In-Law Trouble & the Bible

Marriage is the closest, and should be the happiest relationship we know in this life. As Jesus says in. Matthew 19:9, and elsewhere, it is also a relationship that should never be broken except for the extreme disloyalty of fornication. Yet in spite of the closeness of the marriage tie, about one out of every three marriages in our country break up, and a very frequent cause of divorce is the interference of parents or other close relatives interference of which the parents themselves are often unconscious.

The reason for this is easy to understand. Family relationships developed over many years ideally are very close and very enduring. Parents by nature love their children. They guide, teach, discipline them, and help form their sense of values, their way of thinking and acting. In a sense, they come to idealize their own children in comparison with those from other homes, who may not have the same sense of values and may not think and act in exactly the same way.

Children also by nature love and admire their parents. Over the years, they begin to think and act much as they do, and to have the same sense of values. But when two young people marry, they bring into the new home the cultures from two different families, whose sense of values and ways of thinking and acting may be quite different. In such case, it is easy for the parents of the groom to feel that his bride does not quite meet the standards they had expected in a wife for their son. It is just as easy for the parents of the bride to feel that the young man is not all they had wanted in a husband for their daughter.

Furthermore, the young couple who are establishing a new home feel that they have a right to manage it in their own way. But since they come from different family backgrounds, if they are sensitive it is easy for the young wife to feel that her husband's parents interfere with them too much, and for the husband to feel the same way about his wife's parents.

Ann Landers has said that "80 per cent of the letters I receive pertaining to in-law problems are complaints against the mother-in-law. And 80 per cent of the mother-in-law beefs are against the husband's mother - not the wife's". Evidently the complaints Mrs. Landers receives are from the young wives, who seem to be more sensitive then their husbands about parental interference. They also identify the husband's mother as the chief trouble maker. Whether such complaints are actually justified or not, they at least breed resentment in the young wives and may start dissension's between them and their husbands.

What then is the solution for this conflict of relationships - a conflict which arises from the natural affection of parents for their children and of children for their parents? Jesus himself suggests the solution when, in Matthew 19:4-6, he quotes God's intention when he established the institution of marriage and the home. "Have you not read," he said, "that he who made them in the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh? So that they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder." Mark 10:9.

God's statement places the primary responsibility on the young couple to see that their love and their commitments to each other are always above the commitment to their parents, no matter how deep the family ties may have been. - The term "leave" father and mother, however, does not mean a complete break or abandonment. Instead, Jesus in Mark 7:10-13 states plainly that children are to honor their parents and, when necessary, even support them financially. The establishment of a new home does not release them from this obligation. But the term does mean that the intimate relations which have formerly existed between parents and children must and should change when the children marry.

This change places new obligations on both the parents and the children. Naturally, the young couple want to be independent and manage their own home. But they need also to recognize that their parents have a deep interest in them and want to help them to be happy. They might also remember that these parents have had many more years of experience than they have had and might be of help in solving some of their problems. What they may at times consider as criticism or interference in their affairs, they might consider as a perhaps unwise desire of their parents to help them. If there is a difference in point of view, they might be patient and try with love and kindness to win their parents to their view; or, surprisingly, they might see their parents' view the wiser.

On the other hand, though parents still have a deep love for their children and want to help them, they should realize that the young couple now have a right to be independent and to work out their own problems. Even though they think the youngsters are making mistakes in managing their home, their children, or their finances, they should be extremely tactful and kind in making suggestions or in giving unasked advice. They should not expect them to do everything exactly as they themselves would do. They should by all means not impose their own views on their children. (I Corinthians 13 (not insist own way). The relationship between parents and the new home should no longer be one of expected obedience, but of warm cooperation, in which each respect the independence and ideas of the other. There cannot be the same closeness of association, the same amount of attention parents have formerly enjoyed, for their children now have other responsibilities which must claim their time and attention.

But if both parents and children are Christians, and try to exercise the love and compassion, the kindness and understanding which Jesus always showed for others, there should be no in-law trouble, but both the new and the parental homes will have a mutually happy relationship.

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