As a new mom, I was just learning the ropes. We were following all the rules with our firstborn, trying to do everything “right.” Healthy foods, little sugar, regular naptimes, and designated playtime ruled my days. Sleep training was all the rage, and we were determined to get our baby sleeping through the night ASAP. As I anticipated my in-laws coming for their first extended visit, I wanted everything to be perfect.
I wanted my mother-in-law to see me as a good mom, going above and beyond the norm to meet the needs of her first grandchild. I wanted her to see me as a good cook, an organized homemaker, and a helpful encourager to her son. I wanted her approval.
Battling Insecurity with Your Mother-In-Law
So when I saw Barb sweeping my kitchen floor, my long antennas interpreted it in the worst light. She must think my kitchen is dirty. I should have swept again after dinner. Why didn’t I see Barb’s helping hands as doing exactly that, looking for ways to lighten my load? Wanting to be useful while she was at our house?
When the baby was crying herself to sleep and Barb offered to rock her, negative thoughts flooded my mind. She probably thinks I shouldn’t let the baby cry this long. Barb’s offer to rock the baby made me feel like she was questioning my mothering practices when she really just wanted to give a tired momma a break. My own insecurities led me to feel guarded and judged.
Even when our kids were school-age, I struggled with thinking Barb wasn’t happy with our education choice. Although she never said anything against the type of schooling we chose, simple observations she made about the benefits of homeschooling made me feel like we weren’t doing the best thing for our kids.
Maybe you’ve battled similar feelings with your mother-in-law. Doubt and insecurity often reign when you begin a new season of life. And if you’re like me, it’s all too easy to read into the actions and thoughts of others, especially your in-laws’. When I look back at the time I spent with hurt feelings or feeling anxious about a visit, I wish I would’ve viewed my mother-in-law’s actions and words through a lens of grace.
4 Steps Toward a Fruitful Mother-in-Law Relationship
Choosing how to interpret your mother-in-law’s words and actions can make or break your relationship. And when we’re hurt, it’s tempting to close the door to our hearts. Here are four simple ways to move past hurt and toward a healthy relationship with your mother-in-law.
1. Believe the best
How much heartache would we avoid if we believed the best about each other’s words and actions? I can act like I’m a mind-reader, judging the intentions of my mother-in-law’s responses. But that leads me down a slippery slope of negative thoughts. Instead, 1 Corinthians 13:7 tells us that love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” When we believe the best about our mother-in-law, we give her the benefit of the doubt. We assume whatever she said or did was out of a heart of love.
2. Show gratitude
Our sinful hearts easily focus on the wrong things done rather than the right things. Even if your mother-in-law has wounded you, look for ways you can express gratitude to her. Did she host your family for a holiday meal? Babysit so you could have a date night? Help wash the dishes after dinner? Tell her how thankful you are for her presence in your life and your family’s life. Look for the good. Be quick to encourage and slow to criticize.
3. Intentionally communicate
Building a close relationship with your mother-in-law doesn’t come naturally. Therefore, we need to set aside time to talk and reach out to her. Instead of judging how well she loves you, become a student of your mother-in-law and strive to show her love in those ways. Over the years, I’ve realized how much Barb loves phone conversations where the whole family can connect and say hi (especially since we’ve always lived hundreds of miles apart). It might feel inconvenient, but it’s a simple way to show love and bridge the communication gap. Or maybe your mother-in-law loves to catch up face to face over a cup of coffee. Find out what ministers to her and seek to honor her preferences above your own (Phil. 2:3).
4. Fully forgive
When you keep replaying a hurtful situation in your mind, ask God to help you extend the same grace he extended to us. Jesus sets the pattern of forgiveness for us. He loved us even when we were his enemies—to the point of death on a cross. And it’s by that ultimate gift that we’re free from sin. By the power of God working through his Spirit, we can extend that same sacrificial love to our mother-in-law.
Maintain a Soft Heart
When we fully forgive our mother-in-law, we relinquish our right to get even, to give her the cold shoulder, or to hold her sin over her head. Instead, we move toward her in love, treating her as we would want to be treated, covering over the offense with love. Ask God to soften your heart toward your mother-in-law, and pray that God will help you make room for her in your life. Your life will be transformed as you move toward your mother-in-law in love, trusting God to provide the love and grace you need.
Meet the Author
Stacy Reaoch is a pastor’s wife and mother of four. She’s passionate about studying the Bible and helping women apply God’s life-changing truth to their daily lives. She is the co-author, along with her mother-in-law, Barbara, of Making Room for Her: Biblical Wisdom for a Healthier Relationship with Your Mother-In-Law or Daughter-In-Law. Stacy lives in Pittsburgh, PA with her family. You can connect with her on Instagram, Facebook, and stacyreaoch.com.