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In this series of articles we’re looking at how the Bahá’í Marriage Vow “We will all verily abide by the Will of God” can help solve the 10 most common marriage problems.  In this article we will explore the topic of problems with in-laws and children in marriage.

In terms of in-law problems, there are two concepts to consider:  parent’s responsibilities towards their children; and children’s responsibility towards their parents.

Parent’s Responsibility Towards their Children:

The built-in safeguard for in-law trouble in a marriage is the requirement to get consent from all living parents prior to the marriage:

Bahá’u’lláh has clearly stated the consent of all living parents is required for a Bahá’í marriage. This applies whether the parents are Bahá’ís or non-Bahá’ís, divorced for years or not. This great law He has laid down to strengthen the social fabric, to knit closer the ties of the home, to place a certain gratitude and respect in the hearts of the children for those two have given them life and sent their souls out on the eternal journey towards their Creator.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 369)

Hopefully, if consent is properly given, the parents will support the marriage and the family ties on both sides will be strengthened in order to promote unity and avoid friction.

Bahá’u’lláh has stated that the consent of the parents of both parties is required in order to promote unity and avoid friction.  (Shoghi Effendi, Directives from the Guardian, p. 43)

Sometimes it’s hard for parents to let go of their adult children.  They may want to stay connected in ways that can disrupt the marriage.  Getting married may mean redefining boundaries and cutting the umbilical cord.  It has to be done, though, because it’s the couple that has to stay together through all the worlds of God.

In a true Bahá’í marriage the two parties must become fully united both spiritually and physically, so that they may attain eternal union throughout all the worlds of God, and improve the spiritual life of each other. This is Bahá’í matrimony.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 372)

Parental responsibility ends at the age of 15.

 As important as it is for parents to exercise their moral authority in assisting the youth not to make unwise decisions, it is also incumbent on the parents as Bahá’ís to give due consideration to the significance of the spiritual impact of the Faith upon the youth and recognize that the youth must have some latitude to respond to the stirring of their hearts and souls, since they, beginning at the age of 15, must assume serious spiritual obligations and duties and are themselves alone ultimately responsible to God for the progress of their own souls. (The Universal House of Justice, 1992 Oct 28, Manner of Appealing to Youth)

And in case that’s somewhat ambiguous, this certainly makes it more clear:

Up to the age of 15 years, children are under the direction of their parents.
(Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 154)

The act of giving consent to marriage is the last official duty a parent has towards his offspring.

Even when parents see their children making mistakes, they have to let go and let them fail, focusing on their own development:

It is really all remarkably like a family the child grows up, begins to assert lots freedom and the loving parents see it getting hurt and making mistakes which, if only it would listen, would not happen! But the child will not always listen and the parents cannot live its life for it.  (Ruhiyyih Khanum, A Manual for Pioneers, p. 21)

If parents are having a hard time letting go, here are two blog postings which might help:

Relinquishing Parental Authority

 Primary Relationships

I also highly recommend a non-Bahá’í resource:  Letting Go of Our Adult Children

Children’s Responsibility Towards their Parents

Having said all that, although the parent’s responsibility for their children ends at age 15, children still have a responsibility towards their parents.

To make sure their hearts are cheered, children have to visit their parents:

We have caused to return to thy home as a token of Our Mercy unto thy mother, inasmuch as We found her overwhelmed with sorrow. We have enjoined you in the Book ‘to worship no one but God and to show kindness to your parents’.”  Thus hath the one true God spoken and the decree hath been fulfilled by the Almighty, the All-Wise. Therefore We have caused thee to return unto her and unto thy sister, that your mother’s eyes may thereby be cheered, and she may be of the thankful.  (Baha’u’llah, Lights of Guidance, p. 229)

They have to stay on the “straight path” by following the laws of God:

Beware lest ye commit that which would sadden the hearts of your fathers and mothers. Follow ye the path of Truth which indeed is a straight path. (Baha’u’llah, Lights of Guidance, p. 230)

If they have to make a choice between service to others or service to their parents, they must serve their parents:

Should anyone give you a choice between the opportunity to render a service to Me and a service to them, choose ye to serve them, and let such service be a path leading you to Me. This is My exhortation and command unto thee. Observe therefore that which thy Lord, the Mighty, the Gracious, hath prescribed unto thee.  (Baha’u’llah, Lights of Guidance, p. 230)

They have a financial obligation to look after their parents:

In regard to the question you asked him: he feels sure that, although in some ways you may be a financial burden to your children, it is to them a privilege to look after you; you are their mother and have given them life, and through the bounty of Bahá’u’lláh they are now attracted to His Faith. Anything they do for you is small recompense for all you have done for them.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 229)

When the father dies without leaving a will, the residence and personal clothing go to the eldest son:

 It has been explained by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá that the residence and personal clothing of the deceased father go to the eldest son.       (Baha’u’llah, Synopsis and Codification of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 60)

The House of Justice explains that the reason for this is because the son has the responsibility to care for his mother:

This principle of the husband’s responsibility to provide for and protect the family can be seen applied also in the law of intestacy which provides that the family’s dwelling place passes, on the father’s death, not to his widow, but to his eldest son; the son at the same time has the responsibility to care for his mother.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1980 Dec 28, The Relationship Between Husband and Wife)

Children are to pray for their parents:

It is seemly that the servant should, after each prayer, supplicate God to bestow mercy and forgiveness upon his parents. Thereupon God’s call will be raised: ‘Thousand upon thousand of what thou hast asked for thy parents shall be thy recompense!’ Blessed is he who remembereth his parents when communing with God.  (The Báb, Lights of Guidance, p. 230)

They are to pray for pardon and remission of sins for the souls of their parents after death:

Also a father and mother endure the greatest troubles and hardships for their children; and often when the children have reached the age of maturity, the parents pass on to the other world. Rarely does it happen that a father and mother in this world see the reward of the care and trouble they have undergone for their children. Therefore, children, in return for this care and trouble, must . . . implore pardon and forgiveness for their parents [and] . . .  with greatest submission and humility implore pardon and remission of sins, and ask for the supreme mercy.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 231-232)

Here’s a prayer they can say:

O Lord! In this Most Great Dispensation Thou dost accept the intercession of children in behalf of their parents. This is one of the special infinite bestowals this dispensation. Therefore, O Thou kind Lord, accept the request of this Thy servant at the threshold of Thy singleness and submerge his father in the ocean of Thy grace, because this son hath arisen to render Thee service and is exerting effort at all times in the pathway of Thy love. Verily, Thou art the Giver, the Forgiver and the Kind!  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 230)

They are to show forth charity and give to the poor:

 Therefore, children, in return for this care and trouble, must show forth charity and beneficence [and] . . . to give to the poor for his sake.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 231-232)

Responsibilities Towards In-Laws

Someone once wrote to the House of Justice, asking about a strained relationship between them and their mother-in-law; and were told to do four things:

  • consult with your spouse
  • persevere in your efforts to achieve unity in the family
  • concentrate on their good qualities
  • prayer

Regarding your other question concerning the strained relationship between you and your mother-in-law and what you can do to alleviate the situation, we feel you should, with the help and consultation of your husband, persevere in your efforts to achieve unity in the family. From your description of the unfriendly attitude your mother-in-law displays toward you it is clear that you will not have an easy task. However, the important thing is that you, as a Bahá’í, are aware of Abdu’l-Bahá’s admonition to concentrate on an individual’s good qualities and that this approach to your mother-in-law can strengthen you in your resolve to achieve unity. And furthermore, perseverance in prayer will give you the strength to continue your efforts. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 220)

Children

The education and training of children is the primary purpose of the marriage, but as we saw above, this function ends when the child reaches the age of maturity at 15.

The marriage, on the other hand, lasts through all the worlds of God, so it can’t be neglected while raising children.  Wives have to remember that although they are mothers now, they still have to be attentive and loving to their husbands.

Sometimes men feel rejected and unloved by their wives because of the amount of time she is devoting to caring for their baby or children, and may even feel some jealousy towards the children.   Mothers can give a lot of responsibility to children to assist with the household, freeing up time to spend with their husbands:

It should also be realized that a child, from early life, is a conscious and thinking soul, a member of his family with his own duties towards it, and is able to make his own sacrifices for the Faith in many ways. It is suggested that the children should be made to feel that they are given the privilege and opportunity of participating in the decisions as to the services their parents are able to offer, thus making their own conscious decision to accept those services with consequence for their own lives. Indeed, the children can be led to realize that it is the earnest wish of their parents to undertake such services with their children’s whole-hearted support.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 231-232)

Some women feel resentment towards their husbands because they don’t feel like their husband is involved enough in taking care of the children and household. Husbands and wives need to understand that they have to work together as a parenting team and they also cannot forget to foster and nourish their relationship as a couple.

The principle to keep in mind is that everyone in the family has rights which need to be considered:

The integrity of the family bond must be constantly considered and the rights of the individual members must not be transgressed, the rights of the son, the father, the mother, none of them must be transgressed, none of them must be arbitrary… All these rights and prerogatives must be conserved, yet the unity of the family must be sustained.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 168, 1982 Ed.)

Whether dealing with in-laws or children, the principle is unity.  When that’s achieved, the family will flourish:

Note ye how easily, where unity existeth in a given family, the affairs of that family are conducted; what progress the members of that family make, how they prosper in the world. Their concerns are in order, they enjoy comfort and tranquility, they are secure, their position is assured, they come to be envied by all.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 278)

For more information please see:

Role Confusion 

Money 

Sex 

Communication 

Spending Time Together

Love and Effort 

Unresolved Baggage from Childhood

Gossip and Backbiting

For more on this topic, please see:

Introduction to Marriage Vows

We Will All Verily Abide by the Will of God

Sex Before Marriage 

Sex Inside Marriage 

Using the Year of Patience 

 How have these ideas helped you understand the Will of God in dealing with in-law and children problems in marriage?  Post your comments here: