Maybe loving your mother-in-law, or showing love to her, isn’t the easiest thing in the world for you. I hope these tips can help you.
There is a secret to loving your mother-in-law. It has everything to do with you and nothing to do with her. She doesn’t have to change one thing about herself for you to love her! That is GOOD news!
Your mother-in-law is neutral.
Did you know that your mother-in-law (or, insert another name) is a neutral circumstance in your life?
She is there. She is who she is. You cannot change anything about her. She raised children. You have a conversation. She is your children’s grandmother.
It’s all neutral.
It’s not good or bad.
You have a thought about your mother-in-law.
Maybe you have thoughts about how she should be more involved with your kids. She shouldn’t be so critical. She should realize what she said was out of line.
We have so many thoughts. So many opinions.
We have a manual. It’s in our head and full of rules we think others should follow.
Maybe your mother-in-law is not following the manual that you have.
What is wrong with her? Doesn’t she know she should behave differently? That your relationship could be so much better if she would change?
The other day my friend was telling me that she had a difficult mother.
Nope. Her mother is neutral. Then, she had a thought, “My mother is difficult.”
Our thoughts create feelings.
It starts with a neutral circumstance (your mother-in-law).
Then, you have a thought about her.
For example, I wish she played more with my kids. She doesn’t like me. I’m not doing a good job. She is too loud. She’s controlling.
Or, maybe you think she is wonderful and funny and a big help to your family.
Your thought will create a feeling in you.
For the first example, the feeling might be disappointment, anger, unworthiness, or resentment.
In the second example, the feeling could be love or gratitude.
Our feelings drive our actions.
If we are angry, disappointed, or full of resentment we show up differently than if we feel love or gratefulness. Right?
When I’m angry I might not talk as much. I am not as kind. I might even say something rude. If I am feeling judged, I shut down and judge right back. I build a wall and disconnect.
Becoming aware that our own thoughts, NOT our mother-in-law, are what make us feel the way we do is the first step to change.
I finally figured this out in another relationship of mine. I thought the person was so annoying. Then, I realized that my thoughts were annoying, NOT the person. My thoughts were creating my pain and suffering.
What? I was annoying myself?
Yes. My thought that they were annoying was causing me a lot of suffering. I didn’t want to live like that anymore.
So, what did I do about it?
What should you do about it?
1. Become aware of your thoughts.
Next time you are with your mother-in-law watch your thoughts. When your mother-in-law says something, notice what you think? If she calls, what are your thoughts? When she helps you clean up, what are you thinking?
Awareness is the first step.
Let it sink in. Don’t judge yourself for having these thoughts. Be honest as you explore what your thoughts are toward her.
Give up your manual and stop wishing she would change.
As hard as you’ve maybe tried, there is NO way you are going to change her or anyone else. I know because I’ve tried.
Is trying or wishing they would change serving you? Are you becoming more like God by trying to change them or wishing they were more like YOU wanted them to be?
Probably not. It’s probably causing stress and pain in the relationship.
Once you are aware of the thoughts, then…
2. Realize you could choose an optional thought.
I realized that I cannot change people and by trying, it’s caused me, and them, a lot of frustration and pain. I’ve spent many years and tons of energy wishing and trying to change people.
Then, I realized I could change.
Other people don’t have to.
I could choose to change the thoughts I’m thinking.
I can look at my mother-in-law and appreciate her, even when she does or says things that are different than my manual.
What if I became curious about the things she says or does ALL while not making them mean anything about me?
3. Practice and pray.
It takes practice. And, it takes a lot of prayer.
Our brains have made pathways that are so strong and comfortable. The “bad” thoughts come up without even trying. Our brains seek ways to find proof that our mother-in-law (or whoever) is ______.
Now, we must train our brains to create a new pathway. A pathway that finds proof that she (or husband or friend or boss) is an amazing person that God created. How they act doesn’t need to affect how I think about them or how I feel about myself.
Try on this thought.
My mother-in-law (or other person) is amazing. My job today is to notice ways she is amazing.
I show up as a completely different person when I think this. Instead of noticing all the ways she is annoying, I search for how God made her amazing.
What would life be like if we all did this?
This is the secret to loving your mother-in-law.
Love doesn’t come from her treating you a certain way.
We’ll feel love when we choose to think loving thoughts. Love comes from the thoughts we have about her.
You have the option to choose to see her as God’s creation and see amazing things about her OR you have the option to remember the past, the ways you think she should change, or the ways she’s hurt you (which, by the way, she does not hurt you – your thoughts about what she said or did, hurt you).
Choose to look for her amazingness. Then, next time you are with her, tell her one way she is amazing.
Dear God, Help me to see the current thoughts I think about my mother-in-law. I surrender these thoughts to you. My desire is not to change her. I want to give up my manual for how I think she should act. Help me see the beauty in how you created her. Give me strength and grace and perseverance as I practice and retrain my brain.
“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had,” Roman 15:5 NIV
Tracy Hoth, Simply Squared Away
Looking for more resources on loving your in-laws?
This week's post at Kindred Grace:
Hope for Your Marriage When You Have a Difficult Mother-in-Law