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Landing the Helicopter

A new mother-in-law ponders her role in her married "kids'" lives

Remember the end of My Big Fat Greek Wedding? You see the happy young couple emerging from their new home (purchased for them as a wedding gift by her doting dad). They set off down the street, waving at their next-door neighbor, out mowing his lawn. Her dad waves back.

It's easy to laugh at this stereotype of ethnic families–large, loving, and meddlesome. On the other hand, the contemporary model–newlywed kids who move cross-country and see their parents only once or twice a year–doesn't seem so appealing either. I don't want Facebook to be the only way I keep up with my married daughter.

With our kids in full marrying mode these days, boomers like me are wrestling with our new role in our children's lives. Remember, we're the generation that talked, patted, and sang to our little ones in utero–sort of "helicopter parents-to-be." We made Dr. Dobson part of our household, worried about "stranger danger," and felt guilty about parking our kids in front of Full House reruns. Our ceaseless chauffeuring gave new life to Detroit as we all piled into the minivan. Eventually those same vans would take "us" off to college, loaded down with kids' possessions and last-minute advice.

Now what?

My daughter was married on a golden afternoon in August of last year. The girl who had orchestrated Barbie weddings in our living room wore a gleaming Cinderella gown and Grace Kelly gloves (you can probably still find photos on her Facebook page). Her prince, a decorated veteran of Afghanistan, looked sharp in his officer's dress blues. Swords were drawn as they exited the church. For the Mother of the Bride (I'm the one in the unnaturally sprayed hairdo and requisite sequins), it was God's answer to years of prayer for a godly spouse for Amanda. For Dad, looking almost patriarchal in his tux, our new son-in-law, Stuart, was a welcome male antidote to the two women he'd always been outnumbered by, not counting our female terrier and assorted parakeets of uncertain gender.

So it's mostly all good. "The kids" live in a townhome just five minutes away. We go to the same church. Why, if we weren't all more or less blonds, we could almost be … Greek.

But precisely because of this proximity, I feel like I'm still working out this role thing. Case in point: There've been a couple of times when they've been late or missed church entirely due to alarms not going off. I suggested gently to my daughter they needed to be in church (am I butting in?) and asked did she want me to give her a wakeup call Sunday mornings. Sure she did. At 8:40 a.m. on a recent Sunday, I called her cell. No answer. I then tried their landline. Stuart answered and told me she was in the shower. He sounded like he was in a hurry. "All right," I said, trying to sound brisk and not too needy. "We'll try to save seats, 'bye."

You try to bite your tongue, but … On occasion, in the first months of their marriage, I politely suggested to my daughter that I could help her clean up her then-apartment. Or give her cooking pointers. She politely declined. "Back off," my husband said. "It's their life." He'll dote over his little girl just as much as the dad in Greek Wedding, yet he does have a strong, man-to-man sense of giving Stu elbow room to build his life with his bride.

So the dance goes on. It's tricky, especially because Amanda is an only child and she and I are quite close. I'll sometimes hear her say to Stuart, "My mom says the store closes at ten" or "My mom says it's supposed to rain." Being so invoked is music to my ears, of course. But because we also dearly love and respect Stu and know he feels the same about us, we want him to come first–as God intended. We want them to enjoy their castle without us peering over the wall.

It does happen. I've heard nightmare stories from wives whose mothers-in-law showed up, unannounced, every day. We pretty much wait to be invited, or might suggest getting together to watch a special show on their big-screen TV. I don't call or email constantly. We don't proffer advice unsolicited—at least, not much.

But we are involved in each other's lives in a way I think is healthy, natural, desirable. God said "leave and cleave"; he didn't say "abandon." We old folks still have a few things to teach our children, and we, in turn, can learn from them. (We've spent many after-dinner hours enthralled as Stu explains military strategy.) I don't think we'll be moving next door … but emotionally, we're going to stay close.

Elizabeth Cody Newenhuyse is editorial director at Moody Publishers, a commentator on Moody Radio, author of several books and one of the founders of Marriage Partnership. She, Fritz, Amanda, and Stuart all live in a village west of Chicago.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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