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Transforming Your Relationship With Your In-Laws

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Transforming Your Relationship With Your In-Laws

Author Deb DeArmond and family therapist Jenny Coffey offer practical, Biblically-based advice for navigating the challenges of in-law relationships, particularly that between a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. Our guests cover topics such as creating healthy boundaries with your in-laws, promoting mutual respect, and establishing realistic expectations.

Related by Chance, Family by Choice

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Related by Chance, Family by Choice

Receive the book Related by Chance, Family by Choice for your donation of any amount!

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Episode Summary

Author Deb DeArmond and family therapist Jenny Coffey offer practical, Biblically-based advice for navigating the challenges of in-law relationships, particularly that between a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. Our guests cover topics such as creating healthy boundaries with your in-laws, promoting mutual respect, and establishing realistic expectations.

Episode Transcript

Opening:

Excerpt:

Deb DeArmond: And I tell mothers-in-law, “If you make him choose, and you’ve raised him right, he’ll choose his wife, and it’ll break your heart.”
Jim Daly: Right.

Deb: “But if he chooses you, it’ll break God’s heart and perhaps, his marriage.”

End of Excerpt

John Fuller: That’s Deb DeArmond talking about the challenging and often, complicated role of being a mother-in-law. This is Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller, and your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly.

Jim: John, I’m thinking about, uh, categories of jokes. So you got lawyer jokes, and then you have in-law jokes. I can’t – you know you got a bad PR team when you have a whole category of jokes named after you, right?

John: And everybody kind of winces…

(LAUGHTER)

Jim: Yeah, right.

John: …Wondering what’s coming when the in-law joke finishes.

Jim: And I can’t believe it, but we’re gonna delve into this today – the in-law struggles. And I think it’s really critical because I believe the Scripture’s pretty clear that we should be at peace in our household and certainly within our extended family. But this is one of the key areas where there’s so much tension. You know, I studied in Japan in college, and the in-law situation in Japan is amazing because mothers-in-law in Japan, they are allowed to use their daughters-in-law as almost like indentured servants, where they are expected to come and clean the mother-in-law’s home. They do cooking for the mother-in-law. It’s, uh – it’s interesting.

John: There’s a whole social construct that is…

Jim: Yeah, the cultural…

John: Yeah.

Jim: …Overlay. And it ends up creating a lot of strife because of that connection and what is expected of her daughter-in-law. But you know what? Here in the U.S. and around the world, there’s different ways that that stress exists in the in-law relationship. A few years ago, I wrote a blog post about in-laws, and hundreds of listeners commented on it – about how strained their relationships were with their in-laws. And many listeners told us there is tension with their mother-in-law or their daughter-in-law on a day-to-day basis. So we’re gonna jump in today, and we’re gonna talk about it.

John: Yeah, and I think we men need to understand this kind of thing, too, uh, to support our wives and to help create some – maybe some healthy boundaries, uh, within in-laws. Our guests are going to give you some courage and wisdom to love everyone in your family unconditionally, even if it seems impossible. Uh, they are Deb DeArmond and Jenny Coffey. And Deb is an author and speaker. She’s been on this broadcast a couple of times before. And she and her husband, Ron, have been married for over 40 years. They have three grown sons, three daughters-in-law, so you know what you’re talking about.

Jim: Don’t forget six grandsons.

Deb: Seven…

(LAUGHTER)

Jim: Okay.

Deb: …And one little girl.

John: Okay.

Jim: Wow.

John: Grandparents…

Jim: Productive children.

John: …Never lose track of how many…

Deb: Never.

John: …Grandkids you have.

Jim: Even their birthdays, they know.

Deb: Uh-oh.

John: Jenny is a marriage and family therapist, uh, here at Focus on the Family. And, uh, we’re very grateful for her and the team. She’s been married to her husband, Blakely, for 10 years, and they have four children under 7.

Body:

Jim: Yeah, let me say welcome to both of you. Thanks for being with us.

Deb: Thank you.

Jim: Uh, Jenny, you’re here kind of because of your counseling skills and also the fact that you’ve lived through this, right? You had some difficulties with a mother-in-law relationship. It’s much better now. And so the things that you’ll share with us today, um, you’ve talked through with your mother-in-law?

Jenny Coffey: Yes.

Jim: Is that fair?

Jenny: Yes, and my husband.

Jim: I want to say that right from the get-go.

Jenny: Yes. Yeah. I think it’s…

John: Yeah, we’re not…

Jenny: …More my husband…

John: …Airing dirty laundry here.

Jenny: …But yes.

Jim: Right.

Deb: Surprises are only good at your birthday.

(LAUGHTER)

Jenny: Yeah, right.

Jim: And then, Deb, uh, you’ve written about this. You’ve written a wonderful book, Related By Chance, Family By Choice. And it delves into this. When you’re counseling – probably for both of you to answer this question – how much is the in-law issue an issue?

Deb: It’s a big issue. Um, I think that for most women, when you have a son, he becomes kind of like the equivalent of the daddy’s girl. The sons and the moms have a special relationship. She’s invested a lot of time in that boy through the years getting him to a place where he’s a fine young man. And just about that time somebody comes and snatches her right out from under your nose, and he’s got a new woman. And that can be tough.

Jim: Hm. Well talk about that mother-daughter relationship. How does that one go down, typically?

Deb: Well, I think the mother and daughter relationship is very different. Moms are preparing their daughters to be wives from the time they’re little girls. We buy them cooking sets and invite them into the kitchen. We know that’s coming. That’s not the same with boys for moms. But it’s on its way every single time, if you’ve done a good job.

Jim: Yeah.

Deb: They will leave home.

Jim: In fact, you did a good job. I mean, you’re – you’ve written this book from a perspective where you did well at it. Uh, speak to that relationship that you had with your, uh, daughters-in-law. In fact, there was a conference that you attended that kind of surprised you. What happened?

Deb: Well, for years, I was feeling exceptionally blessed with three wonderful young women that married my sons – a blond, a brunette and a redhead. We’ve got you covered.

(LAUGHTER)

Jim: You had the whole bouquet.

Deb: And a lot of people often said to us, “So how did you do this? You could get lucky once, maybe twice. But three times, that seems unlikely.” And at a conference that I attended with my three daughters-in-law, uh, a woman across the table one evening at the evening meal said sort of under her voice, “I want to know your secret.” And I looked up into the face of a woman I didn’t know, and said, “I’m sorry. Are you speaking to me?”

Jim: Yeah, right.

Deb: And she said, “Yeah, I want to know your secret.” And I thought, “I don’t know you, and I wouldn’t tell you a secret if I had one…”

John: Yeah.

Deb: “…But I’m not following you.” And she said, “I’m in a cabin with your three daughters-in-law, and they don’t like you, they’re crazy about you, and I want to know how you did that.”

Jim: Oh, wow. So what’d you say?

Deb: Well, after the meal, we sat together, and she told me all of the terrible failures of the young woman who had married her only son, who was also an only child. “She’s lazy. She’s a terrible cook. She’s a terrible housekeeper.” And the list went on and on and on. And she said, “I’m not telling you anything I haven’t already told her.” I said, “Well, tell me a little bit about her mom.” She said, “Well, she doesn’t have a relationship with her. She’s been an addict. Uh, she’s been passed around to lots of family members.” And I said, “A believer?” She said, “No” – another strike against her. So I stopped for a second and said, “Are you asking me for my insight?” And she said, “Yeah.” I said, “Well, I think I’d start by asking for forgiveness.” And she said, “This is my fault? I have to ask for forgiveness from her?” I said, “Well, I’d go to her second, but I’d go to the Lord first.”

Jim: Hm.

Deb: I said, “Here is a young woman who didn’t have much of a childhood, didn’t have really much of a mom, and he’s placed you in her path.” And she said, “Well, he’s – she’s just not the woman I’d have ever chosen for my son.” And I said, “Well, you raised him, and he picked her.”

(LAUGHTER)

Deb: And she stomped off, Jim. That…

John: Yeah.

Deb: …Was the end of the conversation.

Jim: Well, I mean, that is great advice. Um, let’s turn to you, Jenny. I mean, those stereotypes about the in-law relationship – and let’s speak specifically to daughter-in-law, mother-in-law. And I know there’s the other relationship, and we’ll get to that later. But, um, your experience was rough. Uh, I don’t think you’re at a cabin, and somebody heard, you know, how wonderful your relationship was. Describe that. And – and talk to the stereotype. I mean, there is a whole category of jokes, not to make fun of…

Jenny: Right.

Jim: …This, but I mean, it is amazing how much we tease about the in-law relationship.

Jenny: Mmhmm. It was kind of nice because I’ve known my husband since we were in middle school. So I’ve known his mom. And ironically, we work together at the same gym. She’s a – a personal trainer, and so we were always friends. And ironically, my husband dated one of my best friends all through high school. And so she used to always come over and be like, “When are you Blakely going to start dating?” and would always talk about it. So I’m like, oh, she’s on board; she loves me; this is great.

Jim: Checked that box.

Jenny: Checked that – right, yeah. Um, mom approves. And so we – we always really liked each other. And my husband and I had a very short dating, engagement, marriage. All of that happened within the same year. So I think it was very fast for her, and it was hard for her to transition. And to be fair, both of her sons got married in the same year. So there was a loss, and there was a grieving factor. And, of course, all of this was before I was a therapist, so I didn’t really see that from…

Jim: Well, I was going to ask you, did you understand that at that…

Jenny: No.

Jim: …That year?

Jenny: No. It…

Jim: Yeah.

Jenny: It made me mad.

Jim: So tension was there?

Jenny: Tension was there. Um, it was more backhanded comments. We still always loved each other. That’s always been there. So the rough part was just creating new boundaries and what does this look like with a different life? – and those types of things. It wasn’t that we hated each other, but those stereotypes were there, for sure.

Jim: Yeah. Let me go back to this idea of that conversation you had with that woman who opened up to you. What’s the healthy answer? Not to challenge her, but if someone were to say, “What did you do well?” How would you answer that question?

Deb: Well, I think there are two primary things. The first thing – we started when our children were very small. And every night, as young parents, we’d pray over them and not just pray for them, but we’d pray for the young women who would someday be their wives and the mother…

Jim: And they would hear you?

Deb: …Of our grandchildren. They heard it.

Jim: Yeah.

Deb: And so when those young women showed up, Jim, I recognized them. My heart knew. Now, there were a couple of posers along the way that I had to say, “Okay, Lord, either change his mind or change my heart because I don’t think this is the one.” And that happened. And the other thing is that when they did get engaged and plans were being put together, we just simply decided we were gonna be supportive, that we were not going to have, “Well, have you considered? And I – I’m not real crazy about this practice that you guys are doing.” In fact, when my oldest son said, “I’m anxious for her to see kind of how you guys are together” – he was in school in Southern California, away from home – “so that, you know, we can kind of have that plan.” And I said, “Listen. You need to take the best from her family, the best from yours, discard the rest” – because there was some that could be left behind – “and find your own way together as a couple.” And unless we are asked for advice, our rule is we don’t offer it.

Jim: Yeah. And that…

Deb: We allow them…

Jim: …Sounds really good.

Deb: …To be adults.

Jim: Um…

John: Sounds really hard.

Jim: …But, I mean, there are…

Deb: It’s the hardest thing I do.

Jim: You know, again, with the in-law relationship, there’s boundary issues. Often, here at Focus on the Family, we’re hearing from people that are struggling on the boundary side. It’s either the grandparents saying, “You know, we’re being taken advantage of. We don’t know how to tell our adult children we’re not just free babysitters” – you know, those kinds of things. And then on the other side of that, it’s the adult children saying, “You know what? When I bring my kids over, don’t fill them up with sugar. We don’t do sugar at the house.” How do you negotiate these things? And you can fill in the blank. I’m sure the – the negotiation is virtually the same on every issue. But how do you walk that tightrope between, uh, in-laws when it comes to how we treat the kids or what we feed the kids or what we let them see, what kind of technology we let them use?

Deb: I think it’s fair game to say, “I wanted to just touch bases with you on a couple of things that we’re really reinforcing with the kids.” Um…

Jim: That’s as the parent?

Deb: As the young parent.

Jim: Right.

Deb: And an example – we didn’t let our boys play with guns. And you have to remember we grew up in California. So that was not in vogue. And my mother-in-law babysat for one of the kids for a weekend. And he wanted some little plastic Army men that he saw at the grocery store.

(LAUGHTER)

Deb: And she…

Jim: Every boy wants those Army men.

Deb: And she knew exactly that that wasn’t gonna jive with us. She took them home, and she painstakingly cut out every weapon, every grenade and gave him the men. Well, he was completely unimpressed with her solution. But, you know, it spoke to me volumes because we had had that conversation. She didn’t want to disappoint him, but she wanted to honor our request. That, for me, was one of those moments with that first child that said, “Okay, being upfront, not laying down the law, but saying here’s what we’d request while they’re in your home.”

Jim: Yeah.

Deb: It…

Jim: I – uh, when I read that, I was kind of shocked, to be honest. I was like, “Give him the green little men.”

(LAUGHTER)

Jim: I mean, cutting the – the…

Deb: And they all shoot now…

Jim: Yeah. Exactly.

Deb: …So, you know, it’s…

Jim: I was going to ask you…

Deb: Yeah.

Jim: …With boy number 2 and 3, did they cut out the, uh, implements on their little…

Deb: You know, I…

Jim: …Green…

Deb: …Don’t remember. But that first one always gets…

(LAUGHTER)

Deb: …The hardest times…

Jim: Yeah…

Deb: …You know.

Jim: …He’s got the hardest…

Deb: By the time the third one comes along, it’s like, “Eh.”

Jim: I know. But they did that. They honored it in that way.

Deb: They did.

Jim: That’s amazing. Let me, um, apply a spiritual application here. Jesus says in Luke 6:28, “Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you.” Uh, how do you find the balance in this relationship scripturally, uh, where you’re setting limits on the in-law relationship, but you also want to show grace? This could be one of the most tension-filled relationships in your life.

Deb: It is. And often, the man in the middle is just trying to stay off the radar. He’s trying to please both of the women…

Jim: That’s probably the husband.

Deb: …In his life.

Jim: Yes.

Deb: That’s who it is. And I really do believe that not only are we family, but we’re sisters in Christ. There’s – there’s something in that.

Jim: Yeah. Jenny, what do you think…

Jenny: Yeah…

Jim: …As a counselor?

Jenny: …I think the boundaries – what you were talking about earlier – really, I’ve realized as I’ve gotten older, that boundaries really only happen if there’s a mutual respect.

Jim: Yeah, it can’t be one-sided.

Jenny: Right. And I think that that’s really what I’ve noticed in the relationship that’s grown with my mother-in-law – is also an expectation piece. If people don’t know what’s expected of them on either side, it’s really, really hard to say, “Okay, so what are the boundaries? And what does mutual respect look like?” And so I think the more conversations we’ve had – sometimes tough conversations – of “This is the way we do things,” kind of like what Deb was saying, or “These are certain rules that we don’t feel the need to implement” – the more that I feel that my mother-in-law knows what to expect from me and from us and therefore respects our boundaries because it’s not this confusion of “What am I doing wrong?”

Jim: What if you have a situation where even the discussion about boundaries is – it seems so far away? You don’t have a strong enough relationship to have that discussion. Does that make sense?

Jenny: Yes, I think…

Jim: Where do you start in that case?

Jenny: I really encourage, when I do premarital counseling with my couples in private practice, I really encourage them as much as possible in the first few years, if there’s heavy tension, that the child that belongs to the parent needs to deal with a lot of the tension issues. So my husband would deal with his parents, and I would deal with mine in a lot of the heavier tension issues.

Jim: Right.

Jenny: Um, that’s just a way to mutually support one another. But I think the hope is that, eventually, you can have those conversations. But I think it really helps to have the support of the spouse who’s the child of those parents.

Jim: You have a – I think a dinner table conversation about this?

Jenny: Yes.

Jim: What happened?

Jenny: So this was actually this year, surprisingly.

(LAUGHTER)

Jim: Okay, good.

Jenny: So my mother-in-law tries to come out once a year. Uh, and we’ve kind of told them – most of our family’s in Virginia, and it’s just hard to see everybody. So we’ve said, “Come out and see us. That’s how you get better quality time with us.” And so she’s really made the effort to do that. And she comes out. And we were eating at dinner. And she has what my husband and I would kind of stereotypically call a lot of “older-people rules” on things.

(LAUGHTER)

Jim: Okay. I might…

Jenny: Like…

Jim: …Like these.

Jenny: Like, why – why can’t kids run in the house? Like, who cares? Like, why can’t we throw balls? Like, yeah, if – if you’re trying to hit stuff, that’s one thing. But we’re a little less strict on things that, I feel like, for me, as a kid was, like, “Don’t do this, and don’t do that.” And you’re like, “Why?” And the parents don’t really have a good answer.

Jim: Breaking the window.

Jenny: Yeah, right.

Jim: Come on.

Jenny: I get that, but, like, running, it’s like, the house is in a circle. It’s fine. Just run in circles.

Jim: You can fall and break a leg.

Jenny: Yeah. It’s fine.

(LAUGHTER)

Jim: I’ve got an answer to all of this.

Jenny: I know. Yes, right.

(LAUGHTER)

Jenny: This is the free-range…

John: Not that you’re…

Jenny: …Parenting, Jim.

John: …Endorsing that answer.

Jenny: Free-range.

Jim: Okay, free-range parenting…

Jenny: Yes.

Jim: …I got that.

Jenny: So um, we’re sitting at the dinner table, and my son – he’s 3 at the time. He’s a pretty dynamic kid, and he’s the only boy of the four. And he’s just, like, talking. He’s like, “Grandma this and grandma that and this or that.” And every time he would try to tell her something, she’s like, “Eat your chicken. Eat your chicken…”

(LAUGHTER)

Jenny: …Like really manically. And it was like – my husband’s looking at me because we’re sitting across from each other at the heads of the table. And I’m looking at him like, “Remember our agreement? This is on you.”

Jim: Was he eating his chicken?

Jenny: Right. Yeah, he was probably…

Jim: That’s the question.

(LAUGHTER)

Jim: He started eating really fast.

Jenny: He instantly got a stomach ache and was like, “Oh, yeah.”

Deb: He remembered that rule.

(CROSSTALK)

Jim: Here we are at the chicken rule.

Jenny: And – yeah, and, um, she keeps telling him that. And so my husband, in a way to kind of, like, dissolve the tension, yet point out to her it’s not a big deal, he starts, like, anxiously eating his chicken about as…

Jim: Right.

Jenny: …Fast…

Jim: (Unintelligible).

Jenny: …As possible.

Jim: Oh, my goodness.

Jenny: Yeah. And he’s like, “Landon, hurry up. Landon, hurry up.” And he’s, like, eating it. And she’s looking over. And he’s like, “Mom, it’s okay. Like, if dinner takes, like, 40 minutes, who cares? Like, we’re here to be together and talk about the day, and he’s trying to tell you something. If there’s not food in his mouth the entire dinner, it’s okay.” So…

Jim: Yeah, how did that go down when you said that?

Jenny: They have a very interesting relationship. He will call her out on stuff, whereas his older brother will not. And so there’s that mutual respect there of him doing that in kind of a joking way, and she receives it a little bit better.

Jim: That’s good.

Jenny: Mmhmm.

Jim: And that’s the beginning of setting boundaries…

Jenny: Right.

Jim: …Right? – to our point. What if your in-laws just don’t have any interest in having that good relationship that you want?

Deb: Or do they want a relationship at all?

Jim: Well, right…

Deb: I mean…

Jim: …Or they’re indifferent to it because they know it’s painful to negotiate this stuff…

Deb: Yeah, I…

Jim: …So I just ignore it.

Deb: I – I have to tell you, that’s not a story that I got when I did all the – the research for this.

Jim: Huh.

Deb: You can’t say to people, “I’m writing a book on mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law” without – someone says, “Oh, I have a story for you.” Um, and it’s an equal-misery opportunity. There are as many daughters-in-law who come prepared, you know, for a shot, if necessary, uh, for anything that moves and mothers-in-law who come saying, “She’s not gonna be the most important, you know, woman in my son’s life.” So it’s very difficult. I didn’t find many that were just sort of “eh” because that may not be a big problem. The challenge – and I love your family’s approach to this, Jenny – I think often the mothers-in-law – I’m sorry – I’m in that category – are the ones that really need to take the lead. Believing mothers-in-law have an opportunity to say, “I want to support my son and his family, so I’m going to inquire.” You may not be comfortable, Jenny, telling me what the – kind of the preferences are, the rules for the kids. I want to know…

Jenny: Yes.

Deb: …Because I want to help you.

Jim: So mother-in-law sets the tone?

Deb: Mothers-in-law can set the tone, and I think that they should set the tone.

Jim: Yeah.

Deb: They’ve been doing this longer.

Jim: Right.

Jenny: Yeah, that’s true.

John: This is Focus on the Family. We’re talking to Deb DeArmond, the author of the book Related By Chance, Family By Choice: Transforming Mother-in-law and Daughter-in-law Relationships. We’re also joined by one of our staff counselors here at Focus on the Family, Jenny Coffey. And we’re gonna encourage you to get a download of this conversation to share it with somebody that, uh, maybe can benefit from the conversation and also to get a copy of this great book. Uh, stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast to learn more.

And, Deb, I’m – I’m just really struck by something you said earlier, and it just came up again, and that is that you really – is what, Jim, you reinforced – you really have the chance here to set the tone to be an instrument for God, to love somebody that’s different, that you didn’t raise. How do you do that practically?

Deb: Well, I think that you determine that if you love your son, and he’s chosen someone he loves to be his wife, that you love your son well when you support that. I was very blessed. These three women are incredible. They’re all very different from one another and completely different from me. That’s the mystery, I think, for an awful lot of people, if we all had a lot in common, but we don’t. And so mothers-in-law, if you want to stay present in your son’s life and his family’s life, make a choice. When Naomi left and headed back to her – the land of her birth, and Ruth wanted to go, she tried to send her back, but Ruth said, “Please, let me go with you.” And it – the word says that when Ruth saw – or when Naomi saw that Ruth had her heart set on it, she said, “No more. If my son has his heart set on this young woman, then I’m gonna say no more that would distress him or disturb that.”

Jim: Well, and you know what I like about that is it honors the relationship…

Deb: Yes.

Jim: And I know God is honored when that is done. And I think that’s probably one of the more difficult things for mothers-in-law particularly because they don’t – maybe they don’t understand how critical that is to honor the relationship. And it’s hard to do, especially if you feel honor is not due because of a behavior or different issues or different approaches to things. So what’s that practical step where that mother-in-law, maybe someone listening right now, uh, can say, “Okay. I have blown it. What can I do now? I have had this resentment toward my daughter-in-law”? This is where it gets tough.

Deb: I think…

Jim: What does she do?

Deb: I think that’s when transparency’s really awesome. One of the things that I discovered was people wanted to know the answer to the question you just asked me. I actually put together some greeting cards that were designed from mother-in-law to daughter-in-law or daughter-in-law to mother-in-law that said, “We’ve not always done this well. And I just really feel like the Lord’s tugging on my heart, and I’m willing to take the first step to improve it. How about you?” And if that’s all you say to that other woman – and it could come from either end. Because some young women come to the marriage with the belief that, you know, “You need to step back, Mama. He’s mine.”

Jim: Right.

Deb: That’s not ever gonna float well. But if you just – either woman can initiate that conversation.

Jim: Yeah, and it’s good. And I – I think you have to put action to the greeting card.

Deb: You do.

Jim: You can do that in a text or a phone call, right?

Deb: Absolutely. Voice to voice…

Jim: Yeah…

Deb: …I think is always best.

Jim: …That’s pretty good.

Deb: But it might – it might be easier to do it in writing.

Jim: Let me paint a scenario for you because we haven’t touched on this one. So you lay your head on the pillow, and your wife starts saying, “You really need to deal with your mother.”

(LAUGHTER)

Jim: What is that role for the husband in this case? You’ve talked about mommy’s little boy and, you know, all that relationship that’s there. But what is the mature, young-adult response for the man? We need to hear it.

Deb: Well, I think – I think Jenny and her husband have figured it out. He deals with his mother. She deals with hers. It just goes down more easily…

Jim: Yeah.

Deb: …When it’s done that way. But in that relationship between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law, often, men really just don’t want to be involved. But they are.

Jim: Right. They back up.

Deb: They back up because they love both of these women. And there’s room for both of them in his life.

Jim: So is it to not put him in a position to choose? I mean, that’s a bad spot.

Deb: I don’t think he has to choose. And I think that if he has a real candid conversation with his mom um, that he doesn’t want to choose – he wants this to be a family unit – he wants the relationships to be good and healthy. And if she’s a believer, there’s ground to use some scripture there. If she’s not, that does make it a little bit tougher. But in the end, he’s going to carry more weight with his mother than she ever will. Mama may have raised him, but that wife’s got benefits she can’t compete with.

Jim: Right.

Deb: And so the husband really does need to help her understand his mother, how important this relationship is and how important the relationship between the two women in his life…

Jim: You know, the spiritual overlay here is, I need to become lesser so she can become greater.

Deb: Yes.

Jim: I mean, it is…

Deb: It is.

Jim: …An interesting thing. And that is humility.

Deb: And that whole leave and cleave – we always think that that’s just to the couple. It’s to the moms and dads…

Jim: Mm.

Deb: …To say, you need to step back. You’ve raised him. You’ve done a good job. You need to step back, and let him build his family.

Jim: Ooh, that just sounds so hard.

(LAUGHTER)

Deb: Do you know what? When they were 6 and 7, I remember thinking, “There will not be a woman ever good enough to marry my children.” By the time they were 15, I was looking for women for those boys, Jim. I really was.

Jenny: And it’s interesting that you say that because that’s something that I feel like my mother-in-law – when we’ve talked about it, she’s like, “You know, it’s just nobody is ever good enough for my son.” But she’s says something to the effect like, “You are. It’s just that’s my boy.”

Jim: Yeah.

Jenny: And, you know, it’s interesting because I even asked my husband one time. I said, “Talk to me about this because I know you love your mom, and that never changes. But then there’s me.” And he said something really profound one time. He said – and he put his hand up. And he goes, “This is how much I’ve loved my mom my whole life.” And I was like, “Okay.” He goes, “That never moved.” He goes, “I just love you more.”

Jim: Yeah.

Jenny: And so it’s not so much that mom goes down a peg. It’s that mom’s relationship was never created to be what it is with your wife.

Jim: They’re totally different.

Jenny: It’s totally different. And so he views it that way. And I think that that’s that healthy way of me coming in and saying, “I know you love your mom. And I know you love me. And there needs to be that harmony.” And it is kind of what you spoke to Deb about just that healthiness of not having to choose…

Jim: Hmm.

Jenny: …Because there’s no need to.

Jim: You know, Deb, what I want to do here is end with this question because we’ve talked a lot about what you can do. But what about the daughter-in-law – and I’ll put it in this context – who has tried and mother-in-law has not responded? I mean, it’s not gone well. There’s just not the openness to it. And maybe a lot of mistakes have been made on both sides and – but she’s just not interested because really what she’s working toward – and this sounds horrible – is destroying your relationship with your husband, her son. That does happen.

Deb: It does happen. And unfortunately, sometimes the man in the middle unwittingly supports that. He tells his mother, “Oh, listen. She’s immature. She’s just – she’s got to grow up some. I’m so sorry that what she said was rude.” But to his wife, he’s saying, “Baby, my mother is a piece of work. Everyone knows she’s difficult.” Neither of those women feel any onus at all to step in and make a change. And so this is the time the man in the middle probably needs to get very involved and say, “Mom, if you make me choose, you might be disappointed. And I don’t want to do that.”

Jim: Right.

Deb: “Don’t make me do that.” And I tell mothers-in-law, “If you make him choose, and you’ve raised him right, he’ll choose his wife, and it’ll break your heart.”

Jim: Right.

Deb: “But if he chooses you, it’ll break God’s heart and, perhaps, his marriage.”

Jim: Boy, that is powerful.

John: Mm.

Closing:

Jim: Man, we’re just getting going on this, but it’s over. We’ve covered as much as we could. And this is why you need to get a copy of the book, Related By Chance, Family By Choice. I think we’ve probably pricked your interest in what’s going on here. And for us, in the Christian community, man, we should be the model in this relationship.

If you’re in that spot, we want to get this tool into your hand because we know it’s painful. And we know it can be a much more difficult way to go through life with these strained relationships. But you don’t need to be there. Call us. We have counselors.

And what I’d like to suggest – make a gift of any amount, and we’ll get you a copy of Deb DeArmond’s book, Related By Chance, Family By Choice as our way of saying thank you for that. If you can’t afford it, get it to us, other, uh, supporters will take care of the cost of that I’m quite confident. But this is a tool that you need, especially if you’re in this point of pain.

John: Yeah. Donate. Uh, request a phone consultation with one of our counselors or, uh, request other resources. Our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY – 800-232-6459 – or stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.

Jim: Great – uh, Deb and Jenny, let’s dig a little deeper online. Let’s take the conversation digital. And we invite the listeners to come over to the website and continue to listen. And I’ve got a couple of more questions. Can we do that?

Deb: Sure.

Jim: All right. Let’s do it. 

John: And you’ll find that extra content at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Well, next time on this program, you’ll hear Kathy Sparks as she shares her powerful testimony.

Teaser:

Kathy Sparks Lesnoff: And so that night I prayed – and I prayed a very simple prayer – I said, “Lord, if you want me to quit this abortion clinic, I will. But please speak to me just so I know that’s what you want me to do.”

End of Teaser

John: I’m John Fuller, and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, join us next time as we help you and your family thrive in Christ.

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