How to become an amazing mother-in-law

by | May 7, 2017 | Faith | 6 comments

A few years ago, we had a garage sale at our house and my in-laws came over to help. After several hours, our old couches still hadn’t sold, so I took some photos and added them to Facebook. My sweet mother-in-law just happened to be sitting on one of the couches when I took the picture, so I couldn’t resist adding the following caption to my post:

Couches free with purchase of mother-in-law!

Thankfully, she has a great sense of humor and was the first one to laugh at my joke.

Unfortunately, the only reason why that joke gained traction online (and helped us sell the couches) is because mothers-in-law aren’t typically known for their great reputations. If anything, mothers-in-law are often known for being difficult, manipulative, overbearing and unpleasant. And much of the time, the stereotypes are spot on.

So, what makes my mother-in-law different? What does it take to avoid being the inspiration behind yet another tasteless mother-in-law joke? Here are just a few things that I know will help because I’ve witnessed them firsthand:

1. Respect their marriage

I’m a mom myself, so I can only imagine how difficult it will be when I’m no longer number one in my children’s lives. But there is a reason why the Bible teaches us to “leave and cleave.” A marriage cannot be all that God intends it to be unless each person is free to put his or her spouse as their ultimate top priority behind only God Himself. If you’re feeling a bit neglected or out-of-the-loop now that your child is married, congratulations! It doesn’t mean your child stopped loving you; it only means your child is doing what’s right and biblical.

One of the worst things a mother-in-law can do is cause unnecessary conflict between her child and his/her spouse. If there is an extreme situation of abuse or neglect, by all means, speak up. But most of the time, that is not the case. Your adult children need to have the space and the freedom to navigate their own marriage. You may not always agree with their choices or understand the dynamics of their marriage, but your job is not to nit-pick or shower them with unsolicited advice. Instead, you should respect their marriage enough to ask yourself, “Are my words and actions pushing them closer to each other or driving them farther apart?”

2. Learn to share

In most cases, once your child gets married, you not only gain a son or daughter-in-law, you also gain an entire new family with whom you have to learn to share. Let’s be frank. You may not like this other family. And even if you do like them, you may not like them enough to share holidays, birthdays, vacations, or major life events with them.

Nevertheless, they’re here to stay, and the quicker you learn to share your children (and your grandchildren!) the more pleasant life will be for everyone.

After Jason’s brother died last year, we had to decide what to do about Thanksgiving. We had planned on spending it with my family since it was their turn, however, we felt in our hearts that we needed to be with his family instead. Here’s what I posted on Facebook after we made our decision and let both sides know:

Today I’m thankful for parents and in-laws who don’t compete with each other. We’re on our way to spend Thanksgiving with Jason’s family, even though it’s my family’s year. With all that’s happened, it just seemed like a change that our family needed (and wanted) to make. When I told my parents, they didn’t get upset or make us feel guilty at all. Instead, they said they completely understood. And the best part is that, had the circumstances been reversed, I know his parents would have reacted the exact same way.

Let me tell ya, if you want your adult children to be so thankful for you that they could burst, just love them. Don’t manipulate them. Don’t make them feel guilty for enjoying their in-laws. Don’t be passive-aggressive with your emotions. Don’t force them to choose between “us or them.” Trust me, there is enough room in their hearts for both sides of the family.

This Thanksgiving, here’s to all the parents who love us enough to bend.

3. Love liberally

Finally, if you want to be an amazing mother-in-law and avoid being the butt of all the MIL jokes, become a 1 Corinthians 13 MIL by learning to love liberally.

How do you do that? By being patient and kind. By not envying or boasting or becoming too proud to say you’re sorry. Avoid being selfish, easily angered, or keeping score. Become a source of truth, protection, hope, perseverance and trustworthiness for your children.

I know that love is not always reciprocated, and if that’s what you’re facing as a mother-in-law, I am truly sorry. But don’t give up. Be generous with your prayers and liberal with your love and I promise you will be a blessing to your married adult children – whether they acknowledge it or not!

Here’s to two of the best mothers-in-law out there – my MIL, Sherryl, and my husband’s MIL, Sammie. Thank you for always being a blessing to us and our family!

What else would you add to this list? What turns an ordinary MIL into an extraordinary MIL?


  1. Kimberly Lindquist

    Oh, Emily! This is great! I lost my MIL way too soon, and have often been sad about what I’ve missed out on! You are blessed!
    My husband’s MIL? Yeah, let’s just say he married me for my mother!

  2. NAncy

    Thank you for such a nice tribute to your mother-in-law Sherryl. I know from first hand experience that she is also a great sister-in-law. She never knew her own mother-in-law, so she had no role model to follow, except, of course, her own mother. Lucky for you, she instinctively understands what her role should be. To quote my daughter, “Part of what makes her so special is that she doesn’t know how special she is.”

  3. Joyce Perkins

    I have been married to an amazing man for 47 years, every sense I was 14. I have had to learn to treasury the time I share with his mom. If you embrace the time you have together and learn her heart you will be able to understand the good and not so good pieces of the one you are married to. It is easy to over look and work around the little and big things you don’t understand when we have some insight of where it came from. My children have been married for 19 year and 24 years to the same one and I am so proud of them. We have learned to let them fly with some course directions over the years. I pray continually I will be a light of direction by my example with their Dad than with my voice. We treasury every minute with each family including babies, dogs , friends and anyone they show up with. God has been so good and faithful. We have a light at the street that always burns so our babies can find there way home with they need a little break from this thing we call life. There is always peace in their fathers house.


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