How to Get Along With Your Future Mother-in-Law

QUESTION

I have been seriously dating a wonderful young man for over a year and a half. We have discussed marriage and are dating with that goal in mind. I recently lived with his parents for three months and had a really difficult time: Despite many good qualities, his mother is very controlling, micromanaging, paranoid and particular about everything (e.g., never leave the garage door open for more than 10 seconds, wash your hands, every little thing being done exactly how she wants it done, “did you make sure to close the garage door?” etc.).

I know it is “her house, her rules,” and I cannot fault her for that. I also know she was not treating me differently than she treats her own children. My boyfriend has said that despite feeling like she doesn’t like me, his mother has told him that she does like me. I (and all of her children) am more than capable of getting along without being smothered with her micromanaging. I have never had anyone treat me like that before and it mean, “I like you, approve of you, and trust you to be capable.”

I cannot see myself being friends with her and would not want to be friends if she were my peer. That bothers me a lot, because growing up, my mother was her mother-in-law’s best friend, and I assumed every mother-in-law relationship was like that. However, his mother really stresses me out and makes me feel never good enough. You cannot choose your family, but you do have a choice about who your in-laws are. Is it OK not to want to be friends with one’s future in-laws or to want to spend a lot of time with them? Will she ever learn to let go and not be so controlling? Please help!

ANSWER

Thank you for writing. As a daughter-in-law I can relate to the difficulties you’re facing with your boyfriend’s mother. As a mother, I can relate to your mother-in-law’s difficulties with you. And as a daughter of Eve, I can understand why the situation you described was so difficult for both of you. James tells us why we have such a hard time with other people: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (James 4:1).

Our conflicts with others stem from the sin that originates in our hearts.

Still, our circumstances can greatly magnify our sin. Benjamin Franklin once quipped that “guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.” His witticism makes a valuable, if blunt, point. It’s worth considering how the length of your stay may have affected your Potential Future Mother-in-law (PFMIL). Whenever we are guests, we must be careful not to overstay our welcome. That’s true whether it’s a dinner party, a game night, a weekend visit, or a drop-in next door. Certainly there are exceptional circumstances where the command to love our neighbor and care for those in need (1 John 3:17James 2:16) trumps our preference for privacy and family alone time. But there is prudence in not taking advantage of one’s hosts.

The call to hospitality applies to the one giving it as well as the one receiving it. Insofar as your PFMIL is a believer, it sounds as if she may have failed to extend to you the grace she’s been shown in Christ. But I would ask, did you stay too long? Living with your potential in-laws would create challenges in even the best of circumstances. To remain under their roof for so long was to invite the very challenges you encountered. Add to that the expectation that your relationship with PFMIL would be like your mom’s with her MIL, and you can’t help but be disappointed. The friendship that you assumed was a routine part of marriage is actually quite rare. What a gift your mom had!

My experience with my PFMIL was full of awkward, tense and disappointing moments that I have observed to be common. (Steve and I talked at length about this first meeting on The Boundless ShowEpisode 39.) Now that I’m a mother of sons, I’m beginning to understand how hard it was for her to make room for me, the new woman in her son’s life. It’s a major transition — one I hope I’ll have lots of grace to make when the time comes. Read more

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