Button down the hatches, our difficult mother-in-law Margret, is coming. These words may be your thoughts or instructions to your family as you prepare to have dinner with your challenging mother-in-law during Thanksgiving. You prepare yourself, and then you prepare your children to be kind and show them Christ’s love. However, in the back of your mind, you wonder if this will turn out to be another hurtful Thanksgiving dinner.

What Makes a Dinner Difficult

Who doesn’t want to have everyone together and have a postcard Thanksgiving? You can visualize everyone happy and laughing and getting along. However, as we all know, these picturesque times can be few or rare even within our immediate families. This reality is sad, but we can do things to make it better.

To help you know how to keep the dinner peaceful, you need to know what makes it difficult to be around your challenging mother-in-law.

  • What is her attitude toward you and your family? Is she judgmental, pushy, or rude?
  • What does your husband do to address his mother, or does he ignore the problem?
  • What have you done in the past to try and bring peace?
  • What do you and your husband expect from her when she comes? Are you on the same page?
  • What do you have the power over during your Thanksgiving dinner?

These questions will help you see the truth of the attitudes and personality of your difficult mother-in-law. You are not called to let others hurt you, but you are called to show others the light and love of Jesus. To show them honest love, you have to know the truth about the difficult person in your family. As you answered the questions above you will see their challenges and know what you are facing.

Manage Expectations

You will also need to come to the truth about your expectations. Your expectations are created and edited by you. We often impose our expectation on others, and yet they have no input. We don’t ask their opinion, likes, or dislikes. We just make the plan and expect everyone to magically follow the plan and vision or fantasy we have created in our minds for the family Thanksgiving dinner.

You have NO power to change your difficult mother-in-law or to make your husband set healthy boundaries. If you find yourself in this position, all you can do is set limits of interaction with yourself and your children. When you set these limits, you are called to enforce them in love as a disciple of Jesus.

Loving Like Jesus with Limits

When you accepted Jesus into your heart, he implanted all of his fruits of the spirit in your heart. The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. Even if you don’t feel all of them, they are there.

As a disciple of Jesus, you are responsible for learning about these fruits and to use them, so they grow strong and mature. When you choose to follow Jesus, you can’t pick and choose who you will share your fruits with or which ones you will use. We are called to love others as ourselves, and this includes your challenging mother-in-law. I call challenging people EGR’s, extra grace required to prepare myself with the fact that I will need to give them the extra grace I have been given by others in my life.

Preparing for the Best and Worst

The first truth you must face is about your difficult mother-in-law is that you have NO control over what she will say or do. However, you don’t have to allow her to be abusive to you or your children in any way. If she has been abusive when you are together in the past, share the following plan you will use this year with your husband. If he will not protect you or your children, you are responsible for protecting your children and yourself.

If your mother-in-law becomes verbally or mentally abusive, get up and excuse yourself or your children and leave the room or house for a while. Do not say a bad word, only what is necessary. Fight any aggressive attitude wanting to leap out of you. Let your husband handle the situation as it is his mother and his responsibility.

Christ is our Example

Jesus treated everyone with love, grace, and compassion. He loved people where they are at and not who he hoped they would be. However, he NEVER let anyone abuse him. You have the opportunity to show your difficult mother-in-law the love of Jesus through your grace. Only she can choose to receive it or continue to be difficult.

Cover your preparations for Thanksgiving dinner in prayer with your husband. Be truthful with him about your safety boundaries for this year. No matter how hard you try to make things perfect, the only control you have is over your thoughts, attitude, words, and actions. Jesus will help you give his grace, to love as he would, and to create boundaries to take care of your children and yourself. Loving like Jesus is the choice to say no to harm and abuse.

To help you keep your mind in Christ’s love, keep thanking God for your husband’s life from your difficult mother-in-law. She gave him birth, and you can thank her for her gift. In fact, you may share this with her at some time and let that settle in her heart. Thanksgiving is about recognizing your blessings, including the family line that brought you your children.

See that no one pays back evil for evil, but always try to do good to each other and to everyone else. Always be joyful. Always keep on praying. No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:15-18 (TLB)

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