The In-Laws ~ An Ernest Plea


by Fr. Robert Nash, S.J., Marriage Before and After, 1952

“A man’s enemies,” Our Lord tells us, ” are those of his own household.”

We have talked about some of them—bad temper, jealousy, suspicion. But over and above the causes of dissension from within, there are also foes from without whose business in life would seem to be to upset the peace and union which should reign in the family. They are commonly known as the ” in-laws ” and it is notorious that they are possessed of a villainous power to wreck married happiness and drive a wedge between a man and his wife.

Wrecking a Home

Now it is very clearly recognized that there are ” in-laws ” who do not for a moment come up for consideration when obstacles to married union are being discussed. They wish the married parties well and they show it. They are the soul of generosity and thoughtfulness. They would resent like a blow in the face any disparaging tale about man or wife and they would be the first to contradict it and prove, and with spirit, that it was a calumny. But with these we are not concerned except to commend them and pray that their number may increase and multiply.

There are other ” in-laws,” though, aren’t there?

There are “in-laws ” who seem incapable of allowing you to manage your own affairs in your own house and family—they resent it if you do not act on their suggestions, orders I had nearly said.

There are “in-laws” who try to give you the impression that in marrying their sister or brother or daughter or son, you have taken the entire family under your wing. The idea seems to be that you have entered upon an alliance with the whole of them, so you are expected to entertain them and house them without protest.

You are barely a month married when dear mother-in-law pilots herself into the horizon and proceeds to park herself with you, with a naivete that disarms you, for what threatens to be an indefinite period. When she does finally move off, sister-in-law’s turn comes, and when she decides to depart, she thinks well to bear away with her your partner who evidently needs a change. It looks as if the ” in-laws ” are taking over.

Unless you are strong there is certainly going to be trouble. They can brew a storm and it is matter of history that they have been known to sow the seeds of unhealthy and unwarranted suspicion in the heart of a guileless and hitherto unsuspecting partner.

A wife is wise who lets it be clearly seen from the start that now her husband has first claim. A husband is a good judge if he be not too ready to share confidences with his own family rather than with his wife. Both will contribute no small measure to their union and unanimity by trying to solve their own domestic problems and keeping within the circle of their own home the secrets and passing difficulties, which, as we saw, are inevitable where people are living together.

An Earnest Plea

And may I insert a parenthesis for the “in-laws” though these pages are not primarily concerned with them? May I implore you to leave the married couple alone and let them manage their own affairs? Your meddlesome interference is certainly going to add fuel to flame.

And may I say the same to all tale-bearers, busy-bodies, slanderers; to those who suspect only and speak as if they were sure; to those who weave the fabric of a detailed calumny out of the thinnest shreds of evidence? Your words may open a breach between man and wife which will take years to bridge over, if indeed the evil done does not prove to be irreparable.

Your thoughtless yarn or insinuating remark, like the stone flung into the lake, may send ripples of discord far and wide over a hitherto peaceful and blissfully happy surface. Beware! And don’t you forget either that you must answer to God for this sin and its consequences.

As an antidote to all these disrupting influences, whether they come from within or from without, one would like to recommend strongly the cultivation of little attentions between man and wife. These, for all their smallness, are great and lasting in their results:

The kiss when husband is going out to business in the morning and when he returns in the evening; the care on husband’s part to avoid throwing cigarette ashes on wife’s carpet or clean tablecloth; the felt slippers placed by wife near the fender for husband when he comes home tired, and the smile of appreciation or word of thanks from him as he puts them on.

The restraint carefully exercised to avoid any reference to a topic that is unpleasant or dangerous unless such reference be absolutely necessary; the smile of welcome with which wife awaits husband’s return, a smile which perhaps disguises some secret loneliness or disappointment – the little treat for the tea which he buys on the way home and which is sure to call forth a cheer front the youngsters.

The birthday present remembered, though the date was not mentioned beforehand, and deliberately so as to give the pleasanter surprise—these are a few of the thousand little devices which foster in the family that spirit of mutual affection pleaded for in this section of our notes.

The resulting union between all in the home will be a faithful reflex of the first quality found in the ` perfect family at Nazareth. The first link in the chain is being forged of purest gold.

“There is beauty all around when there’s love at home.”

Alice von Hildebrand – “St. Francis de Sales tells us that pious women should be well-dressed, but this doesn’t mean they must become slaves of fashion. There’s a way of dressing which is attractive, even elegant, but at the same time modest and simple. More importantly, attractiveness shouldn’t be reserved for guests and those you meet outside the home, while you ‘let yourself go’ when you’re at home. The moment a couple marries, they should begin to try always to be at their best for each other, physically (and above all) spiritually.”

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The saints assure us that simplicity is the virtue most likely to draw us closer to God and make us more like Him.

No wonder Jesus praised the little children and the pure of heart! In them, He recognized the goodness that arises from an untroubled simplicity of life, a simplicity which in the saints is completely focused on its true center, God.

That’s easy to know, simple to say, but hard to achieve.

For our lives are complicated and our personalities too. (We even make our prayers and devotions more complicated than they need be!)

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