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Monday, January 13, 2014

"Related by Chance, Family by Choice" (Deb DeArmond)

TITLE: Related by Chance, Family by Choice: Transforming Mother-in-Law and Daughter-in-Law Relationships
AUTHOR: Deb DeArmond
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2013, (208 pages).

Many of us have heard countless jokes about mother-in-laws, and how they struggle to relate with their sons' wives; the extended family; and even between mothers. Many of these quips often arise due to the frustrations of having to live with constant quibbling by two women over the most mundane matters. Daughters getting married have to put up with a new mother-in-law with unknown behaviours. Mother-in-laws struggle with seeing their sons beginning a new life with their wives. That is not so for a mother of three sons, who welcomed her three daughter-in-laws with such graciousness that I believe many wish there would be more like her. Her first daughter-in-law, Sarah calls her "mother in love." Her second, Heather, calls her "Mom" despite her initial reservations of using the title beyond her biological mother. Her third daughter-in-law, Penny, calls her affectionately, "Mama Deb" and together, they all become mothers and daughters of their hearts. According to DeArmond, the reason behind the infamous MIL/DIL "monstrous" relationships is not about their common love for their sons/husbands, but the different expectations that come with it, on each other, on themselves, and even on their sons/husbands. Beginning with an online survey which resulted in 150 respondents, the author realizes that despite the respondents being "Christian followers," less than half reported "good or close" relationships between MIL and DIL. This is not helped by the many TV programs and movies that stereotype MILs as "monstrous" and DILs as sufferers. Instead of letting the world shape our thinking about the MIL-DIL relationship, why not let the Word of God shape us? This is the central premise of the book. Written to help readers be more attentive to the perspective of the others, it is hoped that both MILs and DILs, and of course the rest of us can better understand one another, and in the process better appreciate one another.

The first chapter sets the stage to distinguish "law" from "love." The central point is that the "in-law" may be in name, but certainly the behaviour ought to be more "in-love" instead. For we learn from Christ that law can only limit us, but love will free us.Let Christ influence our experience. Let Christ form our beliefs. Let Christ direct our actions. Let Christ be proclaimed to the world through our behaviour and actions. DeArmond writes:
"Love is a choice. Love honors our Father's love for us as well as the sacrifice Jesus made for us. Love heals. Love reunites. Love works. And it will work even in the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship, no matter its current condition. Love never fails." (37)
Chapter two is a study of Naomi and Ruth as an exemplary MIL/DIL relationship, where love is expressed in loyalty, faithfulness, action, and fruit for all. Chapter three looks at what it means to leave and to cleave. Leaving means being respectful of parents on the one hand, but also learning to be independent of those outside of the marriage bond. For one leaves the parents not to remain tied to parental wishes. One leaves to cleave with one's spouse, and becomes an independent couple, whose submission is first and foremost to God and to each other. Any sources of dependence that threatens this first relationship must be swiftly and surely dealt with. Thus, one needs to be conscious of feelings of protectiveness, of possessiveness, and of aggressiveness. Having said that, sons and daughter-in-laws must always be respectful to their parents. This means making appropriate time and space for mothers to be a part of their lives. This means cultivating trust. This means trying to bridge communication gaps. At the same time, there is also a need to establish healthy boundaries so that all parties will be able to grow and be at their best.

So What?

The importance of this book cannot be overstated. In fact, not only will MILs and DILs benefit greatly from the wisdom contained inside, sons, husbands, and many others can learn a tip or two about how to support families that do struggle with MIL/DIL issues. For those of us who are Christians, this book reminds us once again that it is Christ's love that is foundational to all relationships. The author has written from her own experience, supported by real-life examples of loving daughter-in-laws, and her many interactions with people all over. I like the "burning questions" that can stop readers at their tracks to reflect on their emotional postures at any time. For me, these questions deserve a second look.

  • "Should we be living our in-law relationships in love or under the law?" (28)
  • "What have you set your heart on when it comes to your woman-in-law?" (43)
  • "So what does it mean to leave and cleave?" (61)
  • "So what am I suppose to do now? Just stop being a mother?" (79)
  • "I have a mom. Why make room for another?" (93)
  • "What is trust? How do I build it - especially when it is broken?" (105)
  • ... and many more.

Each chapter begins with a brief writeup followed by some "burning questions." These questions help to probe our inner motives and cultivate self-examination. The "self-assessment" is taken to a deeper level toward the end of each chapter through probing self-awareness of one's perception of the relationship. Then, there is a plan of action where readers can choose to implement without letting the theory sit on our heads. Finally, there is a prayer to round it off, and committing the content and commitments to God.

If you are a mother, or mother-in-law now, or soon, pick up this book as a wisdom guide for yourself. There is much to learn about establishing boundaries, especially the tendency of mothers to "mother" their children unnecessarily. There is much to learn about letting go.

If you are a daughter, a daughter-in-law now or sometime in the future, pick up this book as an insightful look at the real struggles of mothers in general when their sons leave their parents and cleave to their wives. Understanding is a big bridge builder.

If you are a son, a husband, or a son-in-law, this book may very well be a window to a whole new world of women and how they relate to one another. Far too many husbands have been too passive, and when asked, simply shrug their shoulders or have remained oblivious to the whole issue. Again, understanding the perspective of both DILs and MILs can be extremely helpful in husbands not taking sides of either party, but taking the sides of both parties in love. Impossible? Remember, that in God there is nothing impossible. I like the title of the book which pretty much sums up the situation. The "related by chance" is not something that we can really choose. However, we need not be paralyzed by the idiosyncrasies of the family units that our marriages usher us into. We can instead, choose to live as a family, willingly and with commitment and with love.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Kregel Publications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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