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17. In-Laws or Outlaws?

Finding the balance between two biblical principles.

You think more of your folks than you do of me, don't you?"

"How can you say you love me when you side with them against me?"

"You're always ready to do what they want you to do, but you seldom want what I want."

"Why don't you ever cook like my mother?"

"You sound just like your mother when you nag me like that."

"You let your parents run our lives. Why can't you stand up to them?"

We both came from fine Christian homes and had parents who wanted to do the will of God and who had no desire to interfere in our lives. They wanted only God's will for us--nothing more, nothing less. And as a result, we probably had far fewer problems over in-laws than most young couples have. Yet statements like some of those above were heard in our home periodically. So we need to comment on how we endeavored to work through the difficulties in this area of our marriage.

For one thing, we genuinely tried to practice the "leave and cleave" principle. God said, "For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife" (Genesis 2:24). God's direction in our lives took us more than a thousand miles away from our parents' homes, and that forced us to weaken our parental ties and strengthen our bond to each other whether we understood God's command clearly or not. But the point is, knowingly or unknowingly, we did obey the exhortation of Scripture.

Many couples are not able to get geographically removed from their parents, and so it becomes more convenient for them to put their parents' wishes before their mate's. But the scriptural principle is unmistakable--after we marry, our mates come before our parents. Our parents are no longer in charge of our lives. There may be times when we need to make decisions that will be unpopular with them. While they may think they know what is best for us, that is not necessarily so. In Christian love we will listen to their opinions and consider them prayerfully, but in the end we must decide on the basis of what will be best for our spouses and our children. It may take a great deal of courage to stand up to our parents, but God will provide that courage if we turn to Him in faith. We must always act in love and kindness, but we may need to act decisively.

In the few spats we have had in this area, we each tried to point out to the other the influence we thought his/her parents were having. We didn't always do it in the right way. For example, "I feel belittled and unappreciated when you side with your folks against me as you did tonight," would probably have been better than, "If you think their way is so right, then why don't you just go back and live with them!" But however it was said, we each listened and tried to understand, and each tried to show the other he/she was first in our affections.

We had to remember also that we could no longer depend on our parents for material support. If they gave to us (which they did, generously), we would accept it gratefully. If they didn't, we would love and respect them just the same. But in neither case did we want to let the prospect of monetary assistance affect our decisions. We had to do what God desired and what was best for each other, and not allow ourselves to be manipulated by any thought of money. We have watched with sadness as some married couples have used their parents' money to control each other, and it has destroyed their relationship.

But there is another side to parent/in-law relationships that has become increasingly clear to us as time has passed, and that is the biblical exhortation to honor our fathers and mothers (Exodus 20:12). Some people have become so incensed over their mates' ties to their parents that they have demanded total isolation from them. They refuse to visit them, and they get upset when their mates visit. They try to keep their children away from them. If they are forced to be with them, they speak sharply and unkindly. We have observed that people who have done this have deeply regretted it in later years. How they wish they could go back and live those years over again!

Despite what some may think, our parents usually love us and our children and long to be a part of our lives. Even if they have a tendency to be overbearing or meddlesome, we have no right to deny them that privilege. Whatever their faults, they have a right to see their grandchildren, to be treated with respect and to be spoken to kindly. So be careful what you do, what you say and how you say it. Unpleasant memories sometimes linger for many years, much to everyone's dismay.

Most of the idiosyncrasies that upset us so are just not worth fussing about. When all is said and done, what difference does it make that your mother-in-law stacks the dishes in the dishwasher differently from the way you do it, or that your father-in-law likes to tell old war stories, or whatever? Love them and accept them for who they are, and God will bless you for it.

As the apostle Paul reminded us, honoring our fathers and mothers was the first command with a promise attached to it--"that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth" (Ephesians 6:2,3). We would be wise to obey the command and enjoy the promise.

Walking Together

Are your parents the reason for some of the conflict in your home? Apply the "leave and cleave" principle, endeavoring to balance it prayerfully with the "honor your father and mother" principle.

Related Topics: Christian Home

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