My mother-in-law warmly welcomed me into the family when I married Matt.
And for that, I will always be grateful.
At least she and I were off to a good start.
But I’m sorry to say that things went downhill quickly after that promising beginning.
And, oh, how I’d counted on us enjoying a close relationship! How could we not? We both loved and admired the same wonderful man.
The son she’d raised.
The man I’d married.
So much in common right from the get-go.
But there was no getting close to Mom.
Not that I didn’t try.
But that she wouldn’t have it. She was distant, prickly, and often downright difficult to get along with.
Reluctantly, I let go of that “close” dream and found myself on the defensive instead. Trying to avoid a fight, but trying to stand my ground too.
And by then I had plenty of opportunities to do so because my husband’s parents had moved in with us. There we were—two strong women living in the same house.
She’d snap at me. Cross my lines. And get snarky with the kids.
Now to be fair, it’s not that there weren’t any nice moments in between because there were. We often played cards in the evening. We worked together on house projects. Above all, Mom quit her full-time job to devote herself to our special-needs girl the day she was born.
But if I was to be perfectly honest?
My relationship with my mother-in-law was the most challenging one I’ve ever known. Bar none. I’m telling you, that woman could make me shake like no other.
Finally, after serious prayer and long conversations, Matt and I made the hard decision to ask them to move out. This was by my request—but also much to my defeat. I told him I just couldn’t take it any longer.
We waited a few days before telling his folks. But before that time came, something happened that forever changed things between her and me.
How God Can Redeem Your Relationship with Your Mother-in-Law
One day soon after our decision, I knocked on her door, and she invited me to come in. Then to my surprise, this lady — whom I’d never seen cry in the ten years I’d known her — had tears in her eyes. I was wondering what could possibly be wrong when she asked me,
“Can you ever forgive me?”
Just like that. A miracle. The most amazing answer to prayer.
She said she’d been reading her Bible that morning and suddenly the Holy Spirit convicted her of how she’d been treating me. Clearly showing her the wounds and the wrongs that had been done. We both wept.
Now in the movies, that’s where the story stops. But for us, it turned out to be only the beginning.
Because over the following years, we had to face the awful reality that Mom was suffering from Alzheimer’s. A truly agonizing journey. Those last five years with her were the saddest and yet, in many ways the sweetest times we’d ever known together.
At the end of our time with her, when her mind was mostly gone, I stopped in to see her. She gave me her still beautiful smile when I walked in.
“Hello, dear. I don’t remember who you are . . . but I remember that you love me.”
That’s right, Mom, I do.
And you love me too.
God had redeemed a relationship in a way I would never have believed possible. And if He can do that with Mom and me? He can do it with you and yours too.
Maybe you have an excellent relationship with your mother-in-law (or daughter-in-law), and if so, that’s a beautiful blessing! But if you don’t and you despair of it ever changing? Please don’t give up hope.
We don’t yet know the work that God is going to do—in her or in you.
5 Things I Wish I’d Done Differently with My Mother-in-Law
I have to add “in you” because now, looking back, I can see that it wasn’t entirely her after all. The truth is, I contributed to the conflict in my own way, and there are many things I wish I’d done differently. I was not the “suffering saint” that I’d convinced myself I was.
For one, I was proud. So sure I was so right . . . that I was the one wrong. I wish I’d shown more humility.
For another, I lacked grace. If I’d known then all she’d endured when she was younger, I’d never have been so hard on her. I wish I would have offered my compassion—instead of my demands and harsh judgment.
Also, I forgot she might have feelings. Mostly I thought about my own. I wish I would have considered how she might be feeling more than how she made me feel.
Fourthly, I focused too much on her faults. Earlier I’d described her as “prickly” and “difficult” which was true enough. But you know what else I could have said about her? She was dutiful and loyal and reliable. She was also a lot of fun at times. I wish I would have made more of her strengths.
Lastly, I was short-sighted. All I could see was how things seemed at the time. I should have taken a long-term view of our relationship—certainly here on earth, but as we were both believers, also in heaven. I wish I would have had an eternal perspective.
So if you struggle with your relationship with your mother-in-law? I want to encourage you not to give up. Keep praying for her and keep trying with her. And no matter what her response is to you, wouldn’t it be wonderful if some of her last words were, “I remember that you love me”?
A miracle, for sure, but miracles do happen.
I know. Because I’ve walked through one.
P.S. One afternoon when Mom was having one of her clearer moments, she grabbed both my hands and told me I should write about our story here. “Tell them how mean I was to you and what God did over the years.” I told her to just never mind all that, I was simply thankful for what we had by then. But she insisted as she had a strong sense it would encourage someone to hear it. (Dad would read her the articles from Club31Women right up until those last days). So here it is, by her request.
As for me? All I can think of is how unusually sweet our relationship grew and how close we became. Yes, closer than I could have ever hoped.
Looking for more resources on loving your in-laws?
This week's post at Kindred Grace:
When Queens Collide: How to Become a More Gracious Mother-in-Law
Lisa is the happily-ever-after wife of Matt Jacobson and together they enjoy raising and home-educating their 8 children in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. She encourages women to embrace the rich life of loving relationships and the high calling of being a wife and mother. Lisa is the author of 100 Ways to Love Your Husband and her husband is the author of 100 Ways to Love Your Wife. Matt and Lisa are also the co-hosts of the FAITHFUL LIFE podcast where they talk about what it means to be a biblical Christian in marriage, parenting, church, and culture.