The holidays can be challenging for marriages, especially when in-law relationships are involved. A few years ago I met Deb DeArmond at a writers conference and was fascinated with some of the common-sense ideas she shared that helps her maintain good relationships with her daughters-in-law. When she told me about her book, Related by Chance, Family by Choice, a book that focuses on the relationships between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law, I knew this would be a great book to share with you here. Deb regularly speaks and writes on topics related to the family and communication issues, and I’m pleased that she as able to join us here for this interview.
Linda: Related by Chance, Family by Choice focuses on the relationships between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law. Please tell my readers how you got interested in this topic.
Deb: A woman at a retreat I attended with two of my three daughters-in-law asked me about my relationship with the girls. She had become acquainted with them as they all shared a bunk room. “They don’t like you one bit. They’re crazy about you. I want to know how you did that.”
We sat together after dinner as she told me about the young woman who’d married her son. She had a long list of flaws and failures according to my new friend. She ended the diatribe by saying, “But I’m not telling you anything I haven’t already said to her!” When I suggested she might need to ask forgiveness, first from the Lord and then from her daughter-in-law, she was upset. “But it’s not my fault,” she replied. I smiled and said, “It’s not about finding fault. It’s about finding solutions. God is ready to help make this right if you are.” She ended our conversation at that point.
On the ride home, I discussed it with the girls. They reminded me that over the years, they had been asked, as had I, “How do you all do this in-law thing so well? You’re not just friendly—you’re family.” We began assessing how we have taken four very different sets of experiences and personalities and created terrific relationships. We thought it might help others in what’s often the most beleaguered family relationship.
Linda: Why do you think mothers-in-laws and daughters-in-law struggle? Why can’t these two women get along?
Deb: There is a natural competition between these two women. Each one often wants to be the most important woman in his life. God’s Word is clear: “A man shall leave his mother and father and cleave unto his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” We were given sons to raise, but never to keep. That’s a bitter pill for some Mamas.
But daughters-in-law can be the issue as well. Maybe they’ve seen friends or sisters struggle with their MIL and they are ready for a fight when they marry. The jokes and the movies add fire to keep the fear alive they will have to vie for the man’s attention. So any movement in the brush may be met with a barrelful of buckshot.
Linda: So you’re a mother-in-law – how many daughters-in-law do you have? Tell us a little bit about the girls and your relationship.
Deb: I have three fabulous daughters-in-love: a redhead, a brunette and a blonde. They are as different from one another (and different from me) as their hair color. I’m blessed to say the girls are good friends; and they count me among their friends, too, as I do them. I’m grateful to be their backup mama. I know and love each of their mothers and would never try to replace any of them; it’s not possible, but some MILs have been known to try.
One of the things that we have committed to is good communication. We work out differences before they become problems. It’s not always easy, but it’s always been worth the effort. We have learned over the years to not let things fester. That’s when the enemy tends to make accusations against one another and real damage, pain, and hurt are the product.
I’m often asked what my DILs have taught me. The list is too long to cover here, but among the important stuff: my make-up was outdated and my wardrobe was too matronly. I love to bake with Sarah, because I’m not good at it. I share a love for all things books with Penny and we trade ideas together. And Heather and I pursued the same career and connect over concepts there.
Linda: You are also a daughter-in-law. How do YOU get along with your Mother-in-Law?
Deb: My own mother died when I was in my early forties. I think God knew I’d need a backup mama. My MIL, Virginia, is 84 and sharp as a tack. She Facebooks and Instagram’s to stay connected to her kids, her grandkids, and her greatgrans, as she calls them. She is at the center of the family because she chooses to learn and adapt in order to remain relevant. I admire that a great deal. We are very close.
I’ve learned so much from her, but most importantly, her faith always inspires me. Her consistent walk with the Lord never fails. She is the first one in the family we call when we need a prayer warrior on our side.
Linda: Is the book autobiographical? Is it your story?
Deb: There are certainly bits and pieces of our story. But we knew this could not be our experience alone. So before we began to write, we did online surveys, focus groups, and lots of interviews. What we discovered blew us away—and provided clear direction to write the book.
Linda: What facts related to the writing of this book, surprised you? What are the statistics our readers might find interesting?
There’s virtually no difference between the survey results of Christian women and those with no faith affiliation at all. Big surprise.
- 79% of the women surveyed identified as Christian, and reported their faith was foundational to their lives and guided their daily actions and decisions.
- 87% were of the same faith as their woman-in-law, but 62% saw themselves as more consistent with integrating their faith into their lives as reflected in behavior.
- 30% reported the relationship was bad, which they described as difficult, filled with criticism, or they felt off-balance with their woman-in-law.
- 57% said the difficulties in the relationship were either mostly their fault, or they at least equally shared the responsibility for the failure of the relationship.
- But there is good news. 70% said they would be willing to make the effort necessary to improve the relationship if they knew how.
Linda: There are a lot of self-help books on family relationships. In what ways is your book distinct from other books on the topic or in the genre?
Deb: Knowing you should do something to improve the situation is a start. But unless you know how to do it, it’s not that helpful.
I’ve spent my career helping adults learn to communicate well, build and preserve relationships, and resolve conflict. Because so many said they’d be willing but didn’t know how to improve things, there was a natural fit. This is not a book of shoulds; but a very practical set of how-to’s. It’s filled with self-assessments, tools, and a plan of action at the end of each chapter. Improvement doesn’t happen till you do something with what you’ve learned.
Linda: The holidays are approaching and they can be especially difficult. What hope and help can you offer to our readers?
- Be flexible. We’ve done Christmas early, and we’ve celebrated after the holiday. We’ve come to the conclusion we enjoy spending the time together when the hoopla and crazy pace of the actual day has passed. Less pressure, more fun. It’s the time together that matters, not the specific day. Thanksgiving can be less formal than your tradition might prefer. Make it work for everyone.
- Be gracious. What if the kids want to go snorkeling this year in Hawaii instead of attending any family gathering? Drive them to the airport and wish them sweet aloha for their getaway time. Couples – of all ages – need to recharge and holidays provide the chance for time away. Wish them well, offer to keep the kids and feed their dog while they’re gone. Their marriage will benefit from the boost.
- Be grateful. Many are alone – for every holiday. They have no family. If God has blessed you with children, acknowledge the gift of their presence in your life if not in your home this year. There will be other opportunities.
Linda: So who’s this book written for? Who will find it helpful?
Deb: Mothers-in-law, daughters-in-law – whether the relationship is bad or not. Many have reported they found ways to make a good relationship even better. The men-in-the middle are sometimes unknowingly part of the problem rather than the solution. They’d benefit as well. And for women about to become a woman-in-law, and for boy mamas regardless of their sons’ age – head heartbreak off before it begins.
Linda: Where can our readers find the book?
Deb: Their favorite Christian bookstore. Also find it online at Christianbooks.com, Lifeway, Mardel, Barnes & Noble, Walmart, and Target.
Linda: How can our readers connect with you?