Christian Family Mentor: How Should Christian Women Get along with Mothers-in-law?

Child and parent
Child and parent (photo:
By Phoebe Zhou July 14th, 2020

As the world changes, people have become more open and broad minded. The difference in thinking between young people and the older generation is increasing, and the biggest conflict may be with parenting. 

One question coming from this is, how should Christian women deal with their mothers-in-law?

With a rich history in marriage and family counseling, Mentor Cui, a mother of two, shared her experiences in an interview with Christian Times, a Shanghai-based Chinese Christian news website. 

Christian Times: What is the greatest conflict with your mother-in-law?

Mentor Cui: In parenting. The older generation, like our parents, lack the concept of respecting children due to the environment in which they were raised or in how they brought up their children. They are tough with their children, expecting them to fully obey their commands. 

My mother-in-law holds that children should do the right thing at the right time, such as eating meals, playing, and being quiet. She is very powerful. However, a child is an individual person with their own way of thinking and behaving, so adults should respect them.

For example, if a child is making trouble, you should give them the time and space to vent their anger, not suppress them. 

Sometimes my daughter loses her temper and cries out because I don’t buy the things she wants. I first listen to her, then give comfort—immediately criticizing her ideas is wrong. But my mother-in-law doesn’t understand it. Once when my daughter was crying loudly, she thought that she was being unreasonable. She interrupts her babbling or blows off steam, too. The conflict is not limited in this area. We often have problems related to my daughter sleeping and eating.  

Christian Times: How do you solve parenting conflicts?

Mentor Cui: In the beginning, I told my mother-in-law that she should treat them in this or that way, with respect. But it didn’t work. She refused to listen, and what was worse, she twisted my ideas. Elderly people are like children who remain angry after they are criticized by their daughters-in-law. She thinks that she cannot even lecture her daughters since we dislike her.

So later I adjusted my method. Since I couldn’t change how she treated my daughters, I tried my best to make corrections on my side. When she mistreats them, I will take my daughter aside and explain the situation to her. I will let her know that this is her grandmother’s lecturing way, but it is not how all adults deal with children. She can tell me whatever she wants or wants to express. I will try to be the mediator between her and her grandmother so that she can understand her. However, if she feels wronged, I will let her give vent to her feelings to avoid being bored. 

If she refuses her grandmother’s way and asks me for help, then I will stop her grandmother. For example, my mother-in-law often forces my daughters to eat. When my second daughter can’t eat everything, she will feed her, otherwise, she will threaten not to play with her. In the eyes of elderly people, eating matters much. My second daughter is aware of her way and that she can’t be persuaded. If my daughter really doesn’t want to eat, she will tell me. Then I will support her and talk with her grandmother, asking her to not force her to eat

However, I can do nothing if the elderly fail to understand my actions. I have to choose only one of the two sides. 

Christian Times: Apart from parenting, do you have any other conflicts? For instance, salary, housing, habits—how do you handle those issues?

Mentor Cui: There are few collisions in other areas. My father-in-law doesn’t mention buying an apartment, but my mother-in-law does. We rent an apartment, so when they hear a relative is going to purchase or has bought a house, my mother-in-law will tell us. She even complains to me about not having a regular residence.  My solution is to pretend I haven’t heard because I don’t know how to answer her. Each time my parents-in-law ask my husband and me when we will purchase an apartment, I will say that we don’t have a plan because that’s true. They will keep talking about the topic and I will reply that I get it.

When it comes to salaries, they will ask us how much we can earn every month. It’s interesting that they don’t dare to ask my husband because there is a distance in their relationship. So they will ask me. I say that he only transfers the amount of money equaling the living expenses to me. If they want to know, they can ask their son. 

It’s okay with differences in habits. Since I have been to many places and shared rooms with different kinds of people, there are few conflicts. But my mother-in-law has a bad temper, which is unacceptable to me. She loses her temper not because of others, but because of herself. 

It’s difficult for them to change old habits. Reasoning with them is ineffective. So we mainly tolerate them and persevere.  

Christian Times: Have you ever tried to share the gospel with her and to change them through faith?

Mentor Cui: It’s very hard to preach the gospel to them. I lead my children to pray every day, pray at regular time, and my husband reads the Bible daily. They know that we are believers, and it is okay that we believe, but they don’t have any religion.

They hardly listen, except when they encounter difficulties. I think the best way to evangelize your parents is to let the person whom they trust share the good news with them.

Other than us, they trust my husband’s cousin more. This cousin is professionally successful and rich. Her son has been admitted into Peking University (China’s top university). In the circles of my mother-in-law, she is a success and can speak to her. We are regarded as children in their eyes and don’t have a voice. So we need to wait for the right time.

Christian Times: What words of encouragement can you share with those who also live with their mothers-in-law?

Mentor Cui: A pastor’s wife says that family is the place where we can practice the commandment of loving others as our neighbors.

First, don’t try to change their thinking and habits. Be tolerant of them. If there is a bad habit like gambling, try to restore them.

Second, know that they really love our children. Although my mother-in-law treats them in a way we and our kids find unacceptable, she does it with love. These two things are the foundation for the relationship. Based on that, negotiate with her on how to bring up children rather than just criticizing her.

Third, be patient with elderly people. Actually she listens to all my words, but I need to wait for results. I can see she is trying to change toward my side, but it’s hard to say if they can eventually change because change is hard and takes time. 

Fourth, it is forbidden to involve your husband in the relationship, unless it is really necessary. Involving him in the relationship does you no favors. Even if he knows the issue, he can’t handle it well.

Sometimes I share these problems with him not to seek a solution or ask him for a judgment. Then when he is at home on weekends, he will understand why my child has conflicts with her grandmother. 

Christian Times: If your issue with your mother-in-law gets worse, don’t you let your husband get involved?

Mentor Cui: I don’t mean that you shouldn’t tell your husband the issue, but don’t involve him in the conflict.

I have seen several couples have problems in their own relationship because of this. A woman told her husband all about how her mother-in-law didn’t understand her, never expecting her husband to solve the problem. At first, the husband took her side, blaming his mother for doing this or that. But a problem emerged as the situation went on.

For example, another woman had a severe conflict with her mother-in-law. One day the latter did a horrible thing. After the woman’s husband returned home after work, she told him what a huge mistake his mother had made that day. Hearing the complaint, he immediately asked his mother why. Then his mother explained the reason and also blamed his wife. Then his wife snapped back... In this circle, they had a quarrel. At last, the husband was so angry that he started abusing them and breaking things. 

I told her that she was not wise and shouldn’t let her husband get involved. I asked her why she complained to her husband. "Did you expect that your husband would rebuke his mother for her awful conduct?"

So it is not useful to complain to your husband. The husband will blame you as he works hard outside but you keep being noisy at home.  Actually I can understand the husband. Imagine that he toils at work a whole day, comes back home late at night and sees such a tense atmosphere at home.

So don’t get your husband involved in the daughter-in-law/mother-in-law dispute because many husbands are not good at dealing with this. None of the husbands I know can handle this. Besides, when you talk with your husband, do that in order to discuss solutions rather than with a complaining attitude. 

If you do want to grumble, talk with your best friends or other persons you trust instead of your husband.

- Translated by Karen Luo

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