AIM Cover July 2013

Home | Relationships | The In-law affair - Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi!
The In-law affair - Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi! PDF Print E-mail
Reena Thomas 
"I need help," said Neelu! 

I know I'm supposed to love my mother-in-Law-but I hate her!" As her tears spiralled into uncontrollable sobs, we quickly gathered around her to pray. 

Later, I listened in sadness as other women shared their painful experiences of being an in-law. Of the 19 present in the Bible study, only 3 had good family relationships. What truly troubled me was that all the women and most of their in-laws were Christians.

But should I really have been surprised? My own experience as a daughter-in-law had been immensely frustrating. Twenty-six years ago, when I committed myself to my husband for life, I was unprepared for the depth of conflict I'd experience with my mother-in-law. 

The mother-in-Iaw/daughter-in-Iaw relationship is one of the most complicated human links. It comes with a built-in conflict before the relationship even begins. Two radically different views of the same man emerge. One woman always will see him first as a man; the other always will see him first as her child. 

I still remember when my husband, Bonny' , and I arrived home from our honeymoon to find our new apartment completely arranged right down to the smallest detail-thanks to Nina, my mother-in-law, who wanted to "help out." I said nothing, not wanting to appear ungrateful, but was bitterly disappointed about not having the opportunity to set up my new apartment. 

In the following weeks, Nina came to our house uninvited while we were at work, to do our laundry and straighten the house. "It's just my way of helping," she stated firmly when I objected. "I know how Bonny likes things." 

I swallowed my protests, again not wanting to cause dissent. I didn't realize I was laying the foundation for an off-balanced relationship as my mother-in-law continued to overstep boundaries and I continued to comply. Matters reached almost a point of no return when Nina started lecturing me about having a baby. "You are not growing any younger”, she said, laying the blame on me for not giving her the grandchild she had been longing for. I listened to her verbal abuse silently. As the years passed, resentment festered inside me. But I knew I needed to feel love instead of hate. 

Understanding this is the first step to having a smooth in-law link. However, as I began visiting with women who have successful relationships, I discovered they all shared an attitude that moves beyond this basic understanding. In each relationship, one of the women involved gave a "gift" to the other woman. For most of them, it wasn't given easily, but as a conscious choice. I discovered, too, that it didn't matter whether the giver was the younger or older woman or even if the gift was acknowledged. All that mattered was one of the women was willing to give. 

The Gift of Selflessness 

Kiran spent years trying to get her mother-in-law out of her life and away from her children. She especially tried to prevent the woman from influencing her husband. He always came home distressed after spent time spent with his mother as she'd pester him about this or that. 

One day Kiran tried a different thing. She set aside her feelings and focused on her mother-in-law's need for appreciation. She wrote her a letter thanking her for all the things in her home with which she'd blessed them. She began to show gratitude for her 'interference' because she realized it was motivated by love, however distorted. The results were remarkable. Walls came down, and an entirely different relationship emerged-not just between the two women, but with Kiran's husband and children as well. 

The truth is, setting aside our will doesn't come easily. It feels like "giving in," and no one likes to do that-especially when you’re convinced the other person is wrong. But that's exactly what Jesus did by dying on the cross for us when we were very much in the wrong. 

In Kiran's case, it was the daughter-in-law who set herself aside. The results are just as successful if it's the mother-in-law who practises this value for living. 

When Shanti's son began seriously liking a young woman, she was heartsick. The girl had a vastly different background that was in direct conflict with Shanti's family. She spent agonizing hours in prayer over the relationship, hoping it wouldn't progress to marriage. When it did, however, Shanti resolutely pushed back her dismay and welcomed the young woman into their family. "I willed myself to accept my daughter-in-law," she said, "because my son had chosen her." 

The key thing to remember was that my son is supposed to leave me and join with his wife. And anything done to interfere with that process is against God's will. 

Shanti set her will aside, she and her daughter-in-law, Lata, have developed a close, satisfying relationship. But this didn't happen the minute the vows were spoken. In the beginning, Shanti had to make the decision daily to respect her son's choice for a wife. She guarded her tongue, she held back her unasked-for advice, and affirmed her daughter-in-law at very chance she had. 

Shanti didn't realize that in those early years of her son's marriage, her actions were under close scrutiny. Lata was looking for a role model and to her; Shanti appeared to be the "perfect wife." Rather than ask for Shanti's advice, however, Lata watched her, learning from her actions continuously. Actions really do speak louder than words, and they're much more palatable to daughters-in-law. 

The Gift of Unconditional Love 

Unconditional love comes naturally between a parent and child. But such a foundation isn't there in an in-law relationship. What mildly irritates a daughter might deeply wound a daughter-in-law. What only frustrates a mother can infuriate a mother-in-law. 

It's a resolution that must be made and acted upon daily. "Love your enemies," (Matthew 5:44) we're instructed. This command crushes all our legitimate reasons for negative feelings toward an in-law. Regardless of those "feelings," we're to act in love. 

Beena always had a strained relationship with her mother-in-law. After grandchildren came along, it got much worse. Beena confessed, "I knew I wasn't being rational, because my mother could give me the same advice about my baby as mother-in-law gave, but from her I took it as criticism." 
Whatever the reasons behind this hypersensitivity so often present between a mother and daughter-in-law, if just one woman will recognize the irrationality of it and refuse to give in to it, a tremendous pressure will be relieved. 
In other words "Forget everything you know about your child, and let your daughter-in-law discover him on her own." 

The Gift of Spiritual Growth 

As I look back at my 26 years as a daughter-in-law, I see an amazing thing. My relationship with Nina improved as my relationship with God grew. The more I determined to obey God in every aspect of my life, the easier it was to deal with Nina. As I gave God more control, Nina had less control-not because she quit trying or changed, but because my attitude changed. 

Two years ago, post Nina's major surgery, I cared for her during her month-long recovery. In the beginning, I drove to her house each morning with gritted teeth, despising the constant contact with her grating personality. 

Once inside her house, however, I put on a facade of love, treating her as I would have treated my own mother. At times my behaviour angered me, but I knew it was the right thing to do even if I didn't feel love for her. At the end of each day, I marked a square off the calendar, anticipating the end of my responsibility. 

I didn't foresee my father-in-Law’s declining health. What began as a month of caring for Nina has stretched into many months with no end in sight as my father-in-law now requires daily care. 

Somewhere along the way, though, without my realising, my clenched jaw began to relax as I made the daily trips to their house. 

One morning, as I pelted God with complaint-laced prayers about Nina, He had inserted an unsettling thought in my mind: "Nina had no say whatsoever in whom she'd have for a daughter-in-law. While, I did as I had chosen her when I had chosen my husband." I saw her with all her shortcomings and still chose her to be my mother-in-law and the grandmother of my children. Seeing it from this perspective made me realize I couldn't complain about Nina without complaining about myself! "Okay, Lord," I sighed as I headed out for another day of care-giving." 

One of these days it will be my turn to be the mother-in-law to some young woman. Perhaps our personalities will click the minute we meet. That would be wonderful, but unlikely. Those relationships are rare. In the mean time. Experience has taught me that the most valuable gift I'll ever give my sons is to be a mother who's willing to set aside her needs in order to nurture a loving relationship with their chosen wives. 
Source: AIM Magazine, March 2004, Vol 35. No. 3