Advanced Mercy: Loving the In-Laws #OTEM


This post is part of our Ordinary Time, Extraordinary Mercy series, in which contributors will share their own experiences of living the Year of Mercy. Beginning at Pentecost and continuing through the summer, we’ll cover many aspects of the Works of Mercy in family life.

Ordinary Time Extraordinary Mercy

When my family doesn’t immediately respond to my personal desires (often unreasonable desires), I jokingly console myself by saying we can choose our friends, but not our family.

That’s a little tricky when talking about in-laws. I mean, we do pick them, albeit indirectly. The in-laws fall into an in-between place. They aren’t quite family unless we want them to be, right?

But as far as relationships go in our lives, the in-laws are in the permanent landscape. Some of those relationships are very good. So good, in fact, we revel in the “family-ness” of them. Others can prove to be challenging, and the allure of avoiding contact or disassociating ourselves from those relationships tempts us. Some cases do require distance, but I’m not talking about those. You must use your best judgment in deciding what is unhealthy or even dangerous for your immediate family.

However, in the daily grind of getting on with the in-laws, what we’re looking at is a form of relationship-building that perhaps wasn’t in the plan when we first fell in love with our spouses. We married the one, and the rest came along as part of a package deal.

We want to get along. We ought to get along. Sometimes we just don’t get along.

Saying Lord have mercy, shaking our heads, and ignoring the problem doesn’t work.

But let’s backtrack a moment. Lord have mercy?

Perhaps we should look at that more closely. What is mercy if not love? And love, it seems, is what got us into this mess, isn’t it?

Love, charity, is at the heart of these relationships. We must remember the heart that got us there — love for our spouse, of course, but let’s consider how that love is but an echo of a greater Love. Learning to love our in-laws is not only an act of charity, but an act of mercy. We are called to love, and when we love, we enjoy other benefits, fruits as the Catechism tells us:

The fruits of charity are joy, peace, and mercy; charity demands beneficence and fraternal correction; it is benevolence; it fosters reciprocity and remains disinterested and generous; it is friendship and communion: Love is itself the fulfillment of all our works. There is the goal; that is why we run: we run toward it, and once we reach it, in it we shall find rest. 1829

Why mercy?

Because nothing opens our hearts like mercy.

When we think of mercy, we tend to look outward, as something we offer to others. We are the ones who want to instruct, or console, or forgive. We are the ones who take food to shelters and clothes to centers. We are the ones who bear wrongs patiently. Sometimes, we say these in-law relationships are a cross we must bear.

Perhaps we are the ones most in need of mercy.

When we look to Christ on the cross, we can know it is His mercy that saves us. He is the source of all mercy and forgiveness.

Because we are in need of His mercy.

When we understand our own deep need for mercy, we may be able to offer it more charitably. I often pray this simple prayer when faced with persons I find difficult to love:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

I find that when I say that prayer sincerely, it opens my heart to a more loving response. I can’t change how others treat me, but I can change how I respond to others. Perhaps. Maybe. Is it possible that I could be contributing to the difficult relationship?

The prayer doesn’t fix the problem, but it adjusts my outlook. Difficult people continue to be difficult for whatever collection of reasons they have, but I can choose to engage differently, knowing that I, too, need a measure of mercy.

It is Christ who first offers us mercy. We are all sinners in need of redemption, and no matter our suffering, in it is Christ where we will find solace.

“I am Love and Mercy Itself. There is no misery that could be a match for My mercy, neither will misery exhaust it, because as it is being granted — it increases. The soul that trusts in My mercy is most fortunate, because I Myself take care of it” -Jesus, Divine Mercy in My Soul (Diary Entry, 1273).

We can choose to face these difficult relationships with mercy, modeling the mercy given us. We can turn it over to Jesus, in his mercy. It might not change the offending or hurtful relationships. It might not change behaviors. It might, in fact, be more difficult. But it’s the right thing to do. It’s the loving thing to do. It’s what Jesus asks us to do.

Try some of these steps to help you grow in mercy

  1. Pray for your spouse. Those are your spouse’s first relationships. Respect them.
  2. Pray for your in-laws.
  3. Be kind.
  4. Be inclusive when you can.
  5. Go to Adoration frequently — place your suffering at the foot of the cross.

Ordinary Time Extraordinary Mercy

Read the other articles in our “Ordinary Time, Extraordinary Mercy” series.

Copyright 2016 Maria Morera Johnson


About Author

Maria Morera Johnson, author of My Badass Book of Saints: Courageous women Who Showed Me How to Live, writes about all the things that she loves. A cradle Catholic, she struggles with living in the world but not being of it, and blogs about those successes and failures, too.


  1. Catherine Annulis on

    I am not unaware of how lucky I am to be blessed with the most incredibly amazing mother-in-law and father-in-law!!! In twenty years of marriage my Mil and Fil have been nothing but loving, kind, considerate, generous, understanding, compassionate, supportive and full engaged in-laws. I certainly hit the jackpot with my Mil and Fil!!!! #blessedbeyondwords

    • Regina the terrible on

      Whew! This article reinforces the image of inlaws (read mother in laws) as witches to be tolerated. I’m going to get on my broomstick and drop water bombs on the author!

      • Bombs away Regina the Terrible! I enjoy a good water balloon fight from my very own broomstick as an MIL.

        For the record, though, just to get your flight back on a straight path after a good and fun lob (I hope it was fun, judging by your metaphor), the article isn’t about mothers-in-law, or reinforcing negative stereotypes, but rather, about us, you and me, approaching all our in-law relationships with mercy. In fact, I think I get rather inclusive of all difficult people, whether or not they are in-laws.

        Some of us are very blessed by delightful familial relationships. And some are not. I think readers can discern if they are in this picture and perhaps gain an approach that is helpful or consoling.

        • Regina the Terible on

          Would love to discuss kids in law and grandkids with you sometime, but my broomstick is good only for local trips. It’s old and losing straw. However, I am planning on writing a book on growing older ….the physiology of aging is my academic area of interest…. and will include material on social support systems and their impact on health. This of course includes kids in law and grandkids, the latter of whom are efficient vectors of infection, but who also do promote exercise and fitness . Any chance I could e-mail you?

          • I laughed out loud at the comment about efficient vectors of infection…as a retired teacher I can definitely speak to that!

            I think the book concept is a good one! We need more honest discussion about aging. It’s inevitable, isn’t it? Follow my liks to my website. You can reach me through that.

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