Context before I ask my question:
I have been married to my husband for about a year now and happily consider ourselves still very much newlyweds.
The first time I moved out of my parents' home was when I married my husband. I was in my twenties and was the last out of my parents' children to “leave the nest”. My husband had been independent of his parents while in college and continued to be so as he began his career.
We were excited to be independent together and begin our new lives together as husband and wife -- excited to have the opportunity to create our own family values and culture that best fit God’s blueprints for happy family dynamics -- all to bring glory to the Lord and display the gospel to the world. We also live close to my parents and other family members.
During the first week of my marriage, my mother expressed to me how hard it was, and how it felt like grieving. I hurt for her as I saw her pain and we cried together on their couch. My mother is the least emotional person I know so I thought these feelings would quickly work themselves out and she’d be okay again. I was wrong. By the second week, she was angry with me that I didn’t text her goodnight and good morning or that I didn’t call enough. She would track my activity on social media whenever I was on and would take offense that I didn’t contact her at that time. So I disabled that function, which made her even angrier. She wanted us to spend the night at my parents' house on the weekends within the first month of our marriage. For obvious reasons, as newlyweds, we did not want to and that was extremely hurtful to her. I could have done a better job at calling more often in those two weeks, but I felt like I was doing what I was supposed to do which was cleaving to my husband. I was having the time of my life. I also have a job and have responsibilities of my own in our new home so the expectation was hard to live up to.
Well, this went on for several months. With each volatile attack on me and my husband, I would pull away and not call as often because I feared being yelled at on the phone and being told things, such as that I “have a small heart,” “I’m ungrateful,” or that “I will never open my emotions to you again. Out of protection for myself, I will close my heart off to you.”
Mind you, I allowed my parents to pick us up for church every Sunday and Wednesday because I knew it would mean a lot. I also did see them about once a week outside of worship. But it was never enough.
She has told me several times that she wants a “mother-daughter” relationship like she has with my sister. They do everything together and call each other probably 20 times a day. I always knew I would be different once I moved out, but I didn’t know it would be “bad,” but in other ways, I think maybe I did.
She has also expressed to me that she does not believe that the wife is to leave and cleave to her husband and that it’s only the husband's duty. I strongly disagree. I see how beautiful a picture God makes marriage in all of Scripture as it relates to Christ (the groom) and the church (the bride). She is also incredibly disrespectful to my dad in private and in public so maybe I just shouldn't take her opinion too seriously.
I guess I’m struggling with how to communicate that I want a relationship with her, but that I may do things differently and see things differently. She has told me I get all of my thoughts from my husband and that he will steer me down a wrong path if I think that one’s spouse comes first. She has also told me to stop reading and just “be normal.” My husband is a very godly man. I don’t think I’m wrong for seeking God’s wisdom on marriage and family that is outside of her opinion.
She has also told me that she won’t be as bonded with my children as she is with my sister's whom she sees almost on a daily basis.
I want a relationship with her and for her to be involved with my children, but I also want to be an autonomous adult who lives for the Lord and who serves my home well. But for her, it’s all or nothing. She has even told me she doesn’t love my father more than anyone and that I shouldn’t love my husband more than anyone. To me, it shows in how she treats him.
How do I lovingly handle this situation when it gets hostile? It has made me react angrily in the past and sometimes even now. I try so hard to humble myself and pray at the moment to deliver me from my anger. I so desperately want to do what’s right in the eyes of the Lord. It’s so hard to not feel beat down when I am constantly reminded on regular bases of how “heartless” I was and that hopefully I “can love your children enough.” etc. This whole situation has hurt me more than I can express.
Any biblical advice and wise counsel you have would be greatly appreciated. There’s a whole lot more to this situation, but I just need practical advice on how I can handle this best. Also is it wrong for me to seek advice from peers, outside of my husband? I don’t want to gossip or dishonor her.
Your mother has unhealthy expectations of her adult children; yet, she is so positive that she is right that she will not consider that she might be wrong.
The best advice that I could give you is one that my mother passed down to her children. When she was very close to her mother and after she and my father married, his job soon had them living halfway across the country. This was in the era when long-distance phone calls were expensive. Mom said it was the worse time in her life and the best thing that happened to her marriage. (They recently celebrated 65 years of being together.) You and your husband may need to consider moving to another region to make your mother's manipulations more difficult.
But meanwhile, you and your husband need to set boundaries. I would recommend starting by saying you'll find your own way to services and back. Things that make it seem like you are beholden to your mother will just cause her to feel she has a right to make demands on you.
When your mother threatens that she won't be close to your children, the appropriate response is "That will be a shame, but hopefully the other grandparents will be able to take up the slack." Honestly, I suspect that you might want to limit her influence on your children's views. Please notice that your mother is flipping the authority. You and your husband control where you and your family spend their time. It will be you and your husband who decide how much time your children spend with the grandparents. Your mother is trying to make it her decision. Frankly, I believe she will want to spend more time with your children than you'll find reasonable.
When your mother starts talking negatively about your husband, you, or even your family, remind her that you didn't come to hear these sorts of things, so let's change the topic. If she refuses, politely tell her, "Love you mom, but I have better things to do at the moment." And then leave. This will be really hard on both of you, but it will get the message across.
In answer to Genesis 2:24 only applying to the man, note that in biblical times it was the wife who typically left her family to move in with her husband. He inherited a portion of the family property, so they tended to live near his family. Rebekah is an example of this. They didn't have telephones back then, so moving meant limited communication.
Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I greatly appreciate it.
I have probably read thousands of articles about this topic that have provided similar advice. But the advice of just packing up and leaving almost feels like an easy cop-out. I can envision my husband and me committing to moving away and it almost feels like a rebellious, angry teenager running away. I don’t want that to be my attitude or how I handle this. But maybe I’m my feelings are still deceiving me. Maybe moving away would be the best decision.
I agree that my husband and I need to not give her reasons to feel that we are indebted to her. My Christian private school education growing up, other sacrifices my parents made in raising me, and my wedding have been leveraged against me and us many times. And I want to make clear that even so, I am eternally grateful for the blessings my parents gave me!
My apologies, I don't think I was very clear before, but my mother was trying to say that she hopes that I am able to love my own children in the future because apparently, I have a small heart. But, yes, she was also implying that she won’t be as bonded with my children as she is with my sister's kids due to not being with mine as often (she basically helps run my sister's home many days of the week). However, I am not opposed to helping sometimes! And my in-laws are a different story. My husband didn’t come from a Christian family so we will be seeking God’s wisdom as we navigate their involvement with our children in the future as well.
I have tried to put a stop to her from tearing me and my husband down, but she feels that when I try to put an end to the conversation or change the subject, it means I don’t care enough to fight for our relationship, or that I’m unable to work through our conflict. I don’t want that said of me, but I also don’t want to allow her verbal attacks. I've thought about it this way too, say you have a similar situation with a difficult brother or sister in Christ would you say the same thing to them: “I have better things to do” and if they continued would you just leave? Should a parent be dealt with differently?
Thank you for explaining Genesis 2:24. I heartily agree! And I appreciate you bringing up Rebekah. I hadn’t thought of that.
Thank you again! Sorry for having so many questions. My husband and I are really wrestling with this whole situation. It’s been incredibly hard, but through it, I have never been closer to the Lord. So I rejoice in that. At the end of the day, I just want to please God and do the right thing.
What should a Christian do when a fellow Christian is tearing down others? "Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned" (Titus 3:10-11), so, yes, my advice is consistent when you are dealing with someone who just won't quit. You might also be interested in:
These give other ideas for dealing with difficult people.
I have a question about the passage you used. Isn’t the context of Titus 3:11 about a person who follows false doctrine and not necessarily about someone who is “tearing down others” or who “just won’t quit”. Or can that passage be applied more broadly?
Thank you for your replies!
"Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men. For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men. But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned" (Titus 3:1-11).
In this context, Paul emphasizes that we must be "peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men" (Titus 3:2). We cannot malign people or spend our time in malice and envy. We cannot be hateful. Thus, Paul concludes that we need to avoid:
- foolish controversies - Questions that have no moral value or are empty of content (I Timothy 1:6; 6:4; II Timothy 2:23)
- genealogies - Arguing about details that don't make a difference in anyone's life (I Timothy 1:4)
- strife - quarrels, discord, contention (II Corinthians 12:20; Galatians 5:20).
- disputes about the Law - Arguing about details of the Old Law that no longer applies to Christians or arguing that the Old Law still applies today (Titus 1:10-11).
Paul concludes that a factious man needs to be quickly rejected. "Factious" translates the Greek word hairetikos, from which we get the English word "heretic." It refers to someone who creates a division between people (as opposed to promoting unity). The list in Titus 3:9 gives ways these divisions are created. While it includes false teachers, it is not limited to just false teachers (Galatians 5:19-21).
Thank you so much for explaining what I was missing! I truly appreciate all of the help you’ve provided and for your patience with my many questions.