How not to become a good in-law! Perhaps I should turn that into a question. How do I keep from becoming a troublesome in-law? In a church the size of Briarwood (4200+ members) there are many weddings every year. And, every year there are parents who find their way to the counseling center who have concerns about a prospective son or daughter-in-law. “What am I going to do…” is usually the way the session begins. There are a variety of issues that may complete the question.
In each of these situations the prospective in-law desires to change something in the son or daughter-in-law to be. The most frequent concern revolves around either the uncertainty of the young person’s salvation or the interracial nature of the relationship. These two issues are the easiest to address, but not the easiest for the parent to process. In the case of the non-believer the parent already knows theologically that the child should not enter a marital relationship with his/her mate choice. Our job is to help that parent understand how to approach the issue. In the case of the interracial issue there are several layers, but the theology is not difficult to discern. In both cases, parental attitude is the real issue. While in the Old Testament the racial was an issue, it was actually to race that was the concern, but rather the pagan belief system. Israel was not to marry across those boundaries less they be drawn after other gods. It is clear by observing several marriages that racial differences were not an issue when the other person entered into the covenant of Israel.
There are issues that arise that are more problematic. Suppose Jacob, the son of John and Mary, has entered into a serious relationship with Rachael, who is a passionate evangelical Roman Catholic. John and Mary find themselves very conflicted. Rachael is a charming and vivacious Christian. Jacob is obviously in love with her. They find themselves angry that Jacob has put them in this situation by his choice. They are also experiencing significant fear the grandchildren will be exposed to the Roman Church. “What are we to do?” they inquire of counselor. “He can hardly be nice to Rachel” complains Mary. “What do you want me to do” retorts John, just invite her to bring the Roman Church into our lives?”
Clearance and Hannah have a different problem. Their son has chosen a young woman who reinterprets the Bible to support her feminist views. Their son Jack had informed them that he and Karen do not intend to have children. “We want to enjoy our lives and not run around for five or six years with a diaper bag and all that junk that requires a minivan. We want to travel and spend our money on what matters to us not on what kids want or need.” Again, as the counselor you find yourself with a set of Christian parents who are deflated, discouraged, angry and resentful who have desperately attempted to convince these young people that they are wrong. In fact, Clearance and Hannah have flat out told Jack that he has signed on to a divorce track if he marries Karen.
The bottom line for the counselor (or a friend to with whom they may share their struggles) is that he must address the attitudes of these parents. The children are not the counselees, the parents are. They will make no progress with their children in changing their minds with the sinful attitudes in place. In fact, in most instances the parents will need help in constructing an apology and in seeking forgiveness. As with one parent I recently spoke with, most parents will need assistance to think out the manner of approaching their children without ending with a critical remark or blame shifting.
Of course, it is necessary to lead the parents to understand that their own sin is not only driving a wedge in the relationship with their children and prospective mate but also is contributing to pushing them in the very direction they are already going. I have found it necessary to also lead these parents in figuring out how to love their children when they find themselves disappointed in their decisions. Learning to accept the fact that their children are adults and responsible for their own decisions when those decisions fly in the face to the values the parents believe they have taught them is difficult. In addition, resting their children in the sovereign providence of God is extremely challenging in such circumstances.