“That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” – Genesis 2:24
Welcome back! We’re picking up from Part 1, where we touched on Intrusiveness, Parenting, Family Identity and Control. Here’s the second part:
This is a tricky topic for any family, and the root of it typically begins way before you even meet your spouse.
Every parent claims to love their children equally, and while many do, there are also many parents that knowingly or unknowingly show favoritism to certain children. This is incredibly difficult on the less-favored child, and can ultimately lead to unexpected issues later on in your marriage as well.
Because you’ve married your husband and his family, it is your desire to make them see you as another child, yet, no matter how diligently you try, somehow his brother’s partner always seems to shine brighter. It’s not you. Most likely, the actions of the brother have always seemed slightly more important to your spouse’s parents than the actions of your spouse, and this ultimately falls upon you and your actions as well.
Or, perhaps you are not the favorite child. The feelings that come with this are often similar to that of rejection. It’s often even worse when you and your spouse have children and you find that your parents or your in-laws are not as doting to your children as they are to your nieces and nephews. Naturally, our ‘mama bear’ wants to come out because we feel our children are being treated unfairly.
Perhaps one of the greatest mistakes a parent can make is to harm the precious children God has entrusted to her care. And favoritism crushes the heart and self-esteem of the “underdog” child. Acts of favoritism crush the spirit of children, leaving scars that can take a lifetime to heal.
This is one issue that is very hard to change. It should always begin with prayer. Bring up your feelings to God on the subject and ask the best way to address it. Address it with your parents or your in-laws after prayer and discussing it with your spouse. The downside is that even if you address the issue, this doesn’t ensure that anything will change.
Many parents who are guilty of showing favoritism are often in denial over the subject and will merely argue that you’re feelings are unjustified. If this happens, continue to pray that God will change their heart as well as your own- forgive so that you may heal and do so for you husband if he is the victim of these feelings.
We, as humans, often make mistakes. Other times, we make decisions that we believe are good decisions that our parents may believe are epic failures.
For example, a mother who has always been career-driven is highly unlikely to see your logic behind wanting to be a stay-at-home-mom. Women who are career driven have often seen women who choose to stay at home with their children as wasting their potential or consider them lazy for choosing the easier route. The same situation can also be flipped- stay-at-home-moms don’t often understand the ambitions and desires of a career-driven mother. Other criticisms could come in the form of disliking something that your husband does.
Parents who have gone through difficult times themselves are even more likely to be critical of their children than those who have had an easier time at life. This isn’t because our parents or in-laws specifically want us to feel badly about all our life choices- it’s because they love us dearly and want us to be secure in life. Ultimately, that is what every parent wants for their child. They also tend to have set beliefs in how their child should be treated, and if your spouse does not check off every item on their mental list, they can criticize that as well.
The key to dealing with criticism from family members is to confront them with the reason behind your choices. If they’re complaining about your husband, remind them that you prayed for your husband, God delivered him to you, and you prayed about your husband before you married him.
Remind them of the love the two of you share. If they are critical about your choice of employment, use the same tactic. Pray, explain what you feel God is leading you to do with your life and how it affected your choice, and remind them that you are an adult and that your decision is final.
Nearly any situation in which your family or your in-laws can and should be handled in such a way, but as with any other toxic issue, if it is your in-laws doing the criticizing, make sure to discuss it and pray about it with your husband first.
The final mention isn’t one of the top issues and possibly falls under each category in its own way, but still deserves to be mentioned. Accepting financial aid from your family or your spouse’s family has the potential to go very well or very poorly. Two friends recently described two different events that both had similar problems- manipulation due to money.
Becky, a pregnant mom, decided she wanted to try and get back into college to finish her degree. Her mother urged her almost daily to get back into school, and while she felt that the timing wasn’t very good, she worried about the cost and how it would effect her family’s finances. When she discussed this with her mother, her mother continuously explained that she would make sure that her college was paid for, telling her not to stress over the loans.
After a year of school, Becky’s difficult pregnancy, and the pressure of taking care of two children, one being a newborn, Becky realized she needed to take time to focus on her children again. Because of this, she was required to make payments immediately on her loans instead of after completing her degree like she’d originally intended. She began making the payments, which put strain on her and her husband’s finances, and the help her mother had promised never came.
Sally, a mother of a recently turned three-year-old, was throwing her son a birthday party. They had recently moved closer to family members, so it was going to be the first party that most of the family, on both sides, would be able to attend. Her mother-in-law, excited about the party, asked if she could pitch in to help Sally decorate. Willing to accept help, Sally agreed.
When the day of the party came, Sally’s mother-in-law came to the venue with loads of decorations that she had bought for the party but that Sally had not asked for. Not knowing what to do, Sally simply allowed her mother-in-law to set up the decorations. Weeks later, when Sally disagreed with her mother-in-law over a completely unrelated situation, her mother-in-law responded, “I can’t believe you feel that way after I spent all that money helping you with the birthday party.”
Money is often referred to as a great evil in God’s Word. Even when intentions with money are completely pure, paying for something or giving money to go towards something often has a way of changing a person’s feelings. This is probably the most compelling argument as to why money is evil.
In one situation, we see a woman who trusted her mother to help her financially with a decision she knew would put strain on her but felt pressured to do so anyhow. In the other situation, we see a mother that now feels like a debt is owed to her mother-in-law (and her mother-in-law seems to feel the same way) due to money being spent on her son’s party, thus leaving room for the mother-in-law to request things that Sally would not normally be comfortable with.
It is wisest to refrain from accepting any money from any relatives once you are married. It is the job of your husband, primarily, to provide for your household and it is your job to assist him in whatever way necessary to achieve that- whether that means working or staying at home with the children.
If you and your spouse find yourselves in a bad financial situation, it is best to ask God for a solution before reaching out to anyone else. If God leads you to your parents or your in-laws, it is essential to set up some sort of way to repay them for their help whenever you are able. Handle the financial help just as you would a loan from the bank- professionally.
If you find yourself in a situation where your parents or in-laws are spending money that you did not ask them to spend, make it very clear to them that you did not ask for them to do such spending. If they try to use this as emotional manipulation, remind them that they bought said item(s) of their own volition, not because you asked them to.
Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. -Matthew 7:1-5
It’s scary confronting our parents. We often believe that the absolute worst punishment is to hear that we have disappointed them somehow. Just the fear of hearing this from a parent can often make an adult child very nervous about confronting them over any issues, especially highly toxic ones. Adorn yourself with the power of prayer and the armor of God. With these tools, you may find that dealing with your difficult parents or in-laws is actually not as difficult as you once believed it to be.
Click HERE if you haven’t read Part 1. We’ll tackle: Intrusiveness, Parenting, Family Identity and Control.