“I fell in love with him, not with his family!” Jacci ranted as she described what she perceived as her controlling and manipulative mother-in-law. “She wants a say in everything we do—how many kids we have, where we vacation, and how we decorate our house. My husband doesn’t see it. He does whatever she says just to keep her happy.”
Rarely is there a marriage that doesn’t experience some stress around the topic of parents. Hollywood has created a handful of hilarious comedies and sitcoms that play off of some of the common stresses of adjusting to in-law relationships. Among my favorite is Father of the Bride. Steve Martin plays a loving, controlling father who struggles to accept that his little girl is getting married. In one scene, he still mentally sees her as a child with pigtails.
The in-law dance is a difficult one for both adult children and the parents. Both are learning what these new roles look like. A wedding ceremony doesn’t magically break the strong ties and protective instincts that parents feel for their son or daughter. To make this dance more difficult, there are no set standards on where to draw the boundaries. As vividly portrayed in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the expectations are often influenced by cultural traditions and unspoken family dynamics. Even before the newlyweds say, “I do,” they have to begin navigating how much power and influence parents should have in their decisions.
Establishing a healthy relationship with your parents and your in-laws ultimately comes down to balancing two clear biblical teachings: leaving and cleaving, and honoring your mother and father.1