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 | By Dr. Cathleen McGreal

Do I Really Have to Honor My Mother-In-Law?

This question might arise if your spouse’s parents have different ideas about raising kids than you do. For instance, your mother-in-law might insist that the best way to get babies to sleep is to put them on their tummies and rub their backs for a few minutes – even though the doctor said to put your baby to bed on his back. Something like this might make you feel nervous when she babysits and cause you to be at odds with your spouse.

The challenge of the Fourth Commandment confronts each generation. On Oct. 14, 1604, Francis de Sales wrote a letter of spiritual direction to Jane de Chantal, a widow with young children, to help her discern how to divide her time between her father and her father-in-law. Francis wrote that these two family members were first among the neighbors that the “Lord obliges you to love.” Since each grandfather wanted Jane to travel with her children to his estate, in honoring one request, Jane would automatically be denying the request of the other grandfather! Francis and Jane, individuals who are now recognized as saints in our Church, struggled with living the commandments in everyday life.

Children: treat parents with dignity. Honoring a parent or an in-law doesn’t mean that you are obligated to do whatever they want! It does mean treating them with respect and trying to understand their viewpoints. Instead of becoming impatient, see if there is room for compromise. Using the above example, you might explain that SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) has decreased since the government began its “Back to Sleep” program in 1994. Suggest that back rubs could be incorporated into their time together in a different way.

Parents: give judicious advice. (CCC 2230) When adult children take on the responsibilities of parenthood, their own parents and in-laws need to be thoughtful in the advice that they give. What are the fruits of the interactions between generations? Does it lead the younger generation to a more wholesome family life? Or do spouses end up “at odds” with one another?

Find ways that your input can bring harmony to the lives of your grown children instead of adding pressure. Be willing to share what was meaningful in raising children without the expectation that your adult children will decide to adopt the same behaviors.

Family relationships are challenging, but each person has the same primary vocation – to follow Jesus. Whether families are dealing with infants or empty nests, there are always different traditions and various opinions among in-laws. Work on communicating effectively, so that hurt feelings don’t take roots. Try to build in time for fun activities so that time spent together is renewing for all. Scripture provides another perspective, “ ... whoever glorifies his mother is like one who lays up treasure. Whoever honors his father will be gladdened by his own children ... ” (Sir 3:3-4) As you honor your parents and in-laws, you are setting a good example for your children, showing them the way to treat you when they have families of their own!