ONE of the surprises about marriage can be to discover that we now have four ‘parents’ instead of two. This can be a joyous realisation or a painful one. We have to learn to come to terms with our new and enlarged family. Not only have we four parents but we have extra brothers and sisters, some married to members of our own family and others single.

Who Takes Over?

Mr. and Mrs. Newlywed may well have a problem. One of us may feel swamped by the size or pressure of our acquired family. One husband was so overwhelmed by the situation that on one occasion he called his own people, ‘the in-laws’! Not that he meant it, but he had been caused to feel it.

Almost certainly the family on one side or the other will be stronger than their counterparts, either by sheer numbers or by force of personalities. How are the young couple to handle this situation? Do we allow this possible dominance to take over and always exert pressure on us? If not, how do we proceed?

It is not an easy matter. After all one of us, the husband or the wife, belongs to the strong family and may indeed welcome their influence. Even so, it would be most undesirable were this to drive a wedge between the partners.

The Ideal

Clearly, it is a great blessing when the relationships are good all round. Instead of problems there are delights and helps. We have gained extra love and want to reciprocate in full measure. One husband found this situation so strengthening and altogether binding that he called his mother-in-law, his ‘mother-in-love’.

Let us look at some ground rules. We should cultivate what will be our in-law relations before we get married. They need to get to know us and we need to know them in order to develop mutual understanding. Honouring father and mother will extend to the in-laws as well.

There is no escape clause in marriage whereby we take a partner but not the partner’s parents. Therefore we have to take the links seriously and learn to make them good and worthwhile. Normally, there is not much difficulty in doing this, though there may be rough edges to be worn away from all concerned. It is obviously easier to do this when all of us are in the Truth because we then have similar principles and aims in life.

But we have in-laws whether or not they are in the Truth, and have to treat them accordingly, and they us.

A New Centre

When we marry we create a new unit, distinct and separate from our previous families. To be successful the unit must have independence. In other words, the decisionmaking takes place within the marriage and not at some point outside. We must learn to carry our responsibilities fully and to discharge them together. From time to time we shall consult or receive advice from our families. But this must not become an excuse for not making up our own minds. Nor must we allow our mutual decisionmaking to be taken from our hands to be exercised by one parent or another.

Sometimes a daughter behaves as though she is still at home and expects mother to make the decisions. Sometimes mothers (occasionally, fathers) interfere in marriages by oppressively intruding into the new home as though they were in control. Marriages have been broken up by this kind of interference. Jealousy and tensions can arise. Politely and firmly, in such circumstances we have to say to the ‘intruder’: Please, let us make our own decisions, they are properly ours.

Parents have to learn to let go and newly married couples have to develop a good decision-making system within the marriage. To neglect to do so leaves us wide open to all kinds of problems. Our loyalty is to the new unit, our own marriage, and both partners must realise this. Neither partner must opt out nor must one partner take over. We do things together.

Keeping in Touch

It is easy to forget, when we marry, that we each have left a large hole in our parental home. We are missed. This is felt more keenly when we are an only child. This is where our good work before we marry pays rich dividends. If we have done this well, the in-laws will feel that they have not ‘lost’ a child, but rather have gained another one.

We must keep in touch with our former homes. Telephone calls or regular letters are essential. Photographs, especially of our children, are dearly prized. Regular meetings in this home and that are invaluable. It is then that the closeness and success of our marriage is seen by our parents. They treasure that.

By remembering anniversaries back home and by special acts of love and kindness, warm and lasting feelings will be created. In-law parents have untold delight when they can love their own child’s partner as fully and really as their own son or daughter.

But

But even with the best endeavours, life does not always work out as we wish. Wherein the fault lies with us, we must read, pray and act to put it right. When it lies elsewhere we must treat that person as though the relationship were really good. We may well bring about a change by this means. If the in-laws are not in the meeting, they may well resent the particular affinity that exists in your home because both of you are in the Truth. You then have to show by every means that you are a better in-law because you are a disciple of Christ and, when children come along, that they are sweetly disciplined and more lovable because they are learning about Christ.