Jessica extends the invitation for Christmas brunch to her son, Steven and his wife, Hannah. Tension hangs thick in the air as Hannah quietly looks at the floor.
Hannah has been a part of Steven’s family for several years, but she still feels like an outsider and judged by her mother-in-law. She feels criticized for the way she keeps her home and her gentle parenting style. Hannah wants to be a good daughter-in-law but she feels unaccepted, like she’ll never meet Jessica’s expectations.
Steven reaches for Hannah’s hand while Jessica waits for the answer, jaw clenched, “Will they reject my invitation again,” Jessica wonders, “Why does he always choose her over me?”
Steven is caught between his mom and his wife. He feels crushed and perplexed. No matter what he chooses, he will disappoint one of them.
For moms of adult married children, a lot of holiday tension springs from our relationship with our child’s spouse. When our son or daughter chooses a mate, it impacts the family dynamic and our response to their spouse has lasting effects.
What if there was a way to guarantee relational success with your child’s beloved? What if there was one radical thing moms could do to nurture their relationship with their child’s spouse? And what if it starts with a mom practicing unconditional love for her child’s spouse?
Scripture is clear on the admonition to love one another. “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other” (John 13:34 NLT). Because Christ lives in you, His love can flow through you to your child’s spouse. Unconditional love is the best gift you can give your in-law.
Licensed therapist Heather Bjur sums it up like this. “There has to be complete unconditional, positive regard from the mother. She has to be the leader in connecting and caring but not overstepping or helping when help isn’t needed.”
Let’s unpack this a little more, because I believe there is much wisdom from this therapist.
4 Ways to Show Unconditional Love Towards a Daughter- or Son-in-Law
1. Be self-aware.
This is a time to get real honest with yourself, mom. This requires courage and humility. Notice your interactions with your child’s spouse. Does she or he feel judged because of something you’ve said, how you said it or your nonverbal expressions? When you “own” the ways you’ve contributed negatively to the relationship, you will see change. Take an honest look inside and know you are covered with God’s grace.
2. Practice complete unconditional positive regard.
This looks like accepting your child’s mate for who they are. It means not criticizing or correcting. There can be no unsolicited advice or helpful hints. This is radical love. You set the tone in the relationship. Your unconditional love for them will have lasting effects. We are not required to change anyone, that’s the Holy Spirit’s role. What are you doing to communicate acceptance towards your child’s spouse?
3. Initiate connection.
If you’re waiting around for them to come to you, you might wait a long time.They already feel like an outsider, so what can you do to welcome them to the family? You go to them and be welcoming. Take an interest in what matters to them. Invite them out for coffee or shopping. You are the welcome mat in your relationship. What are you doing to build a connection with your child’s spouse?
4. Don’t overstep.
This is a challenge for some moms. When you overstep by offering unsolicited help, it makes them feel less than. Help gladly when asked. Get permission to help, but if they decline your request, you need to be okay with that, too. This communicates respect. Understand your boundary and maintain it at all times. When you do this, you’ll find more peace in your relationship with your in-law.
A mom’s relationship with her daughter-in-law or son-in-law doesn’t have to be stereotypically negative. Let’s do better so our families can be stronger. There is plenty a mom can do to foster a healthy bond with her child’s spouse. When a mom is self-aware, maintains positive regard, initiates connection, and doesn’t overstep, they can have a beautiful relationship which will in turn, improve her bond with her own child.