We have all heard mother-in-law jokes. They are usually negative humor with a bite to them. We all want to avoid the MIL stereotype and here’s some hints to help us do that.
When an adult child marries, parents go from front line caregivers to the bench. That means we’re there if needed for backup but it’s up to the newly created family to take the ball down the court. When Blessed Mother lost Jesus for three days, she had to stretch to accept the reality that Jesus was growing into his own mission. At that point, she was to decrease and Jesus was to increase. If that fact was a bump in the road for Mary, it will likely be for most mothers too.
That doesn’t mean our mission ends, of course, any more than Mary’s did. We have to struggle to give birth to our children spiritually just like we did physically. I know so many committed Christian couples who are heart broken because their adult children have left the Church. Whether they’ve left the Church or not, most couples struggle for one reason or another trying to begin a healthy family in this anti-family culture. The chief task of their parents at this point is to concentrate on prayer and fasting for the intention of the flourishing of this nascent family. Parents of adult married children need to be saying a rosary together each day or giving up morning coffee or helping to defray the cost of a grandchild’s tuition. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are the way we give spiritual birth to our children.
Parents of adults remember the word boundaries! When your child walked down the aisle the boundary lines changed. Recognize and respect that fact. That doesn’t mean that your young person is always right or that you’re not allowed an opinion. It simply means most of the time that opinion needs to remain unsaid unless asked for. Of course this general rule doesn’t apply to cases of abuse or other extremes. But it does apply when the new couple has a fight and either spouse turns to their mom to back stab their spouse. I’ve seen well-meaning mothers quickly and vocally take their sons and daughter’s “side” against the spouse. Resist this temptation. They already have a problem between them and, if you take sides, they will have two problems between them.
Aim to be the mother-in-law you needed when you were young. Remember what it was like to be unsure of your role as a wife and, hopefully, mother. When we’re unsure or afraid we often get defensive or cocky. Cut your new son or daughter the slack they need to grow into their new roles. Corrie ten Boom said she prayed daily for the grace to see “great things great and small things small.” The devil delights in getting us to see great things small and small things great.
Rejoice and thank the good God in the new life that he has allowed you to help nurture and encourage for so many years. Remember that He always saves the best wine for last!
Glenna Bradshaw is a wife of 50 years, a mom to a priest and a daughter and son in law who’ve managed to raise my four grand grandchildren even though she didn’t always follow her own advice
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