A Stronger MIL/DIL Relationship: Barbara & Stacy Reaoch
Could a healthier relationship with your mother-in-law or daughter-in-law be closer than you think? Whether your struggle is one of feeling unseen, unheard, or unvalued, authors and in-laws Barbara and Stacy Reaoch have been there. They insist your relationship can succeed, even when it's painful. And they'll show you how.
When you become a mother-in-law, your main goal at that stage of life is the success of this marriage. And you're not a coach. You're the cheering team. You're saying: “You can do this. How can I help you?” -- Barbara Reaoch
About the Guest
- Connect with Barbara at barbarareaoch.com and Stacy at www.stacyreaoch.com.
- And don't forget to grab a copy of Making Room for Her in our shop.
- Intrigued by today's episode? Think more about your relationship with our blog post, 12 Things Your Mother-in-Law Wants to Tell You.
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Authors and in-laws Barbara and Stacy Reaoch show how your mother- or daughter-in-law relationship can succeed–even when it’s painful.
A Stronger MIL/DIL Relationship: Barbara & Stacy Reaoch
Barbara: When you become a mother-in-law, your main goal at that stage of life is the success of this marriage. And you're not a coach. You're the cheering team. You're saying: “You can do this. How can I help you?”
Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbottand your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Dave: This is FamilyLife Today.
Ann: I'm not sure a lot of our listeners know, but for 35 years I led a Bible study for the Detroit Lions’ wives and their girlfriends. Every year I would hit one topic and it was so explosive that I couldn’t even contain the room because of the loudness, because they couldn't stop talking, because they were angry, because they needed to vent. And do you know what that topic was?
Dave: I know. I want to hear you say it out loud.
Ann: It was how to deal with your mother-in-law, and it was explosive. We're going to talk about this today, the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law.
Dave: Yes, we've actually got a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law in the studio, same last name. And you would think maybe it’s mother, daughter but no, we have Stacy, who's married to Barbara's son, so we have Barbara and Stacy Reaoch in the studio. So welcome to FamilyLife.
Barbara: Thank you so much. It's great to be here.
Stacy: So excited to be here.
Ann: And it's pretty brave of you guys because there are not many books that are on this topic of a mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law. And you wrote this book together. Tell us a little bit about yourselves before you start though. Barbara, you start. You've been married how many years?
Barbara: We've been married 50 years.
Ann: And you have how many kids?
Barbara: We have three grown children and seven grandchildren.
Dave: Wow, and Stacy's married to number one?
Dave: Alright, talk about that little thing. It was interesting as I read your book—by the way, we didn't mention it's called Making Room for Her. Tell us a little bit about this journey, because it sounds like you were dating, then you broke up.
Stacy: Yes, we have quite a story. But yes, Ben and I—so Ben is Barbs oldest son—met in high school. We dated for two years.
Dave: Oh wow.
Stacy: During that time the Lord was really working in my heart. I said I was a Christian, but I never opened my Bible. You know I didn't really have any concept of sin and the need for a Savior. All those things started to come together freshman year when I went away to Michigan State. A staff member from Cru® came and knocked on my door and invited me to coffee, shared their faith with me and started to disciple me. And so, I started to join Bible studies and grow in my faith.
Ben, at the same time, was at Wheaton. He had gone to be an engineer, but then felt God calling him to ministry. I remember the phone call when he called and told me this and said, “God's calling me to some kind of full-time ministry and I don't know if it it's going to be missions overseas or a pastor, but he's calling me.”
We were obviously at two very different places in our walks, so that summer Ben broke up with me, which was devastating. I was thinking, “Wait, I'm finally a real Christian and you're breaking up with me, like this doesn't make sense.” But of course, in hindsight, I see how the Lord—we were broken up for two years, and I see how God used that time to mature us and grow us.
Ann: And Barb, you two, even after they broke up, you and Stacy stayed friends. Our son started dating his wife at 17 years old, but they've known each other since 12. I'll usually tell my friends “Be very careful on what you say and how you treat your son or daughter’s boyfriend or girlfriend, because they might end up being in your family.” So to say things that are really harsh or mean, that could come back to hurt you.
Dave: Walk us through, you know a couple years later you decided to get married. Was that a quick decision now that you're back together? Was it six weeks? Was it a year?
Stacy: It was totally the Lord that that brought us back our senior year of college. We started, at that point, writing letters back and forth to each other. We got engaged that summer after graduation and married five months after that.
Ann: And you've been married how many years?
Ann: —with four kids.
Dave: I mean, as you guys walked into this was there—I mean, Ann mentioned at the beginning tension. Did you have any of that in your relationship?
Stacy: Well, in some ways, I think we had kind of a unique experience because when Ben and I got married, Barb and Ron moved to South Africa within like weeks after the wedding. And so, the first seven years of our marriage, they were in Cape Town, South Africa, and we were starting our life together in Minnesota, and then Kentucky and then Pittsburgh.
Ann: Your husband's a pastor.
Stacy: My husband's a pastor, yes. We were going through a lot of major life transitions, and so in a lot of ways we were pretty disconnected. But then they would come back every couple of years for like a little chunk of time in the summer, and sometimes stay with us. I do remember that being stressful, because, well, we hadn't seen each other for a long time.
And then I kind of wanted to give the impression of like, I've got this Christian wife thing down. [Laughter] When we had kids, I wanted Barb to be impressed that I was a great mom and that I knew what I was doing. I was excited to see them, but also felt the pressure to have it all together and to not look like I need help, even though I really did need help. [Laughter]
Dave: But there is an aspect that that separation, even geographically, was a good thing. Our first job was University of Nebraska as the chaplain of the sports teams there, and her mom and dad drove us out there. I didn't really have a dad, so this is awesome. And when they drove away, I thought, in some sense, “Worst day of my life. How are we going to do this?” It forced us to figure out our life, so in some ways that was good, right?
Stacy: Yes, definitely, and I do think Ben and I reaped the benefits of that. I do think the Lord has given us a strong and sweet marriage. I think part of that is we've never lived close to any of our family, really my family or his family. So that has caused us to rely on each other and the Lord. But with in-law relationship I think it did—things weren't as smooth sailing as I imagined they would be.
Dave: I mean what would you say Barb if you had a chance to speak to some mothers-in-law who aren't mothers-in-law yet; they're on their journey.
Ann: Give us some tips.
Dave: Give us some wisdom. What would you say?
Barb: Well, I think I'd start by saying, you know, you're a daughter of the Father who has designed the family relationship. You know your identity as God's child, but you have various roles throughout your life. And they're all good. They're all assignments from God. But when you become a mother-in-law, you have a different role and that's to support this wonderful new marriage that's starting. Your main goal at that stage of life is the success of this marriage. You're going to support that in various ways, but one of the main ways is that you're the cheering team.
If you think of the whole relationship as like running a marathon, let's say, you're not in the race. People in the race are competing against each other. They're comparing themselves to the others. You're not in the race and you're not a coach. You're not dictating what's supposed to happen next. You're the cheering team. You're saying “You can do this. How can I help you?” You're the handing water; you're giving the towel.
Ann: You’re not saying, “You're doing it wrong!” [Laughter] I love this illustration. You're just in the stands cheering.
Barbara: In the stands cheering—
Ann: It’s so hard to only cheer.
Dave: Because you think you're still a coach. You think you’re their coach.
Barbara: You think you’re a coach and you think cheering them on is a loss. You're thinking of the change as a loss, and change is loss, but it's also growth. It's an opportunity to grow and support this new family that's starting because it's not like they're just going to be independent and go off forever together. Eventually, when they know and love each other, are confident, and those seven years is sometimes what it takes, your family unit is going to grow and it's going to become stronger.
Dave: Now, do you agree with the statement, “Don't give advice unless they ask for it.”
Barbara: It's a good motto. It's very hard to do and we find ways to get around that so we can come in with little “Let me tell you what I've done, so that you don't fail like I fail.” You know, we can still think of ways to say that.
Dave: Stacy, do you feel the same way when you hear that? You're like, “Yes, I agree. I'm the daughter-in-law. That's a good motto,” or no.
Stacy: Yes, I think it is. I do. I think that's a way to respect the new family. You know that's a way to respect that they might not choose to do things the same and to try not to take offense at that, but just realize, you know they're—it's their time. They're starting new traditions and maybe have a different way of raising the kids or educating the kids or whatever it is.
Ann: I know that when I started this ministry with the Detroit Lions’ wives, I was 25 years old. When I ended my ministry, you know I'd been doing it 35 years, so when I started, I was the age of the players’ wives and I was like “My mother-in-law's crazy, too.” [Laughter] But by the time I—
Dave: That would be my mom if you were connecting the dots. [Laughter]
Ann: But by the time I was done, now I'm relating to all the mothers-in-law and the difficulty that's in that role. I said to the wives, “Your mother-in-law, we feel insecure, and we want you to like us. We want you to love us, and we're not sure how to go about that sometimes.” And when I say to them, really there's a deep insecurity of “Will I be forgotten? Will I be noticed? Will my daughter-in-law even like me? Will my son still even talk to me?” That deep insecurity is in there, and I think it's good as a younger woman to know like, “Oh, she just needs to be noticed and seen.” It's exactly what you were saying.
So now looking back, Barb, you have three kids, three grown kids. Stacy, you have four children. Your oldest is 20. What are some tips that you would give to a daughter-in-law walking into a family? And like, you've had a 20-year-old daughter so that could be her in a few years.
Stacy: I know, I'm starting to think a little bit differently because I realized, like, “Wow, I could be the mother-in-law.”
Stacy: And then your future, like, it's not really that far away. I think I would say, one, the relationship is worth investing in.
Ann: What's that mean?
Stacy: Get to know your mother-in-law, spend time with her, talk with her, find out what she likes to do and try to join in when you can. I also think believe the best about her words and actions. Because I think a lot of times as daughters-in-law, in our own insecurity we can feel like we're being judged or feel like she's disapproving when she hasn't necessarily said that.
I think about those early years when Barb and Ron came back and were staying with us in Kentucky and we had like one baby or two babies and Barb, like sweeping my kitchen floor. You know, she's trying to help but I remember thinking, “Oh, she must think I'm not good at housekeeping. I didn't clean my floor well enough. She had to pick up the broom and start sweeping. If I believe the best, she was just trying to help a tired, busy, mom, right? And now I'm at a place where I'm like, “Please sweep my kitchen floor.” [Laughter] I'm so thankful for any help.
But back in those early years, it was easy to take offense at things, easy to read into comments about maybe educating our kids and what we're doing, that I felt like she was judging me when she was just sharing her own experience. I think trying your best, asking the Lord to help you believe the best about her words and intentions.
Ann: I remember sending our daughter-in-law and son—they were in college; they got married. He was going to Moody, so it was his senior year they were married. Periodically, I would just send them gift cards. And I’d say, “Hey guys, I know it can't be easy trying to do school, trying to work part time. Here's a gift card for date night.” And I thought, “I'm amazing,” like, “Look what a great mother-in-law I am.”
Well later, our son came to me and said, “Hey, you need to not do that anymore.” And I was like, “What do you mean?” And he said, “It just feels like you don't think we can do it on our own.” And I'm like, “No, no, no, no, no.” Like if I would have gotten a gift card at that age, I would have loved it, assuming they would love it too. But I was so offended, like “This is ridiculous. I am out of the goodness of my heart.” I just feel like, “Oh Ann, put your pride away. Remember it's different for everybody.”
And so, to ask, “Hey, I'm thinking about sending a gift card. Would that be something helpful or good for you guys?” And not even ask my son; ask the daughter-in-law. Because my son would have said “Yes, send it.” [Laughter] But I don't know.
Dave: I would have said “No, don't send it. Why are we sending them gift cards?” [Laughter]
Ann: And maybe that has to do with expectations. Let's talk about that a little bit. What did that look like for you, Stacy, of the expectations?
Stacy: Well, I mean, again, I go back to the beginning and thinking I kind of had a Pollyanna view. I think as a new believer of like, everything's going to be awesome. [Laughter] And actually our first bump in the road was when we finally decided we wanted to be married. We wanted to be married soon and so we want a short engagement, like five months. But I was supposed to student teach in Michigan for a full year.
Stacy: And he was supposed to go up to Minneapolis for a church internship for a year. We just couldn't fathom spending another year apart from each other. I'm pursuing like, “Okay, what do I need to do to student teach up in Minnesota?” Well, my school, university, decides they can't let me do that; that's setting a precedent. They said, “You either have to stay in Michigan, student teach for the whole year, or give up your scholarship,” that I got.
It was really tough. I remember Ben and I talking to Barb and Ron about it. And Ben and I were just kind of like, “We're going to make a way. We're going to jump through the hoops and figure out a way to get married in five months and make this work.” And I remember Barb saying in this really sweet voice—
Dave: Of course, it was sweet.
Stacy: —"If God provided Stacy a scholarship in Michigan and provided this church internship for Ben in Minneapolis, maybe you're supposed to wait one more year. That's a very reasonable suggestion.
Ann: Now, as a mom of a 20-year-old, you're probably thinking, “Yes, I can see that.”
Stacy: I’m like “Yes, just wait.” But in my mind, as a 22-year-old, I was like, “Oh no, she's changing the plan.” And I remember just like my blood pressure rising, like, “What's Ben going to do? Is he going to side with his mom.”
Barbara: A man in the middle.
Stacy: “Or is he going to go back to our plan of like, ‘No, we're going to make this work. We're going to get married in five months.’” And so, I remember there being tension and anxiety of really wondering even which way my husband was going to lean.
Dave: Sort of that leave and cleave.
Stacy: Yes, yes.
Dave: What happened?
Stacy: So thankfully he was also on board with like, we need to get married as soon as possible. [Laughter]
Dave: I like how you said thankfully.
Stacy: And Barb was super gracious, and they didn't, Barb and Ron, didn't fight us on that. And we did have to jump through 100 hoops to make that happen. And I had to student teach up in Minnesota and take a few extra classes for a teaching license up there. But I just remember that was a pivotal moment, because I naively thought, “We're all going to think the same about this,” and that was the first realization.
Dave: What would you have done if Barb wasn't so gracious and Ron” What if they would have said “No, we're going to push this little harder”? Because a lot of mothers-in-law and fathers-in-law do.
Ann: Or they would say “We're not going to put any money into the wedding or anything.”
Dave: “We’re not going to support this.” What do you do then? Because now you've got a conflict.
Stacy: That would be really, really hard and most likely I would not have handled it well. I'm sure. [Laughter] I’m sure I would have been very upset.
Dave: And now you've walked through, you know, how many decades you've been married? Twenty?
Stacy: Twenty-three years.
Dave: Twenty-three years, so here you are twenty-three years later, what's the relationship like now? How's it matured? I know you talked about some health issues. How has that brought you two together?
Stacy: Yes, Barb is definitely a friend. She's not just my mother-in-law, she's a friend. [Tearful] And I think suffering brings people together in so many ways. Even before Barb’s cancer diagnosis—I mean I think back to 2020 when our church was going through just a really difficult time, and Barb and I were writing this book, and Barb was someone that I called to just unload my heart of just the troubles we were facing. Because in ministry you can't necessarily do that with people in your church, even good friends.
Stacy: She was really a support and a prayer warrior for me that I could share these things and know that she was faithfully praying.
Barbara: To face a life-threatening situation, every day becomes like this tremendous gift. It's like every minute together is golden and Stacy, in particular, I really felt seized that moment because she was the woman in charge in my house. And she came in with grace and confidence and loving kindness, prepared all the meals, got everybody ready to go on the daily excursions that they were, had planned.
And then if that didn't, wasn't enough, she thought “Okay, we have this chance to celebrate your 50th anniversary.” She said, “We're going to have a dinner.” She started to set the table and she said “Barb, where's the good china?” [Laughter] I said, “Oh, Stacy,” because I can't get out of a chair. That's where I am at this point. I said, “Stacy, let's just skip the good china because we can't put that in the dishwasher.” [Laughter]
She said, “Barb, that's why we have good china. We have it for good occasions. We have it for memorable times.” She wasn't afraid of the extra work. That didn't mean anything to her. It just she was honoring me in the most beautiful and humble and gracious way.
Ann: Reminds me of Ruth and Naomi.
Ann: That beautiful relationship of Ruth really honoring Naomi, being with her, seeing her, being by her side when she was grieving, and they were both grieving. That's beautiful.
I think too, if I have a regret—I have several regrets in my life, but one of them is that I didn't love Dave's mom the way I could have. You know she had a hard life and her husband left her. She lost a child. She had a drinking problem as a result. And I think instead of loving her well, I judged her. She went through some health issues. I wish that I would have done what you had done, Stacy, of just being with her, seeing her, talking to her, loving her, but out of my own insecurity I don't think I did. I wasn't as mature spiritually at that time. Time is short.
Barbara: It is short.
Ann: We can either love the people around us and especially our mothers-in-law and our daughters-in-law. We can see the good in them, or we can judge them and pull away and there's always blessing from God. I believe that He's cheering us on as we love one another and see one another and cherish one another.
Shelby: You know there could be such great blessings in embracing the in-law relationships we're in. The stigma about in-laws is so thick within our culture, even within Christian culture. But why don't we love our in laws the way Christ has called us to? And then see the kind of transformation that can happen only through Jesus. Only He can do those kinds of things, and it's incredible to see when He does.
I'm Shelby Abbott and you've been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Barbara and Stacy Reaoch on FamilyLife Today. Barbara and Stacy have written a book called Making Room for Her. It'll give you biblical wisdom for a healthier relationship with your mother-in-law or daughter-in-law. You can pick up a copy at FamilyLifeToday.com or give us a call at 800-358-6329.
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