What if YOU are the in law? From the parents’ vantage point, it will help to remember our objective. From the moment of their birth until their marriage, we have been training our children for independence, or at least we should have done so.
We want them to be able to stand on their own feet and operate as mature persons under God. We have taught them how to cook meals, wash dishes, make beds, buy clothes, save money, and make responsible decisions. Also, we have taught them respect for authority and the value of the individual. In short, we have sought to bring them to maturity.
At the time of their marriage, our training ends and their independence reaches fruition. It is hoped that we have helped them move from a state of complete dependence on us, when infants, to complete independence as newlyweds.
What if YOU are the In Law?
From this point, we must view them as adults. They will chart their own course for better or for worse. We must never again impose our will upon them. We must respect them as equals.
This does not mean that we will no longer help them. But all our help must be given in a responsible manner that will enhance independence rather than dependence. That is, if we give financial help it should be with a view toward helping them attain their freedom from our support rather than making them dependent on it. We should not help them establish a lifestyle that they cannot afford to maintain.
The cardinal sin of parents is to use financial assistance to coerce the young couple into conforming to the parents’ wishes. “We will buy you a bedroom suite if you move into the house next door.” Gifts are fine if they are given out of love without strings attached. But gifts that are conditional become tools rather than gifts. Parents must diligently guard against such temptation.
Suggestions, Not Forcing Advice
Certainly, parents should feel freedom to give advice to the young couple (though it is always best to wait until advice is requested). Even so, parents should not seek to force their advice on a couple. Give suggestions if they are requested or if you feel you must. But then withdraw and allow the couple freedom to make their own decision.
Most important, do not express resentment if they do not happen to follow your suggestion. Give them the advantage of your wisdom but the freedom to make their own mistakes.
A newly married couple needs the emotional warmth that comes from a wholesome relationship with both sets of parents, and parents need the emotional warmth that comes from the couple. Life is too short to live with broken relationships. The principle of confession and forgiveness applies to in-laws as well as to marriage partners.
We do not have to agree with each other in order to have a wholesome relationship, but bitterness and resentment are always wrong. (Ephesians 4:31) Mutual freedom and mutual respect should be the guiding principle for parents and their married children.
This article comes from the book, Toward a Growing Marriage, by Dr Gary Chapman. It is published by Moody Press. This book is divided into two sections: Premarital Growth and Marital Growth. The first section is designed for people who are in the process of becoming the kind of persons who will be “fitting,” or “suitable,” marriage partners. The second section speaks to those couples who have already said, “I do.” They are now trying to fulfill that commitment. The engaged couple should work through the entire book before marriage. And then they should review the Marital section within the first six months of marriage.
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Filed under: Dealing with In Laws & Parents