You have a problem. You love another woman’s husband. The fact is, you loved him long before she ever even knew him, and he still chose her over you! What’s more, she’s younger and prettier than you.
Your love for him has cost you much through the years, and yet you know your son will, and indeed ought to cherish her as the number one woman in his life. So how can you help, and not hinder, this unique relationship with your daughter-in-law? How can you build a bridge to her heart rather than a barricade around it?
Your Main Goal
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, she is the answer to years of earnest pleading with God for him to provide a godly wife for your beloved boy. You waited anxiously for the day your son would tell you, “I found her, Mom. I found the woman I want to marry.”
“The chief way you can support your son’s marriage is by loving his wife.”
But somehow, despite all your good intentions, you find yourself surprised at times — perhaps even disappointed — by what you see or hear in their relationship. And sometimes you ache over her response to you. You know there are boundaries you must observe, but you want to develop a relationship that is both safe and honest, as well as beneficial to the man you both love so deeply.
To develop a loving and candid relationship with the woman your son loves should be satisfying and rewarding. 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, learn to ask yourself hard questions like:
- Whose feelings do I really hold most dear — hers or mine? What matters most to her?
- Could this invitation for the holidays cause some tension in their marriage?
- Will this comment or story help her feel more secure in my gratitude for her agreeing to give her whole life to my son? Or might it intimidate her?
How to Strengthen Your Son’s Marriage
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. I’m deeply grateful for her example.
1. Love your daughter-in-law in tangible ways.
Remember her birthday. Make sure there is a gift for her at Christmas. Call or text her just to connect. Sympathize with and seek to understand her. Look for ways to honor your son’s wife, both within her hearing and even beyond it. Outdo others in showing her honor (Romans 12:10).
2. Gladly give their marriage precedence.
Offer advice only when asked. Her relationship with your son is a higher priority than his relationship to you. If ever he has to choose between the two women in his life, help him to choose his wife over you! This may not be easy, but it is right and good.
I was blessed with a wonderful mother-in-law. Anne Ortlund never showed all the ways she could have been disappointed in me as her gifted son’s choice. She never once offered me unsolicited advice on how I could be a better wife or a better daughter-in-law.
“Your goal as a mother-in-law must be to promote the love and delight your son has for his wife.”
I remember one afternoon as I was chatting with Anne about some things on my heart, and I noticed a picture she had on her bedside table of her Ray Sr. and my Ray Jr. together at a football game.
“Aren’t they handsome?” I commented. “I’m so grateful Dad (Ray Sr.) was at that game when Bud (Ray Jr.) got hurt.” She warmly agreed! Then I quietly mused, “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.”
“It isn’t, but I don’t know how to tell him when I know he likes it long. I’m afraid of becoming a nag and we’ve only been married six months!”
“Well, Jani,” she said as she went over to her purse and got some cash, which she kindly put in my hands, “Do talk with him. How else will he know what you really feel? But time your talk with him carefully. Pray over it. Don’t approach him when he has 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. With no tears, no fears, no demands — just your quiet vulnerability — open your heart to him, and then leave it with him.”
Anne was so wise. She let her boy leave her and Dad in order to cleave to his new wife (Genesis 2:24). I had ears to hear her advice because she honored my relationship with her son as more sacred than her own. Imagine the look that passed between mom and me when the next evening Bud arrived home with a very handsome haircut!
3. Do not fret over her abilities to keep house, or discipline her children.
You had your chance to build your own home and raise your son in it according to what you thought was best. Now it is her turn. Lovingly free her to become all she can be as her own homemaker and mother.
“Lovingly free your daughter-in-law to become all she can be as her own homemaker and mother.”
It is crucial not to respond to her with fear or disappointment, but rather to show patience and openness. Ask your heavenly Father to help you cultivate an exemplary self-control over your own anxieties (Galatians 5:22–23). Close family relationships bring the real issues of life to the surface.
Be as generous with her as you want her to be with you. Ask gentle questions, like “How are you doing with going back to work full-time and three little ones to care for? I admire your work ethic!” “Is there anything I could do, or not do, to make life a bit easier for you these busy days?”
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 her. Be happy there are things she is better at than you! No one wins in this kind of competition — and your son has the most to lose.
Trust Christ During Tough Seasons
Now what if you truly disagree and feel hurt by her? Well, what did our Savior do when he was ignored, mistreated, and disrespected? He absorbed it for the sake of the kingdom. He overcame evil with good (Romans 12:21). By his grace and for his glory, you can, too.
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 and wisdom. Then, when you are jostled, as is certain to happen in these close family relationships, his word will spill out rather than your own weak opinions and complaints.
Drink in more of him than you pour out, so that you will never need to live on empty. Remember Jesus’s promise, “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 eternal life” (John 4:14). Let Christ give you a relationship with your daughter-in-law that will lay strong foundations for many generations to come (Isaiah 58:12).