Transitioning Family Relationships

Today, my friend and colleague, Dr. Kevin Carson, posted an article on his blog, “On the Day My Daughter Gets Married.” I so much appreciated his wonderful statement of truth that over the years in my counselor journey, I have seen so many folks who did not appreciate it and thereby caused a lot of pain and missed a lot of blessings. He wrote, “Today, you transition from primarily a daughter to a friend, from a parent-centered life to a spouse-centered life…from an independent young lady to an interdependent wife.”

Learning to live God’s way makes for the best family relationship—it is a matter of recognizing that God is the designer, and living in accordance with the designer’s manual yields the best results. How often did I start putting together something for my children, operating on my intuition, only finally realizing that reading the designer’s manual would eliminate much of my frustration and yield the toy working, which my child was anxiously waiting to play with? Life is the same way.

Genesis 2:24, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”

Oh, how I remember the occasion of my daughter’s wedding. She weighed a mere 98 lbs. at 20 years of age as a junior in college. What a Christmas that was as I said goodbye to my daughter and hello to Robie’s wife as they left for a brief honeymoon and went back to Auburn to begin their life journey together. Over the years, she is now fifty-six, I would be thrilled to hear her voice say, “Hello, Daddy.” I also remember that my wife was her Daddy’s girl, and I drove off with her to our adventure in life. However, I now can also speak to a long journey of adult friendship with her folks that we both have enjoyed. In fact, her mom became one of my best friends. If a generation is twenty years old, then there were two generations between us and my folks. Due to the circumstances of life, our relationship with them tended toward caretakers more than friendship.

My son was second born. We did the dad and son things of hunting, and working on cars, and playing ball. While I missed him when he left home, it was nine years before he married. As we lived a good day’s drive from one another much that time, we did not get to develop an adult friendship relationship. That distance living continued until he was in his late twenties. And then we landed in the same city, and that adult friendship began developing and has grown for the past thirty years.  We talk often, with our conversations drifting from one interest to another—including guns, hunting, cars, theology, politics, counseling, children, college choices, and observations of children and cousins growing up.

At one point in our journey, Tammy, her husband, and their baby son, Robbie, and David lived with us while Robbie was in seminary.  My wife would reference those times in various speaking engagements, and more than once had a woman asked, “Did you get into it?” She would respond, “If you ask if we got into nasty fights? The answer is no. We all agreed to prioritize eating dinner together on Tuesday nights (many other times, but Tuesday was designated) where the question would be on the table, “Does anyone have a grievance we need to work out and settle?” If there was, and honestly, there seldom was, we worked through it using James’ instructions—quick to listen, so to speak, and slow to anger, as well as Paul’s principle of “speak the truth in love.” Those were three wonderful years for which I am very grateful.

Please do not think I am saying they were trouble-free years. They were not. While Robbie was a youth pastor and David worked full time, Pam and I carried the mortgage, kept four cars running, and covered much of the grocery budget. During those years, Pam and I were very conscious of the fact that Robbie and Tammy were a married couple. We would make suggestions occasionally or give advice if asked, but we respected their family unit. Dave was single, of course, yet he was a working man and responsible for his own life, though he was very open with us and allowed us to speak into his life.

At twenty-seven, Dave graduated from college and a year later married Teresa. We are grateful that her parents were committed to the biblical model of family and the development of that adult relationship with them. 

Here is a picture of our clan taken before the church pulpit, of which Robbie is the Pastor. We, along with Tammy’s five children, spouses, and grandbabies, had the joy of gathering over Labor Day weekend. Our grandchildren are working through developing adult relationships with in-laws. Some families do not immediately adjust from parent to friend, but gratefully, each is working on it.



Developed by Dr. Howard A. Eyrich

Distributed by Growth Advantage Communications

Twenty Principles for Cordial In-law Relationships

  • Pray for your in-laws regularly by name, expressing appreciation for them to God.  (After all, they are the reason your mate is here).
  • Consider in-laws to be friends and treat them with the same respect you would other friends.
  • Consider in-law’s advice to be worthy of consideration.  If it makes sense, act on it.  If it does not, listen to it graciously and promptly forget it.
  • Remember, in-laws are more than friends.  They are the parents of your mate.  When they seem to be meddling, most of the time it is out of sincere concern.
  • Expect the best from your in-laws.  You will usually find in other people what you expect to find.
  • Remember that long visits make for short friendships.
  • Good manners make appreciated visits.  Conduct yourself according to your in-law’s etiquette.
  • When you want to change your in-laws, remember that they would probably like to change you, too.  Acceptance, and sometimes tolerance, is the key to understanding them and fostering a growing relationship.
  • Remember, you created a hole when you took your mate out of their lives.  Give back some companionship.  Cut your mother-in-law some slack.
  • A positive attitude toward your new family will most likely generate a positive attitude toward you.
  • Though you may receive advice from your in-laws in profusion, return it with restraint.
  • Discussing your mate’s faults with your family is like planting a claymore mine in your relationship.  Discuss your mate’s faults with your mate!
  • Setting your family on a pedestal is setting them up for a fall.  Constantly praising your mother’s tasty cooking may generate distaste for her in your mate.
  • To make an in-law an out-law takes two people.  Never is one person the culprit, although one may be more so than the other.
  • Remember, in-laws are people, too.  That mother-in-law is created in the image of God, too!  Treat her in a manner that respects her image-bearing status.
  • In most difficult situations, let each spouse be a spokesman to his/her own parents.
  • Support your spouse in his/her love (manner of expression) for his/her parents.
  • Borrow not!  But if you do borrow, return quickly in perfect working order.
  • Don’t assume the freedom with your mate’s parents that you assume with your own parents.
  • Be attentive to idiosyncrasies and respect them.
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