When you become a mother-in-law, you add a page to your life. Gradually you learn what makes your daughter-in-law unique. You discover how she thinks, and what she cares about. The relationship grows and this new chapter becomes more meaningful and interesting because a significant person has joined your family.

IMG_4824Even before Camilla and I began this series of in-law posts, I had heard all kinds of stories. Some people have easy relationships with their new family members. Some mothers and daughters-in-law instantly form deep connections. Others share more complex interaction. If you are a part of the second group, I’d like to bring you some encouragement. I’m not offering a magic formula but rather a tried and tested relationship-building strategy, forged on the frontlines of moving from one city to another.

If you’ve ever relocated, you know the work involved. Even if you are just going down the street, you still have to put all your stuff in boxes and figure out how to reconnect the electronics. Moving to a new city adds emotional turmoil to the mix. Leaving familiar people and places produces stress and feeling disengaged may even challenge your identity.

It takes time to build trust with people and time to create traditions. It takes time to live the events that will become the memories you will treasure. In the process of expanding your world to include new people, you can learn and grow and build a life filled with purpose.

Some of these strategies came naturally to me; others required more determination. I haven’t perfected any of what I am recommending, but I’ve used the ideas enough to know they work and I believe they will help you, whether you need to make a new friend or improve a family connection.

  1. Initiate connection. Cultivate a life together. Invite your daughter-in-law to engage with you in a way that appeals to you both. If you don’t have much in common, look for opportunities to develop new interests. This can’t be forced, but if you remain determined to connect, you’ll be surprised at what develops.
  2. Don’t turn down invitations. Rearrange your schedule in order to spend time with the people you want to cultivate. This summer our kids are going to great lengths to join our family vacation. Jim and I appreciate their efforts and throughout the year we will make similar adjustments to spend time with them.
  3. Be affirming and encouraging. Give voice to the positive and lovely things you notice. Keep negative thoughts to yourself.
  4. Pray for the potential friend or new family member in specific ways. Ask God to show you ways you can bless their lives. Ask God for wisdom and opportunity to build the relationship.
  5. Don’t choke the new relationship with too much attention. After a move, you will begin to get to know people and make a friend or two. Until you get involved in the new community, it’s tempting to put too much pressure on the new relationships. Call and invite, but don’t overdo. Give new relationships space and time to grow and the connection will happen without being forced.
  6. Listen carefully. Learn to ask questions. Be genuinely interested in what the other person has to say. You don’t always have to agree with another’s point of view. Refrain from turning a healthy discussion into a heated debate, especially at the beginning of the relationship.
  7. Share your passions. The books you read, the hobbies you pursue, and any idea or cause you care about becomes a part of you. When people meet you they are attracted to the energy you give off and that energy is fueled by the pursuit of the things you love. Even if you and your daughter-in-law don’t currently share the same interests, she will be more likely to enjoy your conversation when you are an enthusiastic participant in life.
  8. Look outward. Self-focus is a recipe for misery. Whether you are in a new community or building a relationship with a new family member, make the decision to think about other people more often than you do yourself. Nobody wants a martyr for a mother-in-law, but everyone loves a good friend.
  9. Be authentic. People are drawn to our vulnerability so make sure you admit your mistakes. Learn to laugh at yourself.
  10. Assume the best about the other person. Give people some grace and don’t escalate small issues—even in your mind.

Soon after Jim and I moved to Dothan, I called my friend, Tricia, to complain about my situation. Tricia is a wise woman who moved many times early in her marriage. I told her I felt lonely and disconnected in this new place. I told her I had tried to make friends but the relationships felt superficial. Any time I don’t see relationship progress, I think of her advice.

Tricia said, “Don’t quit trying.”

God is always working in our lives. If you aren’t happy with the current level of connection, remember that people grow and situations change. Embrace the journey with your daughter-in-law, and give your Heavenly Father the time and space to write the story of your life.

 

 

 

 

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