I am going to be your mother-in-law some day. At present, you are perhaps frightened of my title and my position, as I could be of yours. But then, of course, you don’t know me yet. At least, you might not.
But you’ve heard the rumors about mothers-in-law. You’ve been to the movies, and you’ve heard the familiar in-law warning: “If you hurt my son/daughter, I’ll kill you.”
I’m not going to kill you.
But we will love the same man. For many women, this automatically initiates a competition of colossal proportions–a tug-of-war for affection, attention, and admiration–all for a man who will remain relatively oblivious or confused by it.
So let’s not compete. There’s no need. We have different things to do, in regards to my son.
Let’s set some perimeters right from the start. What are our individual responsibilities?
- Encouragement–we both bring influence through our positions as his two most important female relationships. I will encourage his character and his role as husband and father. Yours is far more important. Because his identity is tied up in pleasing you and providing for you, your encouragement or lack of it will absolutely change who he is and who he is destined to become. For better or for worse.
- Love–I loved him first, but you will love him the deepest, and on differing levels. To you, he is friend, lover, husband, provider, and father of your children. Please love him for himself, not for the roles he plays, because his performance as a man will change day to day. I love him because he is my child–he’s a part of me, and I can’t help it. His behavior and character don’t affect my love (remember, I put up with puberty!). Here’s my promise to you: I will cheer on your love; I will facilitate it however I can (watch the kids, send you on weekend trips). Most of all, I will try to model what marital love entails so you both can follow our example as his parents. Love is a decision in marriage; recognize that it will cost you everything, but it will give you even more in return.
- Decision-making–you and my son will make your own decisions. Hopefully, we will be wise and kind enough so that you ask our advice occasionally. (We do know a lot.) However, I must decide not to butt in and tell you what to do. We will always encourage you to prayerfully consider what God wants for you. You will make your own mistakes, and I’m okay with that. I will try to bite my tongue when I don’t agree and decide to give you the benefit of the doubt when I don’t understand. And you will learn to make good adult decisions, growing more mature and more dependent on each other.
- Care–You will be my son’s new caregiver, ’til death do you part. Thank you for taking on this role. I did my best to prepare him for you, but as you will soon find out, I didn’t do a perfect job. My caregiving role now is to assist you, if you need me. Please understand, I don’t want to mother you or my son. I promise. It might look like that sometimes, but that’s just my past leaking through. I really just want to show love in a meaningful way. Please help me realize when I’m smothering you. (It might happen, by accident.)
- Prayer–Life is growth. It’s learning to grow old gracefully and become wise with minimal collateral damage. I will pray for you regularly, as I have done during your entire life, even though I didn’t know who you were. Your job is to pray and grow with your husband, to embrace each new stage and recognize that the stages of life change you. Don’t pray for ease or pine for the bliss of the dating years or the honeymoon–embrace every new adventure and pray through the challenges. Ask God for help or ask us for help; just let God be the God in your future, however terrifying that may be. Love life, and love it together. As individuals, you will both endure hardship, grief, trauma, and heartache. Do it together, on your knees. This habit will bind your hearts and strengthen your marriage.
We’re not so different as people say.
You have the ability to make my son happy, confident, and strong. I have had that privilege for 20-some years, and I willingly (although fearfully) pass that responsibility on to you. We are both encouragers, not controllers. If either of us wields emotional power, we will drive him away. But if we breathe emotional life into him, we will secure his devotion and give him the strength to reach his potential, which we both see and value.
After you get married, I will no longer see him as my son. I will see him as my married son–a unit with the girl I’ve prayed for since the day he was born.
I have already loved you for a couple decades. Killing you is not an option.
I guess we will just have to work on the in-law issue.
image by George Hodan