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What's a Mother (in-Law) to Do?What's a Mother (in-Law) to Do? (2009)

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What's a Mother (in-Law)
to Do?

By Jane Angelich

CBN.comAs I was thinking about mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationships that had gone right, I remembered a Bible story featuring this very topic. So I went back and took a look at the book of Ruth, one of the shortest books in both Christian and Jewish Scripture.

During a famine, an Israelite family emigrates from Bethlehem to the nearby country of Moab. After her husband dies, Naomi is left with two sons, who marry two Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah. Then both of Naomi's sons die.

Naomi plans to return to Bethlehem, in Israel, but before she leaves, she tells her widowed daughters-in-law to return to their Moabite homes and remarry. Naomi isn't trying to send them away for selfish reasons but because she knows that she is too old to remarry and doesn't want to be a burden on the younger women. They insist on going with her anyway. Naomi orders them not to follow her, and Orpah finally leaves; but Ruth stays with her, vowing, "Where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried" (Ruth 1:16-17).

Naomi and Ruth return to Bethlehem at barley-harvest time. They have no money, so Ruth goes to work in the fields collecting the grain left behind by the harvesters. Ruth doesn't know it yet, but she happens to be working in the fields of Boaz, a relative of Naomi's dead husband. He invites Ruth to drink his water and collect the grain from his fields. She asks him why he's being so kind to a stranger, and he says that he is kind to her because he has heard of her loyalty to her mother in-law.

Ruth and Boaz eventually marry and have a son. The women of Bethlehem congratulate Naomi, telling her that her daughter-in-law Ruth "is better to you than seven sons" (Ruth 4:15). Naomi becomes a second mother to the boy, who is named Obed, and in the genealogy that concludes this story, we see that Obed is an ancestor to David. The New Testament tells us that Jesus is descended from David, so we see that a high honor -- having the promised Messiah come from your family -- is bestowed upon Ruth for her kindness to her mother-in-law.

I figure there must have been mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationship issues dating back thousands of years if an entire book of the Bible is devoted to teaching such an inspirational lesson. Way to go, Ruth and Naomi!

What's Everyone Really Looking For?

Before beginning my own book, I decided to take a look at the reviews written by readers of other books that deal with the issues surrounding mother-in-law and daughter-in-law relationships so I could try to tackle some of their concerns. Keep in mind, however, that almost all of these other books are written from a totally different starting point: addressing relationships involving a sick, dying, or dead mother-in-law, the experts tried to give pointers, primarily to daughters-in-law, on how to give "relationship CPR" and try to make everyone better.

I was also amazed to discover the number of questions on multiple Web sites that revolved around the "bad mother-in law" and so few that focused on the "bad daughter-in-law." Take a look at this entry, written by a father-in-law defending his wife:

I do not know what kind of grandmother/mother-in-law you are, but I can tell you and anyone else who reads this that not every mother-in-law is the wicked witch of the west the world portrays. Do a Google search of mother-in-law/daughter-in-law problems and about all you find are a multitude of Web sites bent on showcasing how stupid, moronic, wicked, evil, disgusting, spawns-of-Satan mothers-in-law are.

Yes, there are bad mothers-in-law, really bad mothers-in-law. We get it already. There are tons of sites that denigrate mothers-in-law and psycho grandmothers. I am here defending the good ones.

I'm not sure whether my mothers-in-law "group" is oblivious to relationship problems or just not as vocal about them, but I had expected to find the good-versus-evil postings more in balance. I was wrong.

So, because I had much more to work with, I went back to the daughters-in-law issues. If I hoped to educate mothers-in-law, including myself, on how to succeed in their new role, it was important for me to understand what they're looking for.

I decided to focus on the top five wishes of daughters-in-law, who say they want a book that:

  • provides a resource for anyone who has mother-in-law trouble and for those who want to know what to do before a problem starts;
  • is written in everyday language, not psychological or medical terminology, and that gives real-life examples;
  • describes how a good in-law acts;
  • gives guidelines that don't take a one-sided approach in favor of the mother-in-law; and
  • offers solutions, not a profile of angry women venting about their relationship problems.

The following statement, from a book review, summarized what I was beginning to feel as I embarked on this journey: "There is no way that one person in a relationship involving at least three people can possibly 'fix' it all by themselves."

But I do believe that the mother-in-law, being the older woman (in most cases) with more life experience, is in a position to take the lead. Experience aside, it seems we mothers-in-law would benefit from a little guidance. We could use a tool to help us do a better job in our new role and, as an added bonus, set up the new family member for success in her role as well. A book with tips to achieve these goals -- using input from daughters-in-law who weren't "broken" or bitter -- was definitely needed.

I've done my best to provide just that. I hope you find this book a useful tool. Maybe you'll decide to share it with your son and daughter-in-law, and together, the three of you can not only prevent (or tackle) the issues that tear at so many families but also create healthy, nurturing relationships that would make Ruth and Naomi proud.

From WHAT’S A MOTHER (IN-LAW) TO DO? by Jane Angelich. Copyright © 2009 by Jane Angelich. Reprinted by permission of Howard, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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