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Women Who Win

The Mother-in-law’s Son!

Many a wife would introduce her mate as her mother-in-law’s son, rather than as her husband. Nearly 80% of Indian husbands continue to be (their mother’s) sons. According to a recent statistics, not less than 10% of suicides in India are due to the problems with in-laws. Tamilnadu is second in the  list! Though the Bible commands children to honour their parents, it also mercilessly commands that sons leave their parents after marriage. Not once, not twice, the command is stated four times in the Bible. Each occurence explains one particular reason why a man should leave his parents. Am I stirring up a hornet’s nest?

(a) Genesis 2:24

“Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib He had taken out of the man, and He brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; She shall be called ‘woman’, for she was taken out of man.” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and  is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”

Woman was taken out of man, moulded suitable for him and put back into him. She is part of her husband, not a separate entity. Man and woman are part of their families before marriage. They come out of it to unite and form a separate family.

What often happens in Indian culture is that the girl is absorbed into the boy’s family where she is expected to be another daughter, not the son’s wife. This is a family inside another family. It is against the laws of nature! We don’t find such a system among any other of God’s creation. Animals and birds leave their nests to build a nest of their own when they grow up. Many young couples happily and innocently settle down with the boy’s family only to wake up to the disastrous development too late. Why then have we not thrown out the hydra-headed evil, that is joint family?

Women leave their parents relatively easily. See, with how much ease Rebekah said, “I will go” (Gen 24:58); how readily Leah and Rachel left their father’s house (Gen 31:16); how Orpah and Ruth cried when they had to go back to their parents (Ruth 1:10). But for man it is a struggle.

There are girls too who cling to their parents. They dig their own graves. A girl must forget her people and her father’s house if the husband is to be enthralled by her (Psa 45:10,11).

What was the need for God to put down this rule for the first man? Adam was the son of God (Lk 3:38). God was father and mother to him. Then God left him to the care of his companion and emotionally weaned him off. He respectably visited them in the evenings leaving them alone to build their own nest.

(b) Matthew 19:4-6

“Haven’t you read,” He replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said: ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Here we find another reason why a man should leave his parents—because God created human beings as male and female. They are two different sexes with an unique attraction to each other. The union of man and woman is incomparable to any other union. In the Hebrew language the word “knowing” is used for conjugal relationship. It is not the woman knowing the man but the man knowing the woman. It is far more than just physical and emotional union. After marriage a man starts knowing and understanding his wife in a very special way that no one else can. It starts with marriage and continues for a lifetime.

In this passage Jesus connects leaving, cleaving, divorce and adultery. Many young wives are thrown together so closely with the men of the extended family that the immediate danger is adultery. Man-woman union is a profound mystery. That’s why Jesus vehemently came against divorce and adultery. It is  a bond, not to be broken by anyone for any reason. In adultery one person has already broken it. It is a blatant violation of the image of God. Why keep the doors open for such sacrilege?

“God created man in His own image, ...male and female” (Gen 1:27) Our maleness and femaleness is related to God’s image. So when man and woman become one, they form a complete image of God.

The love a man has for his parents is entirely different. It is filial love, whereas the former is erotic love. Unless he physically and emotionally detaches himself from his parents decisively, it is next to impossible to attain the God-intended oneness with his wife, nor can the new couple reflect the image of God.

Once my husband and I were travelling with a leading evangelist and his wife. We were discussing this subject. He said, “Sister, whatever you may say, wife is only next to the mother.” My jocular reply was, “Yes, brother, for us also husband is only next to the father.” Heart of hearts I did not mean it. I have always put my husband before my father. But that made us all realize the way a man and woman look at their spouses. No wonder God told the “man” to leave his parents! A married man who aims for a fulfilled life in his parents’ house is pursuing a mirage.

(c) Mark 10:7

Here the context is the same. But let us look at it from another angle.

Some Pharisees wanted to know if a man could divorce his wife. The essence of Jesus’ answer was, “They leave their parents and become one flesh. God joins them and no one should separte them.” Where is the question of getting separated when they have not yet left their parents and become one and joined by God? Inside another family there still remains a gap between them. The daughter-in-law is always considered an outsider. The man cannot devote his time to know his wife meaningfully. He has to share his time and himself with the rest of his family. So the wife feels neglected. It is enough strain for a woman to adjust to her man. But she is expected to adjust to all the members of the husband’s family which is virtually impossible.

The mother-in-law is a person who sometimes goes too far when she stays too close. So the husband continues to be a son, being fussed around by parents and sisters. He may not grow up into a father himself. When a child arrives, the disciplinary tactics of the younger generation clashes with that of the old. The embattled home is good breeding ground for indisciplined children. “Has not the Lord made them one? ... And why one? Because He was seeking godly offspring” (Mal 2:15). In all these clashes, it is the husband who is caught between the hammer and the anvil. Before “let not man separate” we must first come to “let not man hinder them becoming one.”

It is the mother-in-law who holds the key to the solution to the problem. What mother-in-law can tell her son like King Lemuel’s mother: “You will trust her (not me); She (not me) will do you good; She (not me) will provide food for you and your family; she will buy a field (I won’t be a paisa-pinching mother-in-law to question her every move); she will do everything at the home which will be hers (she won’t be a guest in my house); her husband will be respected (I won’t claim that my son is honoured); she will be strong and dignified (I won’t measure her food or humiliate her). In fact I am totally out of picture. You have to go out and live with her” (Prov 31). What mother will give such a pre-nuptial sermon to her son? Such mothers truly cooperate with God and help their sons.

Many mothers consider the birth of a son a matter of pride, prestige and privilege. She keeps drilling into the boy how much she sacrificed for him. Someone said, “We had faith and God blessed us with a son.” I promptly replied, “We had more faith and therefore God blessed us with a girl!” I am not a female chauvinist. But I feel such partiality makes the man envision his mother with the halo of a martyr and so expect his wife to fall at her feet. The mother continues to dominate his life with her tears, never allowing him to leave the home or town or State or Country. So the son continues to grow up into an adult, holding her pallu. If the son gives his young wife a gift or appreciates her, “He has changed a lot after marriage” or “She has stolen my son” or “He dances to his wife’s tune.” Any complaint by the wife is seen as an act of betrayal and cultural rebellion. Indian wives are yet to be considered as human beings in their own right.

If the son does not set up a separate home, then he must be stolen without guilt. Then again it only fires back on the poor wife that, ‘she has split the family.’ Was not the split God-ordained? It is time that husbands start eloping with their wives!

(d) Ephesians 5:25-33

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.. In this same way husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the Chruch—for we are members of His body. For this (above) reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the Church. However each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself.”

Nowhere in the Bible a married son is explicitly instructed on how to love his parents. There are 6 verses of explanation of what bone of bones and flesh of flesh is:1. Just as Christ loved the Church; 2. As He gave Himself up for her; 3. To make her holy; 4. As His own body; 5. Feeding and caring for her as Christ the Church; 6. As he loves himself.

This is lunatic love. Extreme love. If he is hungry he should not shout for food. He should ask his wife is she needs to eat something. If he needs some new clothes he should check with his wife if she has enough dresses. If he does not like to live with her parents, he should not expect her to live with his parents. That is loving his wife as himself. He must give himself ‘up’ for her (or give up his parents and give himself totally up for her). This kind of love is impractical in a joint family atmosphere. Members of his family will resent this kind of a devotion to an ‘outsider!’ To love his wife Biblically, it is a must that a man leave his family. May be we should add one more line in India to the groom’s marriage vow: “I will leave my parents and cleave to you.”

The Extended Family

I am not totally against the extended family system. It has its advantages. Wives who opt to work outside the home live with their in-laws, so that children are taken care of. Children need the love of grandparents for healthy growth. When the nuclear family is becoming smaller and smaller, a wife finds it difficult to be alone at home with a child or two, especially if the husband happens to be away for longer durations. Safety is another valid point. Monetarily also, for a family dependent on a son’s income it is difficult to set up another establishment. Joint family could be an adhoc arrangement till the couple is ready to move out. In the case of a single or sick parents, naturally it is the duty and responsibility of the children to lovingly care for them. A wife in such a situation should use every struggle for her spiritual flowering. Who knows? She may become a wounded healer for others in trouble.

This article may sound very negative without a soft corner for mothers-in-law. I have witnessed excellent mothers-in-law, loving, patient, tolerant and helpful, maintaining a wonderful relationship with their daughters-in-law. But because of the high percentage of families in trouble due to strained in-law relationships, I have highlighted only that aspect here. When parents or in-laws are too old or unable to take care of themselves, instead of dumping them in an old age home, they should be kept in the love-filled atmosphere of children and grandchilden. With a litle adjustment such a family can enjoy heavenly peace on earth.

Parents should also, if possible, wisely distribute their stay with each of the children so that children will consider it a pleasure and privilege to care for them. That minimises the pressure on the daughter-in-law. They should try their best to keep her happy and vice versa. Parents who are healthy and independent physically and financially should happily release their sons after marriage. Though the son refuses, they should encourge him to look for a separate house, or tell him to get out (with his wife). Then it is easier to maintain a harmonious relationship.

In a joint family, the nuclear family should see that they function as a separate unit. Parents should free themselves from physical and emotional attachment to their sons. The son should see that his wife is not dehumanised or dominated by his parents. King Solomon loved and respected his mother. When she came in, he rose up, bowed to her, set a seat for her on his right side, listened to her, promised her that he would not say no to her. But he did not give heed to her wrong suggestion (1 Ki 2:20-25).

Was that disrespect? That was discernment of God’s will in that matter by wisdom. A son should be able to discern whether what his parents say and do tend to unite him and his wife, or separate. A wise son will ruffle his feathers at the earliest signs of danger and check his parents.

The husband should not blame his wife for being an unpleasant companion for as long as she is marooned with his parents. She will be inhibited in many areas of family life. Parents who choose to keep their son with them should not complain about the daughter-in-law. The reason for her wild behaviour is the abnormal situation she is placed in.

Wives should not immediately stage a dharna to initiate the separation. Indian males are no doubt mamma’s boys. Sometimes it takes a few years for them after marriage to grow up into husbands. They should wait patiently till the husband is convinced and confident about his leadership as head of a separate unit. But when the parents are well able to take care of themselves with or without a domestic helper, the husband and wife should turn a deaf ear to what society may say but listen to the Bible. What Bible says, God says. Today it is a much less daunting task. Start your new home with a samba to a new spirit of freedom. You shall then rise like a phoenix from the ashes.


   Address for Correspondence & Contributions:

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

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