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I can't stand our daughter-in-law.

“I can’t stand our daughter-in-law.”

Marilyn says: You’ve heard the saying, “A son is a son until he takes him a wife …”? Well, that’s certainly true in our family. When our son, Keith, got married last year, I was looking forward to having a daughter-in-law – someone to shop with, have over for lunch, do ‘girl’ things. But it hasn’t been like that at all – we never see either one of them. She doesn’t seem to appreciate any of the advice I give her.  And I get no support from John – he just shrugs it off. He’s my spouse; he should be on my side!

“Our daughter-in-law is fine, my wife is the problem.”

John says: Marilyn is being a stereotypical mother-in-law. She thinks the kids should spend all their time with us – but they’re newlyweds. Doesn’t Marilyn remember what that is like? Our daughter-in-law, Kaitlyn, is a perfectly lovely girl. But she has a mother of her own. She’s also trying to build a new life with our son. I know Marilyn is unhappy, and I feel bad – but she needs to get over this.

What do they do?: We agree with John in some respects and can relate to what Marilyn is expressing; now there is a sure sign that both are right and both are wrong!  For a moment however, let us focus on Keith and Kaitlyn as a newly married couple in the process of creating their own family, their own traditions and rituals, and their own life together.

If their parents raised them with love and support, they are doing exactly what they should be doing and that is focusing on each other and getting to know each other.  We can remember our early months of marriage and can say without doubt that we needed that time together to really start to develop into a husband and a wife.  Keith and Kaitlyn are bringing their own identities into their marriage, and are discovering how to be a couple.  Learning to be a married couple takes time, energy, commitment and communication.  As they grow into this new lifestyle, Keith and Kaitlyn will no doubt feel the acceptance of each other and be more open to reciprocal respect as a daughter-in-law and son-in-law.  The best action for parents of newlyweds is to let them find out what God wants them to be by themselves. 

As parents, we can pray for our children, we can be there for them when they call or ask, and we can be ready to respond when they make the first move.  Certainly inviting them over for a special occasion, or to go on an infrequent special outing, or to have a standing invitation to them is not only right, but is part of how we demonstrate to them what love and relationships are  all about.  Laying on guilt, giving advice when it is not requested, or making comments to Keith and Kaitlyn about how disappointed you may feel at not having them around is not only wrong, but could drive them away instead of leading them into a relationship with you. 

Keith and Kaitlyn’s first priority is to each other.  Their second priority is to their children when God blesses them with some – and after that comes extended family. What they may need the most right now is some space.

It would do Marilyn and John well to revisit their own early days of marriage and reflect on what were their priorities.  What were the challenges they faced from their family of origin and extended family members?  When did they themselves reach out and begin to develop a relationship with both sides of the extended family?  

There is a fine line between meddling (bordering on interference) and supporting.  One of the best ways to identify that fine line is to discover how you related to your parents in your early years of marriage and how your parents related to their parents.  Unfortunately, and sometimes fortunately, the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree!  If either John or Marilyn are exhibiting some of the same traits that their parents displayed toward them when they were first married – then perhaps it’s time to stop the family trend.  John and Marilyn should recall that they are called by God to love and support each other through good times and in bad.  This is not the time to ‘feel bad’ or to ‘just shrug it off’; it is a time for caring and compassion.

Your marriage matters!

•For marriage resources, visit www.dioceseoflansing.org and click on the Family Life Ministry link.

• If your marriage is in trouble, Retrouvaille can help.

Visit www.retrouvailleoflansing.catholicweb.com