The Wife Desired – In-Laws


From The Wife Desired, Fr. Leo Kinsella

It has been said somewhat captiously that a person can choose her friends but not her relatives. Marriage brings with it a new group of relatives for better or for worse. A few thoughts may be beneficial on how these new found relatives can work out for “better.”

There is no question that the problem of in-laws has earned for itself a very high rating among the causes of broken marriages. One need not be occupied in the work of counseling to be aware of this fact. The problem will vary in magnitude for each marriage.

Fortunately, for many, the problem will be of such small consequence as to be of little concern. After all, it is expected that every human relationship will give rise on occasions to the need of patient understanding. Between the best of friends there will be times when one will have to exercise resignation to the whims of the other.

It is most important that the ideal wife develop by the time of her marriage the attitude that there need be no conflict with her in-laws. Too many women acquire a real in-law complex even before they are married. They are determined that they are going to have difficulties with their husband’s relations. You may be sure that these people realize their expectations.

Let us suppose that her husband has a very normal mother. The wife cannot expect the mother to drop dead because she married her son. His mother still loves him and wants him to be happy. She does not know her daughter-in-law too well. It is going to take time for the mother to learn to relax in her presence and give her confidence.

Unless the wife realizes this, she may misinterpret this initial uneasiness on the mother’s part as suspicion of her or latent antagonism.

In-laws can be a great asset to a young wife. It is normal for grandparents to love and dote on their grandchildren. Financial help can come from them indirectly in the form of toys, gifts, and clothes for the children.

As long as these things are given with no “riders” attached, and as long as they do not “move in” and try to take over, their help can be accepted graciously. They are often a great help in times of sickness and other crises. Besides, they are good, dependable baby-sitters.

More than a girl perhaps realizes, she gets out of life just what she expects. If she expects opposition from her mother-in-law, the chances are high that she will get it.

Why should she look for trouble? Let her cross bridges when she comes to them. Let her realize that her mother-in-law and her husband’s relations are fundamentally his concern and possible problem. If he is half the man she married, he will handle any possible situation arising from that quarter.

It should be apparent that courtship and its problems do not fall within the scope of this chapter. Yet I feel that I must warn any young woman not to marry a boy who is still tied to his mother’s apron strings.

No matter what are his assets–wealth social position, or good looks, she should flee from him as she would flee from a plague.

If a woman finds herself practically married to a possessive mother-in-law, then she must marshal all the forces of her soul for the conflict. She will need the character and heroism of the saints.

My hat is off to the young wife who has been successful in aiding her husband to mature. The experience gained will stand by her in the raising of her own children.

Some men are still little boys at the time of their marriage, in spite of all the outward bluster of manhood. Incidentally, all the “hoopla” in connection with Mother’s Day notwithstanding, many a son has been ruined for life by a possessive mother.

Recently I talked with a young husband who was deeply attached to his mother. She was at fault in almost wrecking her son’s marriage. In this case mother insisted on doing his laundry.

Like a dutiful little boy he marched over to mother every week with his little package. If someone could have slipped up behind him and elevated him from the sidewalk with a strong foot vigorously applied in the right spot, he might have come to his senses.

His wife was not capable of doing this, nor did she have a big brother noted for any football punting prowess. Her attack had to be more subtle.

Carefully she saw to it that no batch of laundry was carried over to mother without one or two nice big lipstick smears. It was not long until these smears began to annoy mother. Somebody else was kissing her own little boy. With all her petty soul she wanted him just for herself.

As the weeks wore into months, the wife continued her little game.

With a sparkle of triumph in her eyes this ideal wife told me how this nonsense with the laundry stopped one day. Of what happened she still was not certain. Supposedly mother pushed him too far one evening.

Apparently they had a fight. The little husband began to grow up. There was more to the story of how this wonderful wife helped her husband mature into manhood and thus save his marriage. It was not as easy as might appear from the story of the laundry.

This case of a wife dealing successfully with perhaps the most difficult problem of marriage is presented because very many wives give up in the face of possessive mothers-in-law. Admittedly it is primarily the husband’s problem. He should solve it. Indeed, he should have solved it long before marriage, but he did not.

What a wonderful tribute to her that she possessed the personality and character to bring success out of what generally leads to the divorce courts. Their companionship now can weather any storm the years might bring. Through her leadership in their victory, mutual esteem and appreciation of each other presaged many happy years of loving companionship.

While a good wife may be unable to deal successfully with an in-law problem, there is no excuse for failure to handle her own blood relations. With them she is on familiar ground. She knows the personalities with which she must deal occasionally.

The ideal wife remembers the words of Scripture that she and her husband are to cling together as one. If it is necessary, she will resist the inroads of her relatives.

First of all, she has enough sense to keep her husband’s confidences and never talk them over with her mother. There may be a great temptation to run to mother for comfort and advice if she has a spat with her husband. To mother she pours out the sorrows of her poor, wounded soul.

Mother, be she ever so good, will find it difficult not to give in to black thoughts of revenge against the beast who has hurt her own flesh and blood. At the very least it will be more difficult for her mother to be natural and easy in the presence of her daughter’s husband.

The small consolations she may receive from confiding in mother are more likely to be far outweighed by future grief so deservedly earned. There is entirely too much of this running to mother with petty problems.

Perhaps mother is a sensible person and wants to stay out of her daughter’s affairs. Then why keep tempting her to interfere? The immature wife who acts this way is asking for trouble. Generally she gets more than she ever expected.

Too many young couples have begun their marriage by living with relatives. Although few are crazy enough to want this arrangement, yet too many feel that it is necessary. A housing shortage and poor finances are the common reasons given.

It has almost never worked out and never to complete satisfaction. Two families cannot live happily and comfortably in the same house or apartment.

The first year or so is very important to marriage. It is most difficult to get off to a good start under this abnormal and awkward situation. Everybody steps on everybody’s else’s feet.

Irritations are bound to appear. Nerves become frayed. Words are said and feelings hurt. Moreover, it is rather difficult for the husband to make love to his wife with “Pop” grinning behind his newspaper and “Sis” giggling in the next room.

Whatever financial advantages may be had from doubling up with parents, it is not worth the price. This is not theory. I am sure that all married couples, who have survived a situation like this, will shout assent on reading this.

An over ambitious wife may fall into the mistake of coaxing her husband into living with her parents. She might think that they will save money more quickly. She should realize that she is doing the thing most likely to sap whatever “get up” her husband may have about him. There is danger that his ambition to get somewhere in the world will ebb away.

Others are calling the tune all the time. Let them worry about responsibility. All this rationalizing brings him little peace of mind. He knows that he is in a mess, and the only way that he can solve it is by getting out on his own. The wife who resists his effort to break away does not know where her happiness lies.

Furthermore, this living with the in-laws is not always very economical. To escape the scrutiny of all eyes the young couple find themselves going out more and more evenings. This can be expensive.

In closing the discussion on living with parents it should be sufficient to say that all counselors on marriage advise young couples to endure almost any hardship rather than submit to this false security. The wife desired will resist the temptation to think that her case will be exceptional.

“The difference between this child and that one is often largely a matter of what he saw in and heard from his parents. His religious response, his sense of honesty, his ability to play with other children and be unselfish toward them, his attitude toward books, his appreciation of the beautiful, his sense of what is right and what is wrong, his quick apprehending of the charming and noble, his ready reaction to music that is good, his approval of heroism and his rejection of evil and cheapness – all these things need to be established in the child’s mind by the parents, who alone can deeply and strong-rootedly establish them!” – Fr. Daniel A. Lord, 1950’s

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