Happy Mother's Day!

Happy Mother’s Day to all the Great Mothers-in-Law!

Over time, a family with four sons develops a unique tone, a guy culture with a certain decibel level and a distinct way of doing life. As a mother of some now-married sons, it has been a joy to welcome other women into this circle — women who love my sons well and also have opened their hearts to me.

Of course, the messy flip side of this blessing is the requirement that I acknowledge and appreciate another woman’s way of doing things — important things like parenting my grandchildren, feeding a family, and managing a home.

Just as I have prayed for 27 years for grace to be a good mother, I am now trusting for grace to be a good mother-in-law. Wisdom for this challenge flows in abundance from one of Paul’s lists in the book of Romans. Some translators have labeled Romans 12:9–21 as “Marks of the True Christian.” I can’t think of any better advice for women striving to be good Christian mothers-in-law.

1. Expect that this new family will be different from your own.

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. (Romans 12:16)

When our sons have gotten engaged, my husband has made a point of sitting down with the future daughter-in-law to let her know, in no uncertain terms, that we realize our son is not perfect. With a strong desire to “live in harmony” with every branch of our family tree, we have expressed our love for the brave soul who is marrying into our family and have communicated our intent to support and encourage them as a couple in any way we can. Learning to offer help with no strings attached has been a crash course in humility, and the lesson has been reinforced in recent years as our grown children actually have offered to us their gifts of wisdom or practical help.

In None Like Him, Jen Wilkin warns readers against the tendency to usurp the incommunicable attributes of God — those qualities of deity that are his alone. Nowhere is this more of a temptation for me than in parenting. God will stop at nothing to pour his holiness, justice, and patience into the love I have for my kids, but what I really covet is his sovereignty. When I become “wise in my own sight,” in awe of my own cobbled-together wisdom, I am rescued from this misplaced awe by the truth that God’s wisdom flows from his unlimited authority.

By entrusting my family to God’s sovereign plan for each member, I am enabled to release the death grip on my desire to control and manage things from my limited perspective.

By entrusting my family to God’s sovereign plan for each member, I am enabled to release the death grip on my desire to control and manage things from my limited perspective.

2. Be slow to give unsolicited advice.

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. . . . Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. (Romans 12:1012)

I am honored (and flabbergasted) when one of my daughters-in-law calls, requesting input on anything: preparing a meal, nursing a sick child, or removing a stain from a garment. It’s a great gift, and one I hold loosely, because my sons married smart and capable women who already surpass me in many ways. Therefore, when I observe some small trait or practice that does not meet with my approval, and when I am tempted to offer my sage counsel on the matter, I try to recall all the times I have been consulted and the times when my feelings and opinions have been taken into consideration with grace.

It is not for nothing that the phrase “patient in tribulation” precedes being “constant in prayer.” (Romans 10:12) Start praying now!

It is not for nothing that the phrase “patient in tribulation” precedes being “constant in prayer.” If you are convinced that your child’s spouse is lacking in some serious way, and you are not already praying for them every day, start now!

3. Remember, your son or daughter now belongs to his or her spouse.

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (Romans 12:18)

The old adage “Good fences make good neighbors” applies in families as well. An invitation is not a summons, and missing a family gathering is not a shun-able offense. Rejecting unrealistic expectations, refusing to manipulate with guilt, and saying no to the insidious tendency to keep score (as if our fellow in-law counterparts are the competition) are all ways of declaring war in this battle for peace. And because each temptation is subtle and inward, they are the part that “depends on me” with the Spirit’s enablement.

To be sure, I have been married longer than my kids and their spouses have been alive, I have parented a number of children, and I could devise all manner of additional rationalizations for playing the mum card, offering gratuitous advice, or harboring resentment. But if I want to live peaceably with my sons and their families, I must respect the God-given boundaries that have been established since the words leave and cleave drifted from the mouth of God into Eden’s clear air.

If I want to live peaceably with my married children, I must respect the God-given boundaries that have been established since the words “leave” and “cleave” drifted from the mouth of God into Eden’s clear air.

4. With a sincere heart, thank God for this new son or daughter.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. (Romans 12:9)

In the same spirit as Paul’s command to “let love be genuine,” Amy Carmichael prayed,

Love through me, Love of God;
     Make me like Thy clear air
Through which, unhindered, colors pass
     As though it were not there. (“Love Through Me”)

Kicking myself out of the center of the universe, I am astonished to see God answering this prayer as my sons marry and start new lives. Given half a chance, the love of God will enable me to reject negativity or prideful insistence on having my own way, and to feel genuine gratitude for this new son or daughter.

The handed-down love of God is trustworthy and openhanded. Holding my heart to the high standards of genuine love cuts across all my natural tendencies to control and to protect, and it negates my cherished job description as God’s Official Northeast Representative. However, rising to that challenge with a strength that is not my own puts the power of God on display for the next generation and frees my children to establish the habit of looking first to God, and then to each other, for all that they need.

The handed-down love of God is trustworthy and openhanded.

That sort of genuine love will enable the Spirit-filled mother-in-law to “hold fast to” the good of her son or daughter’s expanded world, the good of them doing things in their own way, and the good that she might even learn a thing or two from them in the process.

Mother’s Day Blessings to all!

This article first appeared at Desiring God.

Will You Accept the Prayer Warrior Challenge this Mother’s Day?

Understand, there is no magic formula, no set of words to “guarantee” our kids’ safety or spirituality, and yet I have found praying the words of Scripture for my children guards my heart from asking for scorpions and stones that look to me like fish and bread in the moment. I’ve created a resource to help you get started with biblical prayers for your kids. Straight from my own prayer notebook, these are the requests I’ve been carrying to God for my own sons for over twenty years.

Complete the form below to receive the free Prayer Warrior Challenge Printable in your email inbox. Want to know more about me before you sign up? We can get acquainted here where you can even listen in on a podcast interview in which I talk about my family and my life here on the hill.

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The Joyful Life Magazine

Stumped in your search for a last minute Mother’s Day gift for your mum, mentor, daughter, or favorite aunt?

The Joyful Life summer issue on Rest is now available for pre-order, and the single issue (or an annual subscription) is a thoughtful remembrance that lasts. Click here to subscribe or to check out their shop, which is full of gift ideas and resources to enhance your own walk with God.

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51 thoughts on “Happy Mother’s Day to all the Great Mothers-in-Law!”

  1. So much for us to learn not only as mothers but then as mother-in-laws. It is such a blessing to have our families grow. Much wisdom in this post for which I am grateful to be reminded. Happy Mother’s Day, Michele!


  2. Michele,
    This is such an excellent post – thank you. There is no greater challenge than to learn how to refrain from giving unsolicited advice to our adult children. This is how to become a much-loved mother-in-law–to allow your children to leave and cleave. I would love to share this with our blog readers with your permission, of course.
    Blessings and Happiest of Mother’s Days


  3. Thank you for wise, Biblical advice for Mothers-in-law! I was blessed with a mother-in-law that I loved dearly, and I think my own mom is an outstanding mother-in-law. I’ve tried to learn from her so I can love my own daughters-in-law well (and someday a son-in-law too).


  4. These are great tips. We only have one daughter-in-law so far, so we’re still in learning mode. Thankfully, I was blessed with a very good, kind, thoughtful mother-in-law. Hope you had a wonderful Mother’s Day, Michele!


  5. Hope you had a wonderful Mother’s Day, Michele. Great advice to all the mothers-in-law (and daughters-in-law). I was fortunate enough to have 2 wonderful MILs (my husband’s mother and step-mother). The unsolicited advice is something I need to watch with my own DILs. I am learning to bite my tongue! 🙂


  6. What a beautiful family photo! We hope you had a lovely Mother’s Day Michele. I can’t imagine you being anything but a completely wonderful mother-in-law Michele. All these points show how much you care and good-wish your sons and their partners. Thank you for sharing your thoughts over at #mischiefandmemories


  7. What a lovely post. I am so fortunate that I have a fantastic relationship with my mother in law and my wife is close with my mum too.
    So important when making a new family that everyone can understand differences and most importantly all get along!


  8. As a mom of sons only, I so understand. You write: “By entrusting my family to God’s sovereign plan for each member, I am enabled to release the death grip on my desire to control and manage things from my limited perspective.” That is so true! I’ve also learned the MIL-DIL relationship needs both sides reaching – and the quote above helps when one side choses not to reach. Trusting God, praying for God’s will in their life, loving unconditionally, never giving up – I’ve learned how to love better, to love without expectation.


  9. Thank you for sharing such a lovely post on the Penny’s Passion link up!

    My own mother-in-law has been a challenge for me throughout my marriage, namely for the lack of really being able to embrace point three – it’s an important one.

    Early on in my marriage, she in frustration proclaimed that she felt like she was getting divorced from her son. In private with my husband, I said, “We’re doing it right”. Leave and cleave ❤

    Have a lovely day and thank you for your heart to be a good MIL


    1. Oh, that’s so sad. And I wonder if she has any idea that she’s making such a huge mistake in her mothering? I’m glad you shared this story, Renee, because I’m sure there are others who struggle as well.


  10. As with all things with my first-born, true as a mama to let go, and again he was my learning curve with a new daughter-in-lawy. My prayer was always they would grow to be indepnedent, strong and capable because one day, I would not be there for them to be dependent upon. It is my peace that they are happy now, and settled even though it took some time for all three. :).


  11. Overbearing, controlling in-laws can make life so very difficult. It took my late in-laws a long time to get the idea of leave and cleave and that made it hard for us all. We were blessed that my own late parents set me a great example.I truly aspire and pray that when the opportunity is given me, I will be the kind of mother in law you encourage us to be. Thank you for sharing this timely, encouraging and much-needed post at the Hearth and Soul Link Party, Michelle.


    1. Thanks for sharing your story, April. I know it’s challenging when in-laws overstep boundaries, and we must trust for grace to put into action the guiding principles we carry in our hearts.


  12. I think mums of boys are a nightmare MILs although I am very lucky with mine but my ex’s mums all hated me 😦 I will be fiercely protective of all my children but if they are treated with love and respect then I will accept their choice of partner. Thanks for linking up with #MischiefAndMemories


    1. Acceptance is huge! So sorry you had bad experiences in the past, but it sure sounds as if you are carrying good intentions and sound wisdom forward for the future!


  13. I suspect that all of us mothers of boys will find this stage in their lives a challenge. I hope that I will be able to forge a positive relationship with my son’s future spouses as I have with my mother in law. #Mischiefandmemories


  14. What a beautiful post, Michele! I very much cherish my mother in law as she is the only grandmother my children have and she is a pretty fantastic substitute for my own mother. Thanks for sharing your beautiful tribute to all the wonderful MILs in the world!



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