then, when you’re jostled in those family relationships, it’s certain to happen in close family relationships, his Word will spell out rather than your own weak opinions or disappointments or even complaints. Drink in more of Jesus than you pour out so that you will never need to live on empty. Remember Jesus’ promise.
Jani: “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him, a spring of water welling up to return a life.”
Jani: Let Christ give you, dear mother-in-law, a relationship with your daughter-in-law that will lay strong foundations for many generations to come. That way, he will restore both your soul and her soul for the years ahead. God bless you as you love your daughter-in-law.