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Women Who Win


The Lawful Daughter


As I was getting ready to write about the daughter-in-law, I received letters from two ladies. They echoed the many daughters-in-law when they said they were trapped in joint families with no hope of release.

Traditions cannot be changed overnight, nor can culture be turned as easily as a new leaf. Like it or not, many girls in India will have to live in a joint family. But there is no need to feel trapped. Instead of cursing the darkness you can light a candle. You can do your best to bring warmth, cheer and brightness to the home which has become yours.

When a young girl was asked what kind of man she wanted to marry, she promptly replied. “A man without a mother!” This girl is not going to be a successful wife. She is a selfish wimp, the kind so ill-prepared for the discipline of adjustment. Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors; nor does an ideal home produce virtuous women. A girl becomes a woman only when she learns to make mature decisions, lifelong commitments and godly adjustments.

There are two types of joint families as far as daughters-in-law are concerned. One is where the dauthter-in-law is taken into the boy’s family. The mother-in-law runs the home. The second is where the parents, when they retire or become old, take shelter with a son. Here the daughter-in-law runs the home.

You may enter the first type of home. Your dreams of an ideal husband, separate home and a mother-like mother-in-law, may turn to dust. But when things happen that you don’t like, you have two choices. You can become bitter or better. We should not run away from the situation God has placed us in. When God asked Hagar to go back and be under Sarah, she named Him as “the God who sees me.” That may be the situation where you’d see Him who sees you (Gen 16:13). Take what life gives and make the most out of it.

At the outset, try to please your in-laws. Instead of wondering how they would accept you, prepare yourself to accept them as they are. It is difficult to change old people. But you can change yourself. So adapt yourself to their lifestyle. It takes a lot of courage to change. But if you believe in yourself you can do it.

The foremost thing that in-laws expect from you is respect. Though the Bible does not say you should obey your in-laws, it clearly teaches that elders should be respected. Speak respectably and lovingly, carefully avoding words and remarks that may hurt them. You can even address them as mummy and daddy. Do not mind their corrections and criticisms. When they need your help, be quick to do it. Appreciate your mother-in-law’s cooking. Help her around the house. Placate her if you sense offense.

Clashes are usually with the mother-in-law. All mothers-in-law are not cruel. Look at her as one who has given you her precious son. She brought up a son and just when he started earning he became yours. It is like a tree being sold out at the fruit-bearing season. It is not easy for a mother to bear the separation. Nor can she control her bubbling love from saying, “My son doesn’t like it that way.” These are natural expressions of a loving heart. Don’t expect her to give up her son overnight. Try to feel a mother’s heart. You’ll understand her feelings only when you give away your son.

It is better that a young daughter-in-law understands the value of in-laws. Here I would like to expand on the paragraph about the importance of extended families in the previous chapter, “The Mother-in-law’s Son.” You may be a working woman. You may not realise the seriousness of leaving the children with a stranger who has no natural love for them. In-laws can be a blessing in disguise. Sometimes well-meaning parents may be hard disciplinarians, beating children for all silly reasons. The grandparents’ embrace is a buffer for such children, protecting them from emotional trauma. Now that the family is becoming smaller and smaller, children need company at home to talk to, to lend a listening ear, to tell stories, to take them out, etc. In a questionnaire given to children they had expressed their ideas about a happy home as, “one that has grandmothers and grandfathers.” Isn’t that a revelation to a generation that wants to do away with old people?

Sometimes for your own safety or help in a crisis like confinement you may need them. Daughters-in-law who have given no place to their in-laws in their lives suffer then; because, naturally in-laws do not relish the idea of being “used” as an emergency device. If they are loved and respected they will willingly help. Your husband may have sisters to be married or brothers to be educated. Economically poor parents might have thrown their entire life in a gamble to educate your husband and find a job for him. Then they would expect him to help them out. Is it right in any way to claim him entirely for yourself. These are all problems particularly related to our country and we need to be sensitive to them.

Children and grandchildren “should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God ... If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever,” says the Bible regarding our duty to our family (1 Tim 5:4,8). If the wife does not cooperate how can her husband help? She must be an instrument to encourage her husband to care for his family if they suffer want.

More than monetary benefits parents need the company of childen and grandchildren when they retire from active work. Cats and dogs cannot replace children and grandchildren.

You are after all inexperienced in housekeeping. You have a lot to learn. Living with in-laws is a training for the future. A daughter-in-law who feels traped will lead a miserable life. But one who accepts her situation, adjusts, accomodates and adapts. It is possible with the grace of God.

You must learn to accept the way your husband expresses his love to his parents. He may give them gifts. He may like to sit and chat with them for a while when he comes home. It is not possible for him to ignore them completely. Don’t computerise him. You need not feel jealous. The way a man loves his parents is different from the way he loves his wife. So relax. You are not going to have a happy husband until you learn to love and respect his parents. It is not wise to ignite quarrels between the mother and son. I have heard of daughters-in-law speaking blatant lies about their mothers-in-law to their husbands. How unkind! Whatever may happen, be truthful and honest so that God will be on your side.

Never give tit for tat. Break the cycle of hatred and revenge by a wall of love. Even if you have to put up with harsh criticism, learn to hold your tongue. Few have ever repented of silence. That will earn your husband’s support and speak to your in-laws’ hearts. It is not wisdom to be writing to your parents all the negative things. Nor is it good for a girl to get upset for everything and run home to her parents. Life is like that. You must face the challenges of life with courage. Don’t talk ill of your in-laws to anyone. Don’t poison your husband’s or chldren’s mind about them. It is better that you don’t open your mouth in property matters unless you want to tell your husband to give up.

It will do you good to read, “Decisions of a Daughter-in-law” in my book Her Decisions. Don’t read the Bible passively. Read it actively and you’ll find enough for your daily sustenance and guidance.

There are mothers-in-law who love and care for their daughters-in-law as their own daughters, who would keep them with them even for confinement and help them. They don’t care for money, they care for the girl. There are those who encourage their fearful daughters-in-law if the second baby too turns out to be a girl. They help their dauthters-in-law in the household, help them financially, take care of the grandchildren faithfully and even cook and clean like a servant if the son’s wife holds a job. Some, having lost their sons, have encouraged their daughters-in-law to remarry and even found them good matches!

What if the mother-in-law is mean? You can politely refuse to be trampled upon. There is no need to get angry or use nasty words. Be loving, kind and assertive. If nothing works, then turn the other cheek.

Every coin has two sides. As there are daughters-in-law ill-treated by mothers-in-law, there are mothers-in-law treated worse than beggars by daughters-in-law. When the daughter-in-law rules the home, the mother-in-law is clearly the underdog. It is in this situation a daugher-in-law should be a true Christian.

Be broadminded. Bird-brained women take vengeance on them for the way might have been treated earlier. But virtuous women condone the past and show Christ-like love. Just because they are old and helpless, don’t taunt them. Serve them good food. A daughter-in-law used to feed her old mother-in-law in a warped aluminium plate. When the mother-in-law died, the daughter-in-law’s daughter washed and wiped the plate and kept it with her belongings. When the amused mother asked the child why, the innocent girl replied with a query, “Will I not need it to feed you when you become old mummy?” Yes, you’ll be treated the way you treat others. So you better treat your mother-in-law the way you would like to be treated when you become a mother-in-law.

Don’t be autonomous. Don’t let the in-laws feel they are a burden, unwanted and useless. Let them help you around the house. Thank them for their help. Give them freedom to be themselves at home. Let them prepare what they want. Don’t restrict their movements. Let them go out if they like to. That  will keep them healthier. Let them bring in their friends for tea or dinner. Don’t force duties on them and treat them like servants. Let them help voluntarily and willingly out of love. Do not create a situation at home that will expel them. Some daughters-in-law openly curse the in-laws and keep telling them to get lost. Oh, how many mothers-in-law remain dumb when the daughters-in-law rain abuses and put up with all ill-treatment for they know they have no other go.

A little girl closed her grandmother’s eyes from behind. The excited grandmother asked the child why. The innocent child replied, “Mama said, if you close your eyes we’ll get lot of money.” How cruel! Does that not amount to murder? (1 Jn 3:15; Mt 5:21,22). Let your love be without ulterior motive. There are those determined to squeeze the most out of in-laws, who would suck the last drop of blood and last coin of money, like draculas.

If you live far away from your in-laws, regularly write to them loving letters full of life. Don’t do it as a duty. Write as you would write to your parents. Don’t forget to greet them on their Birthdays and Anniversaries. Visit them as often as possible and bring them gifts they’d love. Send them financial help if they need. Never hesitate to help them physically, in times of sickness. If you live very close, send them food or whatever they many need. Though old and helpless, some in-laws may hesitate to move in with sons, anticipating problems. It is the duty of the daughter-in-law to go out of the way to invite them to come and live with them. If all that you enjoy in life is centred around yourself, it is selfishness. True joy is making others happy—probably at the cost of a little inconvenience. I have great admiration for those who take care of their old parents or in-laws. More than anything you will be free of guilt after their lifetime.

Don’t say, “You don’t know.” I do know. I have lived with my mother-in-law for twelve years, till she died of cancer. Of course we had problems and there had to be a lot of give and take. But with stubborn optimism we worked on our relationship till she became a blessing to us and we to her. A daughter-in-law must be spiritually sensitve to know the mind of the Lord in every situation. A gut-feeling will tell her whether what she does to her in-law is right or wrong.

Judith and Basemath, daughters-in-law of Isaac and Rebekah were a source of grief to them (Gen 26:34,35) to the extent Rebekah considered life not worth living (27:46). But Ruth was different. Ruth “clung” to her mother-in-law (Ruth 1:14). There was no reason why Ruth clung to a destitute except for godly reasons. Boaz said to Ruth, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law... May you be richly rewarded by the Lord...” (Ruth 2:11,12). Rewarded was she, spirtually and materially.

God is so concerned about the relationship between daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law that He has reserved an entire book in His Book for the same, and has shown us how beautiful it could be if both cooperate with  God’s plan for their life. Read it, re-read it, re-re-read it till you become a Ruth. The Lord will bless you for it. You are the lawful daughter. So be a daughter, not just a daughter-in-law!

   Address for Correspondence & Contributions:

Lilian Stanley
13 Church Colony
Vellore 632006, India
Tel: +91 9843511943
Email: lilianstanley@gmail.com