Making In-Law Rules Before You Get In-Laws

supporting and coaching leaving father and mother

I’ve found the best time to set rules and boundaries with in-laws is before you get in-laws and before you have any problems with in-laws.

One of the last meetings I lead in pre-marital counseling is a session I call In-Law Stew. Gail and I invite the bride and her parents and the groom and his parents to our home. We ask each person to bring a can of vegetables to add to the base of the stew Gail will prepare.

Here is Gail’s recipe: Gail’s In-Law Stew

When guests arrive, Gail adds the can of vegetables each person brings. We eat stew with delicious cornbread, crackers, and dessert.

After the meal, the bride, the groom, their parents, and I go upstairs.

I begin by setting some discussion rules. I don’t use all, but here is my inventory of rules for our discussion: Guidelines for a Good Discussion.

I use the ones to help aid a productive discussion.

I begin by saying, “This bride and groom will be in the stew they’ll be in because of what everyone brought to the stew. And I thought our stew tonight was very good. Thank you for what you brought.”

These are some questions I ask:

  • Bride, groom, what is something you learned in your home growing up that will help you have a good Christian home?
  • To each parent: What’s something you taught your child by word and example that will help him or her have a happy home?
  • Have you decided what you will call each other? What would you like to be called? How would you like to address your future in-laws? After one family’s In-Law Stew session, the mother said, “I’m glad you had us discuss what we wanted to be called. When I got married, all I ever called my mother-in-law was ‘Hey.’ I didn’t want to call her Mother because she wasn’t my mother. I didn’t want to call her Mrs. Jones because that was too formal. After we had children, I called her Grandmother. Before that, I said, ‘Hey, can I help you with that.’”
  • It’s my observation that every marriage is a mixed marriage because every home has different rules. To illustrate this, please tell how your family celebrated Christmas as your children were growing up. When did you celebrate? How did you open gifts? What traditions did you have?
  • Parents, how are you grieving your previous relationship with your child? Frequently, one or more parents will say, “I’m not grieving because I’m not losing a son, I’m gaining a daughter.” My reply, “You are gaining a daughter AND losing the previous, exclusive relationship you had with your son. Think about the change and adjust to it. It doesn’t mean it’ll be bad. But it will be different.”
  • Parents, how and what have your children learned about solving family conflict from you?
  • Bride and groom, where will you be Thanksgiving and Christmas after your marriage?
  • Parents, how have you dealt with holidays with your relatives?
  • When you exchange money, will you be clear about whether it’s a gift or a loan? Will it be a gift with strings attached? If it’s a loan, will you record details of amount, interest or no interest, and date due or hope everybody remembers?
  • Parents, what do you see fifty years from now in this home soon to be formed?

We conclude with a prayer of thanksgiving for parents, future bride and groom, and asking for God’s blessings of each person in this transition.

What suggestions do you have to encourage good in-law relationships?

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Jerrie Barber
Servant of Jesus, husband to Gail, father to Jerrie Wayne Barber, II and Christi Parsons, grandfather, great-grandfather, Interim Preacher, Shepherd coach, Ventriloquist, barefoot runner, ride a cruiser bicycle

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