TRANSCRIPT: How do I honor my in-laws that are overly involved in my young family’s life?

By Russell D. Moore
Mar 12, 2014

Hello, I’m Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and you are listening to Questions & Ethics. This is the program where we take a question that you are struggling with and look at it through the lens of the kingdom of Christ. Our question today is coming from a young woman named Susan, and she says, “Dear Dr. Moore, I appreciate your program, Questions & Ethics. I have a question for you about honoring my father and mother. I love my mom and dad, a godly Christian couple. However, I have been married for a few years now; we have a young child, and my parents are way too involved in our lives, especially when it comes to parenting. They are constantly second guessing what we do in terms of the raising of our child and constantly giving us unwanted advice in a really, really heavy-handed sort of way. I want to be obedient to Jesus and to honor my father and mother, but it’s also creating a lot of strain on my marriage and in my family. So what do I do?”

Well, Susan, that’s a really good question, because you are right, the scripture says to honor father and mother. This is one of the Ten Commandments that was handed down on Mt. Sinai to Moses. It’s one of those things that Jesus referred to; He says that the religious leaders of his day were refusing to honor father and mother. They were not taking care of their parents, and they were guilty before God for that. The Apostle Paul talks about it, both negatively—sin as resulting in, Romans, chapter 1, disobedience to parents—and then talks about in Ephesians, chapter 6 that obedience to father and mother is that first command with a promise about the inheritance and entering into to the land and living that long life before God. So, righteousness before God includes the honoring of father and mother.

Now, one of the problems I think that some people have about understanding what the scripture means by that is that some people assume that “honor father and mother” means to do everything that they say. Now, that’s true for children—the obedience of children to their parents in everything, apart from those things that contradict the law of God, the word of God—that is true. But the scripture talks about a maturing of people where they move from obedience, to honoring. And honoring father and mother doesn’t mean that your parents come in and superintend and supervise every aspect of your lives. As a matter of fact, it is impossible really for you to take the sort of responsibility before God as a mother and as a father, leading your children and leading your family, if you are in reality just being driven along on autopilot by your parents. So, I think we need to first of all recognize that.

And then, we come in and say what is going on here in our situation? It could be that what is happening—and I’ve seen this a lot—it could be that what is happening is that you are just in that process of what the scripture calls leaving father and mother, cleaving to one’s spouse, and becoming one flesh. Sometimes we assume that that leaving is just an instantaneous act. I walk out of the house and that means it’s over. It is usually not that clean of a break. It is usually not that at the wedding ceremony, “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?” is the clean-break leaving of father and mother. Usually it is a process that takes a little while, a little bit of time. And sometimes we assume that it’s all on the part of the couple being married. They are the ones leaving. But there also is a sense in which the parents are giving that responsibility over. They are recognizing that this is the formation of a new family that is taking place. So, it could be that what is happening is that your parents are just in this natural sense where they have been taking care of you all of your life. They have been watching out for you, and now they are trying to move to that place where they trust you to take care of yourselves and to be Mom and Dad, rather than to be our little girl.

If that’s the case, be patient with them. Just understand that, and be honest with them. Speak and say, “Mom and Dad, I appreciate your wisdom. I appreciate your counsel. You have to let me make my own mistakes here. I am going to make some mistakes.” So, don’t put yourself up as if you are the parenting expert and your parents are not; especially if your parenting style differs from that of your parents, it is easy for your parents to hear that as a word of judgment—Oh, well, you are saying that we were bad parents and you are good parents. No, don’t do that. Just say, “You need to let me try to find my own way here and to be able to make some mistakes. I need your counsel, and I need your wisdom, but we need to do it in a different way, because it is hard for me to hear counsel from you when you do it this way.”

And I would say it in the exact same way that I would say it to a couple; the time to have that conversation is not when you are frustrated and you are angry, when they come in and are trying to tell you how you really ought to be doing naptime, or how you ought to be doing feeding. It’s when you are in a good situation, you are having a good conversation, and you say, “Hey, Mom and Dad, can I talk to you? There is a way that you can really help me, because I have a difficult time when you give me advice this way. Could you maybe do it this way instead?” And I think most parents are going to respond to that.

I would also ask you, how much money are you taking from them? Sometimes when I have young couples who say that we have parents or in-laws who are wanting to run everything in our lives, sometimes it is because that couple is financially dependent upon those parents or upon those in-laws. Now, there are situations where that is necessary in which you have people who are in a state of crisis and they need help from other family members. But sometimes you have people who are kind of delaying the caring for themselves, because it is easy just to take a monthly check from Mom and Dad, who are quite willing to do that. And in that case, often you have in-laws or parents who are saying we ought to be running everything, because we don’t really trust them to be able to take care of themselves. We are taking care of them financially, so we probably also ought to be taking care of them in terms of direction, in terms of wisdom. I would say, how do we, if I’m financially dependent upon them, how do we find a game plan to get financially independent of them, so that we are then able to demonstrate that we are able to lead and to take care of our own household as the scripture tells us to do?

But above all, I would say do this in love. Be patient. It’s probably a situation where your parents aren’t trying to be bossy; they just don’t know what else to do.

Thanks for listening to Questions & Ethics. For more resources on living the Christian life, check out our website at erlc.com, and send me your question. Maybe you’ve been reading the Bible, and you’ve got a question about a passage that you find there. Or maybe you are having a discussion with a neighbor or some conversation on Facebook or Twitter. Or maybe there is a question that has come up in your Sunday school class or your small group or in your workplace. Or there is something that is going on in your family or in your marriage or in your neighborhood. Whatever it is, send it to me at questions@erlc.com or via Twitter at the hashtag #askrdm. Until next time, seek the kingdom, and walk the line. This is Russell Moore.

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