FamilyLife Today®

Making Friends With Your In-Laws

with Susan Yates | October 1, 2007
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Sometimes some of your best friends can come right out of your own family. Consider, for instance, your in-laws. Today on the broadcast, popular author Susan Yates shares some pointers about making friends with your in-laws.

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  • Sometimes some of your best friends can come right out of your own family. Consider, for instance, your in-laws. Today on the broadcast, popular author Susan Yates shares some pointers about making friends with your in-laws.

Sometimes some of your best friends can come right out of your own family.

Making Friends With Your In-Laws

With Susan Yates
October 01, 2007
| Download Transcript PDF

Susan: There is one thing that we can do that's so important no matter what kind of a parent or an in-law you have – you can choose to learn something from your parents and in-laws even if you don't agree with them on values, on religion, on politics – there is always something they can teach you.  They have one thing that you don't have, and that's age and experience.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, October 1st.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  If you're experiencing any challenge with your in-laws, or if you are in in-law, stay with us.

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Monday edition.  We're going to talk this week about a couple of the things that people say to us are challenges for marriage.  We're going to talk about money later on this week but, first up, we want to talk about in-laws, and it reminds me of an article I read a number of years ago, Dennis.  It was in one of these airline magazines when I was on a flight, and it talked about marriage traditions or customs in Japan, and it said over there weddings are often planned years in advance, and if you want the best spot for your wedding, you have to reserve it, literally, years ahead of time. 

 It can cost as much as $75,000 for a wedding to take place; it's a lavish affair, very ornate; and one of the guys who worked at a hotel, one of the Hyatt hotels somewhere in Japan where they hold these weddings all the time – he said the reason that it's so ornate is because when two people get married in Japan it's not just two people getting married, it is two entire families.

Dennis: I think if I had a wedding that was going to cost $75,000, I'd tell all six of my kids to remain celibate.  I mean, man, you're talking about a practical problem here.

 Well, our author and guest here on the broadcast today is Susan Yates.  Susan is the wife of John Yates, rector of the Falls Church in Falls Church, Virginia.  They have five children, but I've got to take you to this subject here today talking about in-laws, because both our parents and in-laws really represent a challenge, because when we do get married, as Bob said, we don't just marry the person, we are really marrying another family.

Susan: That's so true, and there were real elements of truth in that article that you shared, Bob, because we do marry another family.  It's not longer just his mother.  His mother is also now my mother.  She may be my mother-in-law, but she is also my mother, and I have a responsibility to her as well. 

 We see this in Scripture.  We see it with the beautiful story of Ruth and Naomi.  We see it in Jesus' own act on the cross when He was about to die, He gave His mother into the hands of His beloved disciple, John, and said, "This, now, will be your mother."

Bob: How long had you been married when you realized that you had also married John's family.

Susan: Well, I was really blessed because I loved my husband's family.  But I think it's something that just grows on you that you realize you have married a whole network of people, and I was blessed because it was a wonderful network of people, and that's not true, probably, for most people in the country today.

 But the commitment and the responsibility remain the same no matter what type of people they are.  We're still called to be committed to them over the long haul.

Dennis: What makes this so challenging?  Why are in-laws the brunt of so many jokes?  I mean …

Susan: Dennis, I got a call from a friend recently whose husband was offered a job in a town where both his parents and her widowed mother lived, and it was a tough decision because she has a rocky relationship with her in-laws.  They spoil her children, they give her son candy, even though he's allergic to it and they have been told that he can't have it.

 She knew there would be expectations placed upon her and her husband to spend a lot of time with them whereas her own mother, who was ill, would need her, and she was so frustrated.  She said, "Susan, no matter what I do, I'm not going to be able to please everybody."

 And I think this is the crux of the problem in our relationships is we can't please everyone, and so we have to go back to the biblical basis for how do we decide what to do?  And the well-known commandment is to honor our father and mother.  We all know that.

 But I think as we consider what that means, practically speaking, we need to keep two principles in mind.  Our first commitment needs to be to our spouse if we are married – and to our kids.  And under that commitment, secondly, we need to do all that we can together to honor our parents.

 We don't think about this very often, but if you replay the last few dinner-table conversations you have had, perhaps when you've been talking about your parents or your spouse's parents, asking yourself the question, "Was I positive?  Did I talk about the great way that grandmother has reached out to care for us, or the way Dad has helped us financially, or the way he was good in how he raised me to be a good steward?" 

 Do I point out the good things about my parents and in-laws to my children, or do I whine about the ways they failed me?  Do I continually point out the abuses, drunken father that raised me – or the neglectful mother?  Do I point out the fact that they don't come to visit very often?  Our children are learning how to honor us as they sit around the table and hear how we speak about our parents, and 25 years from now when they have their own children, are they going to be likely to sit around the table and talk about our strengths or point out our weaknesses?

Dennis: Are there other things that we can do as we relate to our in-laws, especially because, I think, Susan, sometimes that relationship can start strained.  We're kind of being grafted in, we're not like them, we make mistakes, I know I did.  And I think we're in need to coaching at this point and getting into this new family and learning how to really stay with the positives and not just get off on the negatives, because I really see how a lot of relationships get started on the negative, and they never leave there.

Susan: They never leave there, and you really hit on the key to that, Dennis, when you said, "When we start out, we get off on the wrong foot."  I have found that we are particularly sensitive whenever we're starting a new season in life – a season might be just getting married.  There's a season of being a newlywed, there's a season of being a new parents.  Let's take those, for example.

 As a newlywed, you madly clean your house because your in-laws are coming, and you so desperately want to please them.  I think if we were all honest, we would say that the two sets of people we most want to please are our parents and in-law, bottom line.  So you madly clean your house, and your parents or in-laws come for dinner, and they don't remark on the house.  So you assume that they don't approve, and they don't think you're a good housekeeper.

 Now, if someone else had popped in and had remarked on how neat your house was, it wouldn't have fazed you.  You're hypersensitive at that beginning season of being a newlywed.

 Or take, for example, a new parent, and here you have a fussy toddler, who is two, and he is misbehaving all over the place, and your friend says "He needs timeout," and you take that as good advice.  But if your mother-in-law said it, you take it as criticism of your parenting skills.

 So we need to realize that at the onset of any new season in our life, we are going to be overly sensitive, and what we need to do is make a conscious effort to choose to assume the best from our parents and not assume that there is some hidden critical message.  We need to recognize, and especially we females need to recognize that we can be overly sensitive to our parents and in-laws.

Dennis: And I was thinking of the in-laws, too.  It's a new season for them.

Susan: It is.  It's a new season.  I am a new in-law, and I remember, here, again, just to – as a help to those of you who are entering this season, again, honesty is the best policy.

 I remember, a little over a year ago, when Allison just first got engaged, and we were beginning to plan the wedding, and I sensed there was a little bit of tension in the air, and I didn't want this experience to be unpleasant, I wanted it to be a really special time in my relationship with my daughter, and I remember going to her in the hall and just throwing my arms around her and saying, "Allison, I just want you to know that I don't know what I'm doing.  You are our first child to be married and, more than anything else, I want to be a good mother-in-law for Will and a good mother for you, and if, in this whole wedding planning process, I get too pushy, I want you to tell me because I want it to be a great experience for us."

 And she just put her arms around me and said, "Oh, Mom, I will."  And she has had the freedom to do that.  But, again, the key is out of relationship, close relationship, comes the freedom to be honest and vulnerable with one another.

Dennis: Yeah, but I want to just heighten something that you really perfectly modeled for any in-law who is listening.  You really modeled humility, and I was thinking of Philippians, chapter 2, verse 3 and 4, which says, "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each one of you regard one another as more important than himself, and do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others."

 And I was thinking, Bob, as she was sharing that story, I wonder what would happen in families all across the country if the preparation for the wedding ceremony started out with in-laws on both sides of the family expressing that kind of an attitude toward the children.  Now, that's a real challenge, because that means you've got to remain teachable to younger people who are madly in love.  At points, maybe a little foolish, may not have the same judgment, discernment that we have; different values than we have, but it's a great exhortation, I think, to both in-law and, for that matter, adult child who is getting married, a life.

Susan: It's so important that we keep in mind the priority – the priority of our married children is their marriage, and our role, as parents and in-laws, is to do everything we can to encourage their marriage relationship to be built on solid, firm ground.

 And that's just a crucial thing, but back to the issue of parents and in-laws, when we are the children – there is one thing that we can do that is so important no matter what kind of a parent or an in-law you have is, they have one thing that you don't have, and that's age and experience.

 You can choose to learn something from your parents and in-laws, even if you don't agree with them on values, on religion, on politics, there is always something they can teach you.  So here, again, you want to focus on the positive, and this may mean you need to have a family discussion before grandparents or in-laws come to visit and say, "You know, let's think of some things that we can ask our parents or in-laws."

 Get them to share with you a sense of history.  I remember taping my grandmothers, and we have now done this with my mother-in-law as well – taping with our children an interview with her, where we ask them questions, you know, "What were inventions that were invented when you were growing up, as a child?"  "Who was president?"  "Who was somebody that had an impact on your faith?"

 Asking them questions and learning from them – that will give your kids a sense not only of American history or international history but also a family history as well.  So we need to expand the positives, but we need to choose to learn from our parents and in-laws.

Dennis: And that, too, demands this same humility of mind that we talked about from Philippians, chapter 2.  I'd have to say that I have learned a great deal from both my father-in-law and mother-in-law, but that has come only after I, first of all, had to do some soul-searching in my own life about my selfishness, and I think sometimes as young men we start out this relationship – we so want to be the breadwinner, the knight in shining armor that sweeps our young wife off her feet and so want to be compared favorably to our new wife's dad and all that he provided for her, and sometimes we press, and we can be threatened by our father-in-law or, for that matter, mother-in-law.

 And I just want to also underscore something you said a little earlier, too, Susan.  As we seek to honor our parents and expand their positives and talk about what they've done right and learn from their gifts and their abilities, it has to be done within the context of the commitment you've made to your spouse.  You can't go back and reattach the apron strings and become overly dependent upon your parents because it's clear – the Scripture says in order for this marriage relationship to be formed, we must leave and cleave and become one flesh.

 And there's a delicate balance to maintain honor for your parents and your in-laws while, at the same time, remaining committed to your spouse first and foremost above all else.

Susan: That's true, and as parents and in-laws, you have to keep that in mind – that when your children marry, their first commitment now is to their spouse, and you need to applaud that, clap for that, and realize that will be hard because you are no longer first in their life.  But that is how God intended it to be, and it's so important.

 Another thing that we can do as we nurture these relationships with our parents and in-laws is to be the one who initiates activity together.  You know, we grow up responding to our parents making plans, you know, coming to visit us and could it be that we need to call our parents and say "Hey, I'd like to come and see you," or "I'd like for you to come and see me."

Dennis: Or "I'd like to help you schedule a family reunion for all the family to get together."

Susan: Right, that's true.  But what do you do if you don't have a real good relationship?  A friend of mine came to me in this situation, and she said – she was a young single gal in her 20s, and she said, "I want to be close to my dad, but I'm just not.  What can I do?"

 I said, "What does he like to do?" and they lived in the same area, and she said, "Well, he likes to go for walks."  And I said, "Phone him and ask him if you can go on walks with him.  Go with no agenda other than simply to be with him, and it will be awkward at first, but that's his thing so he feels comfortable there.  That's very important.

 So she began to go on walks with him and at first it was awkward.  But as she persisted, they fell into a comfortable association and the seeds and buds of a relationship began to develop.  But, you see, it took her being the initiator and her reaching out to minister to her dad where he was comfortable on his turf and slowly God began to change the relationship.

Dennis: Another way you can do that is encouraging the grandkids as they get older, when they have a spring break perhaps from college or during junior high and high school, to go spend some time, extended time, with grandparents.  We've done that with our older kids, and it's proved to be an enriching time not just for our kids and what they've received from their grandma and grandpa but also, I think, Grandma and Grandpa have really enjoyed getting to know our kids, not six at one time …

Susan: A little overwhelming.

Dennis: Yeah, a little overwhelming, but one at a time where they can go and kind of get to know them and appreciate their differences.

Susan: That's so important.  Encourage your kids to phone them, to write them, to visit them, to make them cards for no reason but also we need to pick up the phone so often, I have found, we think, "Well, you need to call your mother.  I'll call my mother," but the truth of the matter is if I'm married, I have two mothers now, and it's just as much my responsibility to call my mother-in-law for no reason.

 This is a very important thing.  We often call when there is a reason, but it means so much more to pick up the phone and say, "Hey, you know, I was just thinking about you today, and I wanted to call and let you know and see how your day is going."  That sends volumes of messages.

Dennis: Yeah, and those kinds of statements can override mistakes and failures that we've made.  I made a number of mistakes prior to our marriage and then early in our marriage with Barbara's parents in my relationship with them, but one of the things I did was I wrote them a letter a number of years after we had been married thanking them for their investments in Barbara's life, pouring their lives into hers so that she would be the woman that she is today and that I would reap the rewards of that and really gain the benefit as a man.

 I just wanted to thank them in that letter for their investments.  And, you know, they didn't say a whole lot about that letter, but it had to be meaningful.  I mean, it expressed appreciation for the job they had done and for what they had meant to Barbara.

Susan: That's such a great idea.  If you've never written a letter to your in-laws, I would just encourage every listener to do that.

Bob: You know, you stop and you think about it – most of our listeners have in-laws.  Some of our listeners are in-laws, many of our listeners one day will be in-laws, and I think what we've talked about today is a great reminder for what is the foundation of a healthy relationship between in-laws and their married children.

 I mean, we've talked about the need for married children to give their in-laws some grace, to remember where their in-laws came from; what kinds of circumstances may have shaped their own life or their own experience; open lines of communication with your in-laws; be able to speak the truth in love; develop a healthy relationship in that area; to let go of our need for their approval; to choose to learn from them and to initiate time with them and initiate relationship with them; and then to be the one who moves toward them rather than expecting them to move toward you all the time.

 You know, the book that you and Barbara wrote, "Starting a Marriage Right," I know you talked about the subject of in-laws and parents.  We talk about it at the Weekend to Remember Marriage Conference.  We talk about the need to leave a father and mother in order to establish a healthy marriage relationship. 

 I want to encourage our listeners to stop by our website at  If they go to the home page and click the red button they see in the middle of the page that says "Go," that will take them to an area of the site where they can get more information about the book, "Starting Your Marriage Out Right," and they can also get information about a two-CD series that we're going to be featuring this week with Tommy Nelson, where he offers some very practical advice on relationships with in-laws and on money issues in marriage.

 We have other resources that are available as well – again, go to our website,, click the red button that says "Go" in the middle of the screen, that will take you to the area of the site where you can get more information about these resources or other resources that are available to help couples as they try to build a strong relationship with their in-laws.

 You can also call us, if you'd prefer, at 1-800-FLTODAY, that's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and someone on our team can answer any questions you might have about the resources that are available.

 Speaking of helpful resources, back a few months ago, we aired a couple of messages here on FamilyLife Today from you and your wife, Barbara, Dennis, where you talked to guys about the need to step up as men and be all that God wants us to be as men, and then Barbara talked to wives about what a wife can do to help her husband be a godly man.

 We got a great response to those two CDs.  We wanted to make those two CDs available as a thank you gift this month for listeners who can help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation.  FamilyLife Today is on this station each day, Monday through Friday, because folks like you help support the ministry.  You make it possible for us to be heard not only on this station but on other stations all across the country, and we're hoping that many of our listeners this month can make a donation of any amount to help the ministry of FamilyLife Today continue in this city and in other cities and, again, when you make a donation of any amount, we would be happy to send you the two-CD set that features the messages from Dennis and Barbara Rainey on stepping up to manhood and helping your husband step up to manhood.

 You could make a donation online at, and if you do that, when you come to the keycode box on the donor form, write in the word "Steps" so we'll know to send you these two CDs, or call 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, make a donation over the phone and just request the two CDs.  Again, we're happy to send them to you, and we appreciate your financial support, your partnership with us, in this ministry.

 You know, as we have talked today with our guest, Susan Yates, on the subject of in-laws.  I was thinking how important it is, Susan, for us to be proactive – not just to hear what we've talked about and say, "I think that's a good idea, and I ought to do that sometime," but to really step up and be proactive in this area.

 We really have a biblical responsibility to move toward our parents and our in-laws and to initiate a strong, healthy relationship with them, don't we?

Susan: We sure do, because we don't know how long we have them, and when we lose our parents and our in-laws, we don't want to look back and say, "Well, I wish I had told them," or "I wish I had gotten this straight."  We don't want to look back with regret; we want to look back with gratitude.

 I have a friend whose name is Pat, and she was raised in an abusive, alcoholic family; estranged from her father; her brother became gay as a result of the home in which they were raised.  She later came to know the Lord in a personal way, and about a year ago she found out that her brother, who was gay, had HIV AIDS that was active, and he was beginning to die.

 The same week she found out about this, she found out her father also had terminal cancer.  And as she prayed about this, she longed to minister to both her dad and to her brother, but she knew she couldn't go to her dad until she had forgiven him for what he had done not only to her but to her brother.  This was so difficult but, again, she wanted to live with no regrets.

 She went to her father, she forgave him, she was reconciled with him, she nursed him in his last days of cancer, and right before he died, he gave his life to the Lord.

 Then she went to be with her brother as he died of AIDS, and she nursed him and cared for him and he, too, came to know the Lord right before he died.

 And, as I look at her, and I hear her story, I marvel, because here is a woman who is willing to be obedient to the principle of forgiveness and because of that, she lives with no regrets, she lives with gratitude of relationships that have been reconciled instead of lost.

Bob: FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.


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