10 Steps To Improve Saas-Bahu Relationship (Part II)

By Fr. Joshan Rodrigues

Rev. Fr. Joshan Rodrigues
Fr. Joshan Rodrigues

In Matthew Ch 10, Jesus says: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.”

How true, I think to myself, though Jesus meant these words in a different context. He was not literally implying to sow divisions in households.

In the first part of this article, I had attempted to analyse the in-law relationship. It appears that some DILs were miffed that I presented MILs in a very sympathetic light, and gave very little space to the DIL’s perspective (lol).

While the Genesis account says that a man must leave his mother and father and cling to his wife, his wife also does the same, quite often more so than her husband has to. “Where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried”, says Ruth to her MIL Naomi. (Ruth 1:16-17).

In the Indian context, a man sometimes continues to live in his parent’s home after marriage; if he takes a separate apartment, it’s often close to where his parents live. The age-old Indian mentality dictated that the man had the responsibility of his parents while his wife broke off with hers. That was the son’s duty. This mentality has been slowly and steadily changing among Christian circles in India.

The DIL hence, has to make many more sacrifices and adjustments after her marriage. She has to learn to live in a new home among new people all over again. She has to get used to new routines and new expectations well into her adult life, which isn’t easy at all. Living with a man brings its own challenges, as any woman will attest. Every woman realises after marriage that there’s much more to her husband than what she perceived while they were dating or in their engagement period. Her in-laws attitudes may also change. Even in this day and age of equal marital responsibilities, the woman is still expected to do more around the house while balancing her job, kids and other community responsibilities.

Let me dive straight into some suggestions / thoughts to improve MIL-DIL relations:

  1. Go out on a DATE!

DILs and MILs, invite the other for some special MIL-DIL time together. Go catch a movie together, have brunch, buy each other gifts or just go on a shopping spree together. Maybe go to your local Marian Shrine and pray together. There are any number of things that you’ll could do, but most of all this time spent together will help strengthen your relationship and help you to understand each other better. PS: Don’t wait for after marriage to do this. Start early.    

2. Learn to let go

Even though its heart-wrenching and difficult, MILs, learn to let go playing  an active role in your son’s day to day routines and decisions. Understand that you do not lose your son when he gets married. He stills feels the same amount of respect and love for you and will be there for you when you need him. But the young couple need their space and time to set the course of their own life. Gently offer advice from time to time, but leave it to them to accept it or not. Even if you feel that the youngsters are making mistakes in managing their home, children or finances, be prudent in giving unsolicited advice. Don’t expect them to do things as you did. Let them make their own mistakes and learn from them.   

3. Youth learns from experience

DILs, learn to listen to what your MILs have to say in a constructive and discerning way. Understand that she won’t want to ruin her own son’s happiness. She has gone through all the struggles that you are just beginning to, and listening to her views may just help you to avoid a lot of it. If you don’t agree with something, you are free to follow your own course. Youth never trumps experience!   

4. No complaining

Do not frequently complain or say negative things about your DIL or MIL to the common man between you’ll. It just worsens the situation and there is nothing to gain from it. Of course, if you are accused of something, you do have the right to defend yourself. A man loves both his mother and wife, and he rarely likes to hear something negative about them.    

5. Cooperation, not Competition

The relationship between parents and the new home should no longer be one of expected obedience, but of warm cooperation, in which each respect the independence and ideas of the other. There cannot be the same closeness of association, the same amount of attention parents have formerly enjoyed, for their children now have other responsibilities which must claim their time and attention.

6. Keep in touch

If you do not live together, make sure you maintain regular contact with your MIL or DIL and not just on special occasions. Drop in from time to time or pick up the phone and call her. Ensure that you’ll spend equal time with both sets of in-laws, his and hers. Offer to help out when you perceive that the other would be happy to have some assistance. But do set boundaries as well. If you find something unacceptable, communicate it in a loving way. This requires a prior strong relationship.

PS: MILs do not expect your son to be at your beck and call all the time; and DIL, do not expect your MILs to babysit for you all the time.    

7. The Family Property

This is one of the biggest reasons for feuds in families. Parents, though you have the right to do whatever you please with your life-savings (it’s your money after all, and no, your children are not entitled to it), if you do decide to give it to them, divide it among your children in fairness and justice. Not doing so can drive permanent wedges between your children and your children’s children long after you are gone. Why would you want to do that to your own family? 

8. Don’t let conflicts/hurts/misunderstandings build-up

If one has the hurt the other (intentionally or unintentionally) or if there is perceived misunderstanding, try to deal with the issue quickly and gracefully. Don’t ignore it or let it simmer. Be humble and accept your faults. Be the first one to approach the other. Forgive one another and pray for each other. If either your MIL or DIL is stubborn and refuses to change, continue to remain cordial but keep your distance. If the other one is not ready to keep an open mind, there is nothing you can do about it. Keep the other always in your prayers. Whatever time you’ll spend together, be respectful and pleasant.

9. Marriage Preparation for In laws

Diocesan Marriage Preparation modules must include one session for in-laws from both sides. Considering that frayed relations with the in-laws is one of the major reasons for heartbreak and conflict in the marital home, helping everyone to get the right spiritual and emotional perspective will go a long way in helping the soon to-be-married couple.    

10. Above all LOVE!

Don’t depend on your feelings to guide your actions. Follow God’s guidance instead. No matter how you feel, decide to act lovingly toward your mother-in-law or daughter-in-law. Trust that once you act in love, God will reward you and transform your heart in the process.

The Book of Ruth in the Old Testament is a biblical testimony of the love between MIL and DIL, between Naomi and Ruth. It is one of the shortest books in Scripture and I encourage MILs and DILs to read it.

Second to last, keep 1 Cor 13: 4-7 in mind.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”  

Someone asked me, what role does the man have to play in all this? He would do well to not take sides between his mother and wife, looking after the well-being of both. Though by biblical primacy, he should lean more towards his wife in all good things, at the same time not forgetting the fourth commandment (quite a pickle this!). Remember also to respect and love her parents and treat them like your own.

Finally, let me say that my views above certainly do not cover all colours and hues of MIL-DIL relationships, but whatever the issue, the suggestions above may go a long way to bring back love. Sometimes, the situation is so bad, that nothing can be done. Just pray and ask God to work a miracle. Secondly, pass on this article to your MIL or DIL (If your in-law is going to take this article as a veiled attack, don’t send it to her personally. Just post it on your facebook page (lol).

If you’ve missed the first part, you can read it here: Saas-Bahu Saga Part 1


Fr. Joshan Rodrigues is from the Archdiocese of Bombay, India. He is currently studying Institutional and Church Communications at the Pontifical Holy Cross University in Rome. Travelling, reading and social media are his passions. His drive is to make Church teaching more accessible to younger audiences and he holds G.K. Chesterton, Bishop Robert Barron and the Venerable Fulton Sheen among his role models for this task.

Also do read Musings In The Catholic Land