Yikes. Three out of four couples say that they experience serious conflict with their in-laws. That’s 75%! What are some things you can do to set your in-law relationships ups for success? Julie Lyles Carr, host of The AllMomDoes Podcast, talks about her own in-law relationships, what she has learned to be intentional about, and what she might do over as a daughter-in-law and now as a mother-in-law.
I met the love of my life. Two of them, actually, when I was dating my husband, Michael. Mm hmm. That’s right. I sure did. I’m Julie Lyles Carr. You’re listening to the All Mom Does podcast, part of the Purposely Podcast Network. And I can say with my husband’s full permission that these two people that I met while he and I were dating, they became one of the most important love stories of my life. Mike and I were still in college, and it was a weekend where there were several visitors on campus and it was in the fall and the weather was just starting to get a little crisp. It was one of those days. I bet you can imagine when the sky was clear and that crazy blue that it can get. And the bright sunshine took a bit of a bite out of the autumn air. Michael and I made plans to meet after our campus chapel service, and he showed up with these people in tow, their big smiles, big hugs and big exclamations of how happy they were to meet me, won me over immediately. And that was the moment I met the people who would become my in-laws, the grandparents to my kids. And honestly, one of the most significant influences on my formative young adult years.
We’re going to be starting a little short series about the in-laws and the outlaws, I’m calling it. When it comes to your relationship with your in-laws being an in-law, things you may have thought of, things you might not have thought about. So join me both on this episode and in a couple of upcoming episodes with some special guests where we’re going to talk about what it means to be an in-law or an outlaw in your extended family’s life. Now, I have to tell you, there’s a story in the Bible that some people read one way, and I read a little bit differently. Now. I understand the value of this Bible story, but there is a bit of detail in here that I always wrestle with a little bit. Honestly, I think it is the in-laws story that we hold up is one of the most powerful when it comes to looking at the relationship of adding to your family when you get married. And I’m just going to say it. I’m going to say it up front. And if I offend you, I’m apologizing ahead of time. But I got to be honest. I think Naomi, who we read about in the book of Ruth. I mean, I think she was a bit of a drag. I’m sorry. Just I mean, here is someone who renames herself bitter. Now, her story, I understand why she feels that way. She has moved to a foreign country with her husband and her sons. And while they’re there, her boys end up marrying two of the local girls. And then the husband and the two sons all pass away. And Naomi is left with her two daughter in laws trying to decide what to do next. And the decision is made that they will return to Naomi’s homeland back in Israel, and they begin that journey. Now, along the way, one of the daughter in law decides that this is not the future she had envisioned. She actually wants to go back home. And Naomi says, “You go do your thing. That’s great. Go.” But the other daughter in law, Ruth, stays with her. And it’s from the Book of Ruth that we get that incredible soliloquy about the beauty of, I will go where you go, Your people will be my people, your God will be my God. I mean, that’s amazing, right? It really is. What a beautiful thing. And what a statement about the mother in law and daughter in law relationship that that is how they chose to conduct things moving forward. It’s amazing. But I have to tell you. I mean, Naomi, through a lot of this narrative, is really grappling with what looks like to me some significant depression with a lot of statements that she makes about her life and about the turn that her life has taken. If I were Ruth, I have to be honest, I think I would be thinking, man, this is a bummer. I’m trying to come in and start a new life and I’ve got this older woman who I esteem her. I honor her, but wow. Kind of a bummer. That’s not what Ruth does. And through Naomi’s advice and wisdom, Ruth finally does encounter an amazing man who becomes her husband. And through them, we have all the way the lineage to Jesus Christ. So it’s an amazing story. I’m probably not giving Naomi quite enough credit. I’ll. Okay, I’ll say it.
At the same time, though, I’m also I’m just kind of curious why that is the in-law story that so often makes it to the front page. It is the one that I think if I were to throw out a trivia quiz out there, that’s who you’d be thinking of would be Naomi and Ruth, who are the most famous in-laws in the Bible? I think it would probably be them. But there is another set of in-law relationships that I find to be really compelling. So there’s this guy in the Bible and he sort of through no any kind of ambition of his own, he becomes a major leader for God’s people. He’s kind of recruited in and the burden of loving these people well and leading these people well is so incredibly heavy. And who does he turn to? Who is his rock in the midst of trying to be the kind of leader he believes he’s supposed to be? It’s his father in law. The person I’m talking about is Moses and the Book of Exodus records in several places for us the amazing relationship that Moses has with his father in law. So, for example, in Exodus 18:7-8, “Moses went out to welcome his father in law. He bowed to him and kissed him. Each asked the other how things had been with him. Then they went into the tent. Moses told his father in law the story of all that God had done to Pharaoh in Egypt and helping Israel, all the trouble they had experienced on the journey and how God had delivered them.” Further in verses that come next, Moses unpacks for his father in law a lot of the burden, the stress, the anxiety that he is dealing with in trying to hear everything that’s going on with the people he’s leading to take into consideration all of the complaints they have against one another, all of the judicial process that Moses is trying to enact, every bit that he is carrying all the time with all these people. And it’s his father in law who says, “Listen, you can’t keep operating this way. You have got to learn to bring other people in up underneath you and delegate some of these decisions.” His father in law helps him set up a better system for leadership as Moses is leading these people. It’s amazing to me that he is able to go that Moses is able to go to this man, the father of his wife, and to be able to have that kind of relationship where they have the transparency, to talk to one another about the things that are challenging them, that Moses stays in a posture where he wants to know what his father in law’s feedback is. He wants his advice, and yet at the same time, the father in law doesn’t in any way try to supplant Moses as the leader of these people. He’s there to support. He’s there to give any help that he can. But he’s not trying to become the leader over Moses. It’s really a phenomenal little picture of, to my mind, what the healthiest, most powerful relationship with in laws can be.
Now, at the same time, Jesus also warns that in our lives, particularly when we have deep affiliations with certain beliefs, with certain lifestyle choices that we’re making as part of following God, that that in fact may create rifts between daughter in laws and mother in laws. He warns them in Matthew 10, He says, “Don’t think I’ve come to make life cozy.” This is from the message interpretation. “I’ve come to cut make a sharp knife cut between son and father, daughter and mother, bride and mother in law cut through these cozy domestic arrangements and free you for God. Well-meaning family members can be your worst enemies. If you prefer father or mother over Me, you don’t deserve Me. If you prefer son or daughter over Me, you don’t deserve Me.” Those are some really strong words. So I think we see in what Jesus has to say. And in the example of Moses and his father in law, there is this balance, right, that we need to be looking for when it comes to our in-law relationships. Now, why do I call it in-law and outlaw? Because I will tell you, I feel incredibly fortunate that my husband’s mom and dad were the amazing people they were. They’re now both home with the Lord and that I was accepted into their family and they were people of great gentleness and kindness and wisdom and sweetness. And I’m very thankful for that. I don’t at all take it for granted because I have certainly seen other people in my life grapple with far different relationships with their spouses parents. It has been sad at times to see people that really have struggled to get along. At times there have been abruptions in those relationships. People have kind of had to go off to their separate corners. So I don’t at all take it for granted that if you get a great set of in-laws, even if it’s not perfect, even if there are moments where things have to be talked through and discussed, that is a treasure and not everyone gets that. I also don’t think that the way to interact with in-laws is to still be a child in the relationship, if that makes sense. There are going to be times that God may guide you to do something for your family. That is not the way your in-laws would have done it. And just like we have to make those changes when we walk into being the leaders of our homes with our spouses, that is the same thing that we need to do with in-laws and our parents.
That’s the first thing that I want to talk about. When you get married, you then become your own family. You and your spouse, regardless of whether you have kids or a puppy together or yet or not. You are your own unit. This is one of the first thing that is established about family within community. Right at the top of Scripture in the Book of Genesis, that a man will leave his mother and father and he will cleave to his wife. And yet so often, I think we have all kinds of dynamics that can come into play, because when we first get married, we kind of feel like we don’t know what we’re doing. This is all brand new. We don’t know what it means to establish our own family. And both of us as spouses are drafting off of the heritage, the rhythms, the patterns that we’ve taken from our homes of origin. It can be very easy to allow one set of parents or the other to have, to some degree, too loud of a voice into how we are living our lives. So to get that precept first, that God’s intention when a couple marry that at that moment they are distinct and separate as a family unit. Now, does that mean you reject any insight or feedback that maybe your parents or your husband’s parents come to you with? No, not at all. To stay in a posture of learning, To stay in, a posture of seeking wisdom. Of course, we want to remain open to what other people have to say, what their experiences have been. That’s part of the beautiful balance of having people in our lives who’ve walked before us, not to cut them out and to think that we can do it so much better than they can. But to, in a sense of humility, be willing to be taught, to be willing to be shown an example of how things can be. However, what it does mean is that we have to have a clear understanding that we have now started our own family. And it’s going to be important to choose the things that we say are going to be part of our family culture and to bless, but release things that may not be the way that God is guiding us to lead our families. Even if it has been a long standing tradition in the family that each of you come from.
Now, I have to say on this next point, it was something I’d never really considered. I just hadn’t. I thought about the kind of family I hoped to be able to marry into. I thought about the kind of in-laws I would love to have, but I did not really think about it at the time of my own marriage, the kind of daughter in law I wanted to be. And so I’m asking you that question. Have you been intentional about the kind of daughter in law you want to be and what your example mean for your kids to show them what it means to be a child in law of an extended family? I recently saw a video post on social media that really had me scratching my head. It started off it was a daughter in law talking about how unreasonable her mother in law was being about the recent birth of the daughter in law’s first child, the mother in law’s first grandchild. And my initial blush when this girl started talking was to think, oh, yeah, like, you know, here comes the mother in law with all the advice and here comes a mother in law with, you know, showing up when she’s not supposed to and all that kind of stuff. That was where I thought this was going. Instead, the daughter in law talked about how the mother in law was texting once a day, asking when she could meet the baby, see the baby for the first time. And as the story unfolded on this social media post, the daughter in law who had this whole diatribe about how important it is to hold boundaries and this is my child, kind of a statement. She revealed that her own mother and sisters were staying with her all this time, having this precious time with this new baby. The mother in law hadn’t even met the baby yet. And this girl ends this whole social media post with this crescendo of It’s my baby’s my boundary, you’ll meet this child when I say it’s time. I mean, yikes. I do not at all see where anybody benefits from that kind of, quote unquote, boundary building. You know, a mother in law can be this incredible blessing. And when she’s treated as such, when you’re not giving preferential treatment necessarily to your own family, but you are encompassing and embracing now this expanded family you have, the blessings can be incredible. But to treat a mother in law as less than your own mom and your siblings, to treat a mother in law is that she is somehow less of a grandmother than maybe your mom is. How unfair is that? And what kind of future does that create moving forward? Now, I admit, I don’t know the whole story of this daughter in law and this mother in law, but I know for sure that this becomes a speed bump in their relationship. That’s going to be awfully hard to get over. You know, you’re not in a competition with your mother in law. Now, listen, I know and I have heard the horror stories of a mother in law who does make it seem like a competition. But that’s why when we go back to that first point, you are your own family and you and your spouse need to agree that way. Set the ground rules between the two of you. What does that look like? And then to empower your spouse to say, okay, it would probably be great if you would let your family know how we’re going to operate, and I’m going to let my family know how we’re going to operate and we’re going to hold the line. I mean, that’s part of what was confusing to me and this entire social media post of this girl who was preventing her mother in law from meeting this grandbaby was where was her husband in this? Where was this woman son in all of this? It was very fascinating to me. And it got me thinking, you know, I’m so glad that that was not part of my story with my precious mother in law, Linda. But what did I do intentionally as a daughter in law? What was I thinking about and how I wanted it to be as a daughter in law? What would I do over if I had the chance to do that? Because I think there are ways that we can really help set the tone. Can our mother in law’s help set the tone as well? Yes. Are there situations where hard lines need to be drawn? Of course. But when I hear people sometimes talk about the trope of mother in laws, whether that is a husband talking about his wife’s mom or whether that is a wife talking about her husband’s mom. What I keep coming back to is do we want to have an in-law relationship or do we want to have what I call an outlaw relationship where they’re the bad guys, they’re the villain, they’re the one trying to steal time, they’re the one trying to steal attention, whatever we want to call it. Do you want that in-law relationship? Because if you do, it means you’re going to need to integrate this person intentionally into your family. Did you hear all of the “ins” there? They have to be calm and they have to know that you feel like they really are your family.
Now, that is one of the kernels from the story of Naomi and Ruth that I think is so beautiful and why that speech on the part of Ruth resonates so strongly with us. There’s a phrase out there that I really value, and it’s called Chosen Family, and we usually use it right in our culture to talk about those friends that you make, like your family, their aunts and uncles to your kids. They are your sisters, are your siblings because of the affiliation and the affinity and the affection and the love that you have for each other. But in the same way, your in-laws are also your chosen family. You chose your spouse, and in choosing your spouse, you also got these people. And maybe there are things about them that you wish were different. Maybe there are complexities and challenges that you didn’t anticipate, but they are chosen family. And so the willingness to at first extend that trust, extend that inclusion to be very intentional about the kind of extended family you’re wanting to build can take you a long, long way for relationships that can go the distance.
Now, maybe you’re already far down the lane and you’re like, Listen, Jules, I would have all been great, but it has been ten years and it has not been pretty. Okay, I get it. I understand. And I’m not saying that you have to put up with stuff that if your in-laws are doing things that are against what you believe in or they’re taking a tack with your kids, that is opposite to the type of parenting style that you’re trying to instill that you just have to put up with it. I’m not saying that. What I am saying is for any of us who project a sense of, Ooh, you’re my competition, I’m against you, you’re not doing it right. We naturally are going to throw people into a defensive mode and the odds that they’re going to come back at us with things that are pushing the boundaries and are pushing their agenda are probably pretty high. So to recall over and over that hopefully everyone has the best interest at heart. Everybody wants a family that’s operational. Everyone wants to be secure in their individual relationships to one another. Invest the time to get to know your in-laws as people. Invest the time to understand where maybe they’ve been kind of afraid of expanding the family. As amazing as my in-laws were, it was actually really difficult for my mother in law when Michael and his sister launched into adulthood, left for college and then launched into their adult careers and lives. She really had a hard time with the empty nest experience. And guess who showed up on the scene, right as all that emotion was happening? Yours truly. And let’s be clear. I’m a lot. My mother in law and I had very different personalities, different ways of looking at things, different ways of seeing the world. But what a gift she gave me in loving me. Well, even when it was hard for her, even when I didn’t exactly match I don’t think what she maybe had hoped for her son, even when she was grappling with a lot of complicated emotions about launching her kids, about empty nest, about changes in her career, all the things. It was all happening right as I entered her life. And yet the grace she extended me, the fact that she was a grown up in it, that she knew the bigger goal was to have a connected, healthy, communicating healthfully attached, extended family life. She kept that goal in mind, and I think that’s one of the things that really helped her navigate, helped me to feel safe, helped me to feel like we weren’t tugging on each of us with one of Michael’s arms yanking in opposite directions. She included me in the process, in her journey, in the challenges of learning how to let go. And that carried us all the way through our entire relationship.
Now, here’s a new thing I’ve been having to think about. And just like I didn’t think all that much about being a daughter in law, even though I thought about what kind of mother in law I wanted. I’ve done a lot of thinking about what kind of daughter in laws and son in laws I want to have. But I hadn’t necessarily really thought through what kind of mother in law I wanted to be. And then about three years ago, my third child, my oldest son, he’s my third child. He got married and he got married to a girl I’m crazy about. She had been in our life for a long time. She was his best friend through a lot of high school years. And then they connected romantically and got married. And she’s exactly who I would want for him. And it’s been an absolute joy being her mother in law. But I hadn’t really thought through in my delight about this girl becoming my daughter in law and knowing she was exactly the kind of daughter in law that I would love to have. I had not really thought through who do I want to be to her? And so I’ve spent some time now that we’ve now had four of the kids get married in the last three years, I’ve got this whole side of myself that I’m starting to really learn, hopefully have set some good habits and some good markers in place about the kind of mother in law I want to be. Now for me, and I’m not saying this has to be you. But I want to be the kind of mother in law who is available and who has a safe space, but who also my in-law kids know that I am not vying for attention or time with their spouse, their spouse being my child. I want them to know that I honor my kids spouses, my in-law kids is the primary relationship in my children’s lives. I’m going to say that again because I know it can be hard to hear, but I want my kids marriages to be successful. And if I continue to insert myself as trying to be somehow on the same level with their spouse, or if I’m nervous about my connection to my kid and I start making it feel competitive with the time they have with their spouse, with the decisions they’re making with their spouse, I’m shooting everybody in the foot. So I’m going to say it again. I want my in-law children to know that they, with my blessing, with my joy, they are the primary human relationship in my children’s lives. They never have to worry about me doing an end around on them. They never have to worry about me questioning the decisions that they and my child make together. I trust them to be the adults they are. I believe in their ability to conduct their lives well, healthfully. I just. I do. I decided that’s the kind of mother in law I’m going to be.
Now, I do happen to really like all of my in-law kids. And I recognize that is not everyone’s story. And I got to be honest, perhaps it’s been a whole lot easier for me to develop this avatar of the kind of mother in law I want to be, because I do really like my in-laws, my kids. What do you do if that’s not the case? What do you do if you have a child who, against your better wisdom and advice, has married someone and it’s rough for you, you’re not really sure how it’s going. You know, I had a very beloved friend in college and she was just the best. I mean, one of the most amazing people ever. She was generous and funny and smart, and she became romantically involved with a guy that, hey, if she loved him, then we were all going to do our best to like him. But he was not necessarily a likable guy. To be frank, the relationship continued to accelerate and eventually they got engaged and they got married. And it was one of those rough weddings where you’re standing there like, Oh, man, I just don’t know. Sure enough, this guy ends up leaving my amazing, gorgeous, smart, wonderful friend about eighteen months into the marriage leaves her for another woman. It was just shocking because none of us really thought he was worthy. And then he left her. It was just crazy. I told her later about the guilt that I carried, that I had not done more to try to stand in the way of that relationship, that I hadn’t done more to say to her, I’m really serious. I don’t think this is the guy. And she told me something really important. She said, “No, no, no, no, no, let that go.” She said, “You have to understand, I had decided I was going to marry him. And now I can look back and I can see the places, the red flags, the things I should have thought of. And yes, this has cost me a lot of pain. This has resulted in an outcome I never wanted for myself or that I would want for anyone else. But I was going to do it. I was going to marry him. And because you walked with me and you supported me when it all blew up, you still were a safe place for me.” Now, I don’t say any of this lightly, however. If one of my kids were to become involved with someone that I was really concerned about, I would hope that I would maintain that they could talk to me, that it was an open door, that I was not going to fight them, that I yes, could speak honestly. Maybe point out a couple of things. I’m a little concerned about this. How do you feel about that? But to not set up some kind of gauntlet, they would have to run through if things went south and they needed to reconsider the decision they had made.
Again, I guess that’s another part of being a mother in law, right, is to think about how to keep doors of communication open and how to accept who your kids choose. It’s one of the things that I’ve said a lot to parents through the years in my parenting coaching is that when it comes to who your child is going to choose romantically, very often this is a side of them that we don’t really know until it happens who our kids are going to be drawn to, who they’re attracted to, who they want to build a life with. We can think we have a good idea, but we don’t really know. And so there is the potential that one of your children may end up with someone that you don’t understand the connection, but it is there for them. And if we create animosity and we create polarization, the odds that that child or them together as a couple can lean into us if things get rough, man, we have really reduced our ability to speak into that situation. If we put up all kinds of blocks and obstacles and all kinds of things like that, I want to leave the doors open. As a mother in law and as a mom so that we can be a safe place, whatever is going down.
Now, one other thing I did want to tell you that I think eases relationships between in-laws and keeps us from going into the outlaw category. Live in the now for what you want, your experience of raising your kids to be, and then release your kids to launch into their own traditions, decisions and lives. What I mean by that is this. So, for example, when Michael and I got married. It was really important to me that I do Christmas for our kids in our home, our way. And I was not trying to be selfish. Everybody was welcome to come but what I wanted and I can’t really even tell you what gave me the foresight to do this. I just know that now I’m really grateful. I don’t think I was all that smart. I think I was really excited about doing Christmas my way for my kids. But now let me tell you the wisdom that came from that. I have such peace that now that my kids are married, if they spend whatever time with the in-law side of the family doing whatever. Of course, I love to see my kids as much as I can. I want to be with them at the holidays. But I got to have my run. I got to do my thing. And I think about because that was important to me. If I had not done that, if I had allowed in-law things to pull at me, or if my own parents to pull at me in a certain way and no one did. I’m just saying if I had not stayed in that lane. I’ve raising my kids in the moment for the things that were important to me. I think it would have been a lot tougher for me to release them. You know, sometimes in our families of origin, the assumption will be, well, we always did it at grandma and granddad’s house, ergo, that’s how we’re going to keep doing it. But I want to ask you to really think about what are the things that you want to make sure you get to do with your kids your way, building those memories so that when the time comes to launch, you aren’t thinking, Oh man, I never did X-Y-Z with my kids. I was always sort of delegating it out to extended family or to the loudest voice in the room or to the expectation or the tradition that had come before me. That’s the same with financial decisions. It’s the same with child rearing decisions.
Here’s another one I want to put out there for you. If you’re considering what kind of daughter in law or what kind of mother in law you want to be, your kids need to have their wedding their way. It’s their wedding. You do your wedding your way if you didn’t get to. God bless it, release it. But don’t then try to live out your Cinderella fantasy through one of your kids weddings. Live in the now for what you want to do with your kids so you can release them. Now if your in-law situation as difficult or layered, there are a lot of families I know where their spouse has stepparents and it just gets more and more complex. I realize that not all of these points are necessarily going to just dovetail hand-in-glove neatly with your lived experience. I do think, though, that you are still in a position where you can co-create what you want life to look like with extended family. And, you know, I think about all of the places in Scripture where this in-law experience shows up. I was really surprised when I started going through and did a scripture search on in-laws. And what I found is that there are multiple places in the Bible where there are beautiful examples of in-law relationships like Moses and his father in law, like Peter and his mother in law. And then there are places where the in-law relationship is so toxic and so difficult. For example, Jacob and his father in law, I mean, that’s the father in law who tricked him on which bride Jacob was going to get. It is a messy, complicated business in that in-law situation. What I want you to hear is that because of the number of times that I find the in-law relationship and frankly, the outlaw relationship in scripture, our relationship with our in-laws, I believe, really matters to God. And the way that we serve and love each other, whether we’re in the position of being a daughter in law or a mother in law is so important to God’s overall design for families, for the way He envisioned we would live in community, for the way that He saw that we could support one another and honor one another. And learn from each other and grow this beautiful family for ourselves, for our kids, and on through the generations. It’s worth the fight. It’s worth the hard conversations. It’s worth talking with your spouse and developing those boundaries. It’s worth getting into some counseling and some oversight if you’re struggling in this area. It is worth it.
And so over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be talking about some different aspects of the in-law outlaw relationship. Some things to think about as we’re preparing our kids for marriage and how we can equip them and give them tools for accepting extended family and the in-law relationship. We’ll take a look at how to develop a friendship with your mother in law or how to be a friend to your daughter in law. These are all some things that certainly have been on my heart and mind as our family has continued to grow and expand as my relationship as a daughter in law ended when my mother in law and father in law passed. And as these new relationships began, as my kids started getting married and we began to extend our arms around an even larger group of people to love. So don’t sleep on this. Don’t let this somehow miss the radar. You have a really beautiful legacy that you can build. You may have some hurts you have to work through. There are going to be expectations and challenges. And so I’m really hopeful that the series will get some tools into your hands to think about that thing we call being an in-law.
Hey, if you have a chance, go subscribe and like the podcast, grab a link and send it to a friend who you think this could be helpful for. And check out the Shownotes. Rebecca does that for us every week so you can go and find the stuff you’re looking for really easily. Check out AllMomDoes.com. It’s both online and blog form all kinds of great articles. Also on the socials, you can find us there. And I’d love to hear from you. I’m Julie Lyles Carr all the places and I’ll see you next time on the All Mom Does podcast.