Last year we got a new daughter. Our middle son got a wife. When that happened, our youngest daughter and our oldest son got a new sister. The dynamics of our family changed forever.
We love this girl who married our son. You see, we had been praying for her since our son was born. Our job was to get him ready for her. To help him become the man she needed. The man who would put her above himself, who would cherish her, and who would guard the heart she entrusted to him. We knew she was coming one day, and our son chose well. Sarah is as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside. As a mom, I can say that my heart is full of love for this sweet girl who loves my son even more than I do. What greater gift could I ask for than that?
We recognize that he wasn’t quite “finished” when we gave him to her. His table manners weren’t perfect, and he was always grumpy in the mornings. We playfully “warned” her, secretly grateful that “finishing” the job of “raising” him was going to someone who loved him so much. Still, this was uncharted territory for us. How do you integrate someone new into the family? When one of Empty Nest Blessed’s readers asked me to write about this subject, I kind of panicked! I will tell you that I don’t have all the answers, and we haven’t done it perfectly, but, as usual, I am happy to share our experience with you all. I will say, Bob and I talked a lot about it and prayed a lot about it. We wanted to be prayerful, intentional, and thoughtful about how we handled the situation. We thought it was important and worthy of that. I even read a book about being a good mother-in-law. (Of course, I did! You all know me so well.) Here’s what we did.
We were welcoming and inclusive
We have always tried to be very intentional about including anyone our kids dated into our family. We invite them to baseball games, holidays, on double dates, etc. Call it a modified “courtship” mindset, if you will. After all, when you marry someone, you are really marrying their whole family, for better or worse, right? We figure these poor souls need to know what they’re getting into, for better or worse. 🙂
We became a “student” of her
We wanted to learn all we could about Sarah, so we asked lots of questions. We asked about her family traditions, her upbringing, her faith, her likes and dislikes, her best friends, hobbies, and her goals and ambitions. We learned everything we could about her. We were amazed time and time again at how the Lord had been at work in her life preparing her for our son, even in her early years.
We elevated her status
Sarah has incredible parents who raised a precious, lovely girl. We were not in any way trying to take their place. But in order to integrate her into our family, we started treating her just like one of our own adult kids. We had the same budget for her at Christmas as we did for everyone else. We gave her gifts that were for her, not for them as a couple. (Girly things like clothes, shoes, jewelry, and stocking stuffers like nail polish.) We made a big deal of her birthday. We started praying for her regularly, just like we do for all of our kids.
Sarah is an only child, and she had always wanted a little sister. Our only daughter, our youngest, has always wanted a big sister. As soon as Weston and Sarah got engaged, I started to refer to Sarah as “your big sister” whenever I talked to our daughter, and vice versa. It sounds cheesy, but it was a tangible way for me to let everyone in our family know that we viewed her in that way. I encouraged the girls’ relationship, nudging them to spend time together shopping, lunching, and doing all the things that sisters do.
We were generous and open
Sarah’s parents live pretty far away, so even back when she and Weston were in college and dating, we offered her a place to stay for holidays, weekends, and special occasions. One of the twin beds in our daughter’s room was named “Sarah’s bed.” Once they were married, we did things like offering them some attic space for storage and paying them to housesit when we were out of town.
We worked to develop a friendship
It’s no secret that transitioning from parenting to friendship with your adult children just might be the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do. It is a supreme act of self-control over the tongue. With our adult kids, we try not to give advice or guidance unless it is asked for, although I will admit to sometimes asking, “Do you want to know what I think? You can say ‘no.'” (They never do!) This is the hardest thing for me with all of my kids, and I am always working on it. (Please tell me it is a struggle for you too!) That said, just like with any of our couple friends, we try to be fun, engaging, and sincerely interested in their lives.
We treat them as a unit
Unless one of them initiates a text, when I text one of them, I usually text them both on a group text. When I do happen to ask one of them a question (like about making plans, for instance), I always refer to the fact that they will undoubtedly need to consult one another and discuss things before getting back to us.
When I told one of my friends that I was writing this blog post, she said we got “lucky” with Sarah. (We agree!) “But,” she asked, “what happens if you don’t like the person your child chooses?” I’m not sure how to answer that except to say that there have been times that one of our kids has dated someone we weren’t excited about, yet we handled it in much the same way I described above. (It just wasn’t as easy.) By doing this, when things in the relationship started to go downhill, we were able to maintain loving and open communication with our adult child. We were invited to share our observations, thoughts, and counsel as the relationship winded down. That was a real gift.
I’ve had some very wise mentors in my life, and I asked several of them for some practical tips on what to do when someone joins the family. Here’s what they said.
- If you are not crazy about the person your adult child chooses, know that they may grow on you. Stay open and look for the good in them.
- Even if the person is not someone you would have chosen for your child, appreciate and express your gratitude for the way they care for and treat your child.
- Know that loyalties shift and anything you say to either one of them will probably get reported to the other person. Guard your tongue and keep negative opinions to yourself unless asked.
- Understand that the dynamics with extended family may change as well. Younger cousins or siblings may feel jealous or even angry. Reassure them and give it time.
Finally, Taming the Dragon Within: How to be the Mother-in-Law You’ve Always Wanted is a helpful book by Leanne Braddock, Ileene Huffard, and Zannette Uriell. They surveyed over 1000 people, asking what it takes to be a good mother-in-law. The responses they received form the basis of the book. It’s full of practical, sound advice. It was a big help to me, and I continue to refer to it. (You can click the link above or the image below for more information.)
I would be remiss if I did not say thank you to my own sweet mother-in-law, Kay, for being the embodiment of everything a mother-in-law should be. Her love, warmth, and kindness to me in welcoming me into her family was the primary model for me when I welcomed a daughter-in-law myself. She raised a wonderful son and he loves me well because he loved her first. I know she knows that I adore him and am so grateful to her for raising him up to be a faithful man of godly character.
I’d love to know your tips for integrating someone new into your nest. What did you do that worked? Please share your wisdom in the comments section!