How many mothers-in-law does it take to change a light bulb?”

One. She just holds it up there and waits for the world to revolve around her.”


Listen to enough conversations among women and, sooner or later, you’ll hear comments about someone’s mother-in-law.

Mothers-in-law get a bad rap—sometimes deservedly so! But not always. Being one myself, I thought I’d jot down a few thoughts on the subject.

In the early years, with two growing boys (three if you count Greg!) our family developed quite a guy-culture. Life in the Laurie house came with a certain decibel level and a distinct way of doing things. There were motorcycles, surfboards, skateboards, and enough Star Wars figures and spaceships to keep George Lucas very happy.

I was outnumbered three to one—that is, until my sons married and gave me the joy of welcoming other women into this Laurie circle. Daughters-in-love who loved my sons and opened their hearts to me. Together they have given me the great blessing of five grandchildren. Now the boys in our family are outnumbered, 5 to 4, with the girls leading by one!

This blessing of daughters has come with important life-lessons, like appreciating and honoring different ways of parenting, feeding a family, and managing a house. Over the years, I’ve learned some things the hard way. When I try to step into the role only God deserves, I can really mess things up.

In my role as mother-in-law and grandmother, some things remained consistent while other things had to change. I have learned to celebrate that their families do things differently than I did—and wow, it’s been exciting to see that unfold. They have excelled in so many ways and taught me quite a lot!

I have come to know, time and again, that my experience and knowledge is rather limited. Thank goodness I can step back, knowing that the way I do things isn’t the only way of getting the job done.

I am happy (gobsmacked!) when one of my daughters-in-love calls to ask for a recipe, or advice on nursing a sick child, or the brand of laundry whitener I prefer. Still, I am determined to not be the kind of mother-in-law that has an opinion on every subject, offering advice when it’s not asked for. I’m embarrassed to say that it’s taken me a long time to understand this, but it’s true.

Except in very rare situations, giving someone advice when it hasn’t been asked for just doesn’t work, no matter how noble your intentions. So the rule is: if someone doesn’t ask, don’t give advice. This applies to just about everything short of stopping them from stepping in front of a moving car!

The impact of your advice goes beyond just what you say. It’s also when and how you say it.

Scripture is very clear on this point. “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this. Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:19-20 NIV).

Quick to listen. Slow to speak.

What a hugely important warning! This does not mean that I disconnect or ever abandon them. It does mean that I will watch and pray and stand ready to help—when asked. What I do strive for is to be more intentional and consistent in prayers for my family. Entrusting them to God, not to myself, for He alone is sufficient.

Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always” (1 Chronicles 16:11).

I recall how it felt to be a new wife, a new mother, and how wonderful it was to be invited but never “summoned” to my mother-in-law’s holiday gatherings. I was not lectured on how to diaper or discipline my kids. And while I have been married longer, and a mom longer, this desire to play the mom card must be resisted.

My son belongs to my daughter-in-love. I respect the words that the Bible uses about a man leaving and cleaving to his wife—not his mommy!

Genuine love cuts across all of my natural tendencies to control and protect. It negates my own cherished job description as God’s forever “official Mom” representative.

So, this I say to all my fellow (and soon to be) mothers-in-law: Let us determine to free our married children to establish the habit of looking to God for themselves, and then to each other, for all that they need.

And we certainly can learn a thing or two ourselves, in the process.