Dear Esther :: April 4, 2016

Dear Esther,

I want to thank you for all the wonderful help you have given to me in the past with questions I have had. I was wondering if you could help me again. I am married to the most wonderful and loving man, ever. He is my best friend.

We have been together for sixteen years, and married for thirteen. We have five kids between us from previous marriages but none together. Our kids, love each other like they all came from my womb, and we both love each other’s kids like they were our own.

My problem is my in-laws. Every year for the last sixteen years, my mother-in-law and sisters-in-law demand that we go to my mother-in-law’s home for every holiday. EVERY holiday! When we go, my kids and I are ignored.

When I try to have holidays with my family my mother-in-law calls me and cries until I give in and go to her house, which hurts my family. My sister-in laws have been rude to me, and blame me when I don’t go. (I have many health problems, type 1 diabetes RA, fibromyalgia, nerve damage, and colon cancer.)

When I was told that I have colon cancer this last November, God told me to trust in Him and he would take care of it…and He did. They removed eighteen inches of my colon and fifty-five lymph nodes and praise God no cancer in them (the nodes) so no chemo, but the whole time I was in the hospital and the eight weeks of recovery I never got a phone call or a visit from my sister-in-laws.

My mother-in-law did call the day of surgery, but no visits or phone calls after. I guess what I’m asking is this: “Do I have to go where I’m not wanted?” I try to explain this to my husband and he can’t ever stand up for me against his mother or family. I have treated my in-laws lovingly. I call them and send text messages to them, that I love them.

When they are sick I help them and send cards and call them. I just don’t understand what is going on. Will God be mad at me if I just leave them alone, but still love them? Please help. I pray for them every day, for their salvation. By the way they do believe in God. I don’t want God angry with me. Help! Thank you, and the Lord’s blessings to you.

Susan

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Dear Susan,

My goodness. Can we say in-laws from hell? A few things jump out at me from your letter. First, you say that you have the most loving and wonderful husband in the world─that he is your best friend. Okay. Then you tell me that your in-laws, his mother and sisters, manipulate him and you, so they will get their way.

So for the past sixteen years you have accommodated them at the expense of your children’s feelings and your own. And you have a had a series of very difficult and serious health issues but your best friend’s family members are nowhere to be found when you need them. And to top it all off, when you do go to the your mother in law’s house you and your children are ignored?

And then by the way, the in-laws do “believe” in God. (So does the devil, believe in God.) Now, if what I have just outlined here is correct then you are involved with a bunch of self-centered, rude, ungodly, uncaring, pathetic, narcissistic in-laws who behave shamefully.

What bothers me a great deal is that your husband does not stand up to his selfish, unloving, inconsiderate mother and sisters. You and your children have been treated very badly and unless your husband toughens up and stands up for you and your children I see no resolution to this chronic conflict except for one exception, which most likely will bring forth a change in dynamics between you and your husband. It sounds like it is time for your husband to take the Scripture below seriously.

“Therefore a man shall, leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).

It is his place to protect you and his children from being hurt by others and that includes unkind family members. If a man is not the protector of his family, then he is failing at his obligation. But you say you have already talked to him and he can’t stand up to his mother and sisters. That leaves you with two options.

You can continue on as you have been to your own demise and that of your children, or you lovingly but firmly put an end to this charade, yourself.

Remind your best friend—your husband, that you love him with all your heart and that is why you have put up with this situation for so long. But you are at a point now, especially with your multiple health problems that things must change for your own well-being as well as your children’s. Especially, during holidays when time spent together should be joyous celebrations, not dreadful obligations.

Explain to your husband that so many health problems are directly affected by stress and that these situations with your in-laws are very stress-filled and you cannot take on any more. If you have a good general practitioner perhaps he or she would come to your aide and confirm that being subjected to hostile situations is not good for you (or your children).

Your husband will have a choice to make. Will he please his own immediate family and start celebrating the holidays in his own home and let go of the strings that are strangling his wife and children or will he fold and allow you and your children to be treated badly?

Chances are that your husband’s mother and sisters will probably not come to your home for the holidays if you invite them, as they seem to have their own agenda etched in stone. But invite them anyway to be hospitable. Of course they won’t like it. If your husband insists that you all go to his mother’s house and continue on this destructive road then I would ask you to seek out a good pastor and ask him for his support and have a meeting with him with your husband.

As wonderful as your husband may be in many ways, he needs to realize that he is seriously hurting you and your children by allowing this situation to persist. It is his place to exhibit strong leadership and tell his mother and sisters not to harass you by trying to blame your illness for breaking-up their plans, and to stop treating you and your children like they don’t exist when you are all gathered together in their presence.

You are at a disadvantage when you walk into your mother-in-law’s house, as you are walking into her turf—enemy territory so it seems. If you must spend any time with them at all, do it in your own home or in a public setting. So to answer your question, “No, you don’t have to go where you are not wanted.”

We know that God can radically change things. But these things often take time. Pray for your husband, that the Lord would show him that this weakness he has is wrong. And continue to pray for your unsaved in-laws. They are in serious need of deliverance. When you think of them, realize that they are very lost.

God is not going to be angry with you for standing up for yourself and your children. Continue to be loving and kind when you do have to interact with them but you are not obligated to allow anyone to mistreat you and your children. I have often heard of families moving to different cities and states to get away from toxic in-laws; that way the contact is kept to a minimum.

If you visit a church regularly, have you considered inviting your in-laws? That might be something that you can all do together. But that might be wishful thinking, at this time, anyway. It is evident that you can expect nothing good from these people, so don’t place undue expectations on the situation. Put your energy into your children and growing your relationship with the Lord. Study the Psalms, especially.

As I have said many times in my other letters, prayer is our most powerful tool and when we faithfully petition the Lord He does answer our prayers. God can change hardened hearts and rude personalities but people have free will to choose God and live by His principles or reject Him. The most loving thing you can do for these people is continue to keep them in prayer, forgive them always in your heart but don’t get caught up in their drama.

It is important that you get as healthy as possible. You do not need to be placed in a situation that is clearly abusive. Let’s see, the next holiday is Mother’s Day. Send your mother-in-law a card, and ask your husband to have a cookout for you at home.

If he doesn’t fire-up the grill because he is at his mother’s house, do it yourself and enjoy the day with your kids. And keep praying that the Lord will help him realize where his first loyalty and obligations belong.

In God’s love,

Esther

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).