"I need help!"
The young woman's voice wavered as she looked around at the small group of women. "I know I'm supposed to love my mother-in-law—but I hate her!" As her tears escalated into uncontrollable sobs, we quickly gathered around her to pray.
Afterwards, I listened in sadness as other women shared the pain experienced by being an in-law. Of the 17 present in the Bible study, only 2 had good family relationships. What truly troubled me was that all the women and most of their in-laws were Christians.
But should I really have been surprised? My own experience as a daughter-in-law had been immensely frustrating. Twenty-six years ago, when I committed myself to my husband for life, I was unprepared for the depth of conflict I'd experience with my mother-in-law.
I still remember when my husband, Greg*, and I arrived home from our honeymoon to find our new apartment completely unpacked and arranged—right down to flour and sugar in the canisters—compliments of Flo, my mother-in-law, who wanted to "help out." I said nothing, not wanting to appear ungrateful, but was bitterly disappointed in not having the opportunity to set up my new home.
In the following weeks, Flo came to our house uninvited while we were at work to do our laundry and straighten the house. "It's just my way of helping," she stated firmly when I objected. "I know how Greg likes things."
I swallowed my protests, again not wanting to cause dissent. I didn't realize I was laying the foundation for an off-balanced kinship as my mother-in-law continued to overstep boundaries and I continued to acquiesce. As the years passed, resentment festered inside me. But I knew I needed to feel love instead of hate.1