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Help! My Child’s Spouse Turned Him Against Me.

I learned my parents had feet of clay in my early 20s. My husband, Jim, pointed out that they weren’t good listeners and constantly interrupted me when I was speaking. I opted to confront them in hopes of improving the relationship. Neither parent came clean. My folks, hurt by my accusation, believed Jim was the problem.

My husband wasn’t against my parents. He just wanted my relationship with them to be better. I’m sure they perceived it as an attack, however, and spouses do sometimes attack their in-laws, setting up a difficult dynamic for even the best of parents to navigate.

In a culture quick to label relationships “toxic,” it’s common to hear of adult children severing ties with their parents over disagreements like the one I had with mine. According to a national survey on estrangement, 27 percent of American adults reported cutting off contact with a family member—in many cases, a parent. There isn’t enough data to confidently determine if more people are estranged from their parents than in past generations. But it seems more people are willing to talk about it.

Of course, some relationships are harmful, and we shouldn’t dismiss the level of heartache a truly toxic person can bring. In rare circumstances, it might be necessary to sever a relationship. But often, strained relationships between adult parents and children can be repaired. So how can you pursue a better relationship with your adult child and his or her spouse?

1. Pray without ceasing.

Never stop praying for your kids and for God to help you love them well. Daniel’s prayer for wisdom in Daniel 2:20–23 may be helpful. We need to remember God is our source of peace, wisdom, and power. He “knows what is in the darkness” (v. 22). He can give you wisdom when you don’t know what to do and power when doing the right thing is difficult. Let your mind stay on him (Isa. 26:3) and not on your current circumstances.

2. Consider your part in the conflict.

Adding an adult to the family will bring joy as well as risk. Spouses may see things you’ve been previously blind to. Perhaps you don’t feel you’ve wronged your adult kids, and not all their assessments will be accurate (Prov. 18:17). Still, there’s much to be gained by prayerful contemplation: Do I have a blind spot that has hurt my kids? Is there some truth in their perspective? Meditate on Romans 12:18. Be just as skeptical about your own opinions and actions as you are about your adult child and her spouse.

3. Be willing to apologize specifically.

While a strained relationship isn’t automatically the parent’s fault, rarely is someone completely blameless in a relationship. Consider how you’ve contributed to the conflict. Apologizing without making excuses may open a door in the future (Matt. 18:22; Rom. 12:18). Meeting with a trained pastor or family therapist who can serve as an objective third party can be extremely helpful in discerning what sort of apology is appropriate in your situation and in facilitating conversations with your child and his spouse.

4. Be patient.

Though difficulties may seem to have come out of nowhere or have felt nonexistent until a child’s spouse came into the picture, they most likely took years to develop. And they won’t be resolved overnight. Moving toward a healthy relationship will likely take much longer than you think, requiring more forbearance and patience than you realize. When there’s animosity between adult children and parents, acting impulsively with demands and ultimatums will only escalate the argument.

5. Don’t make your child’s spouse the enemy.

The person your adult child married is an image-bearer of God. He is more than his behavior. Even if you believe your child’s spouse is in the wrong, seek to show her honor in how you speak to and about her. Realize that anything negative you say about your child’s spouse may be hurtful to your child and will likely be repeated to that spouse.

Be just as skeptical about your own opinions and actions as you are about your adult child and her spouse.

Instead of engaging in a tug of war (“I know she’s your wife, but I am your mother”), pray for their marriage to flourish. Instead of driving a wedge between your child and his spouse, pray for them to have unity in the Lord. Don’t be surprised if your relationship with them also improves.

6. Don’t fear.

We don’t make great decisions when we operate out of fear and anxiety. Give your worries to God through prayer as Paul instructs in Philippians 4:6–7. Look for any opportunity to give God thanks, and let his peace “guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (v. 7).

7. Don’t suffer alone.

The body of Christ is called to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2–5). Give your brothers and sisters the opportunity to support you by sharing your concerns. Find a prayer partner, and meet with an elder or pastor for prayer and counsel.

Take Heart

In Home Alone, 11-year-old Kevin McCallister gives his neighbor, “Old Man” Marley, some advice: call your estranged son even though he might not talk to you. “At least you’ll know,” Kevin says. “I don’t care how mad I was, I’d talk to my dad, especially around the holidays.” The movie closes a day later with Kevin looking out the window to see Marley with his arms around his granddaughter, her parents warmly touching his shoulder. Cue the tissues.

Though difficulties may have felt nonexistent until a child’s spouse came into the picture, they most likely took years to develop.

In this life, we have no guarantees of a happily-ever-after Hollywood ending. But we do have the promises of God: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

It’s true my parents are quick to speak and slow to listen. But they became much better listeners as grandparents. Despite their earlier refusal to see their behavior for what it was, I have no regrets about maintaining the relationship. No human relationship, be it with a parent, a spouse, or a child—no matter how wonderful—can fully fill us as Christ can. When Christ is ultimate in our lives, he can empower us to be life-givers in difficult relationships.


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