Living with In Laws

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Living with In-Laws - Physical and Emotional Factors
Does living with in-laws require you to surrender your independence, privacy, and sanity? Whether it’s a temporary or long-term arrangement, the merging of two lifestyles or households creates stress. Cultures such as those found in Africa and the Middle East show different generations harmoniously living together. The rest of us, however, struggle with sharing our homes with such characters as “the outspoken mother-in-law,” “overactive off-spring,” or “insensitive daughter/son-in-law.” What specific factors contribute to the tension and turmoil that threaten a blended household?

Living with in-laws impacts our lives on two overlapping levels: physical and emotional. Frequently, the decision to merge two households into one represents an economic one. Minimizing living expenses makes our choice initially appealing. Problems arise, however, when limited living space demands sacrifices. On a physical level, bedrooms and bathrooms must be shared. Possessions crowd themselves into closets, basements, and garages. Every open space soon serves as a storage area. Additional aggravation mounts as simple pleasures disappear–-early-risers vs. late-nighters, entertainment preferences, and having a “comfortable” house temperature.

The emotional impact of living with in-laws results from the “baggage” or personal struggles that initially forced this new living arrangement. A parent’s dementia, a foreclosure, or a tragic divorce—all parties involved experience pain and frustration. Household #1 offers to help with the loss of a parent’s health, a family’s dream home, or a marriage. Household #2, already suffering the pain of these uncontrollable events, must now also surrender their independence. The combination of resentment and guilt becomes unbearable, igniting arguments.

Living with In-Laws - Merging
It may seem impossible for individuals with wide-ranging backgrounds and personalities to share living arrangements for lengthy periods of time. Yet this “merging” occurs on a daily basis: college students, soldiers, or Peace Corps volunteers. Obtaining an education, serving one’s country, or promoting world peace and friendship—each of these groups had a common set of goals. In selecting the twelve disciples, Jesus merged multiple lifestyles into a single effective unit. There were fishermen (Matthew 4:18–22), a tax-collector (Mark 2:14), and a Jewish revolutionary. With the exception of Judas Iscariot, the other eleven disciples worked through their vast differences as they “went out and preached everywhere . . . confirming his [Jesus] word by the signs that accompanied it” (Mark 16:20).

Living with In-Laws - Develop a Plan
The Bible provides a plan when living with in-laws is absolutely necessary. Keep in mind, however, that having two households living together is not God’s ideal plan. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). There can only be one head of the household who determines its stability. “. . . Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve . . . But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). Before considering moving in with your in-laws, try to:

  • Determine how you will resolve moral and spiritual differences. “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching [of Christ], do not take him into your house or welcome him” (2 John 2:10). Just as John cautioned against teachers with false doctrine entering believers’ homes, we must determine what we allow to influence our homes and families.

  • Establish “maintenance meetings” during which everyone can discuss concerns and preferences. “By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established” (Proverbs 24:3). Try applying the attitude of 1 Corinthians 13:4–7, as well.

  • Choose 3 things that you value, but graciously sacrifice these for the other person/family. Louise moved her office to the basement so that her divorced sister-in-law would have a private bedroom. Jack gave up free weekends to assist in renovating his father-in-law’s older home. Instead of spending their retirement years traveling, Bill and Bea provided childcare until their married children completed their degrees. “For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything” (Hebrews 3:4). The true structure of a household is not its concrete foundations, but the Cornerstone of Jesus Christ, serving as the Designer of relationships.

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