In a previous episode, we had a conversation about how to have a great relationship with your in-laws. This is the other side of that conversation—how you can be great in-laws when you’ve got grown kids who are married.
About the guests
On this episode, we interviewed Jana and Stephen Guynn, who have been married for 27 years. They have two adult children, Dalton and Quincy. Dalton has been married for just a couple of years and Quincy just got engaged.
The Guynns have been marriage mentors to our co-host, Ted Lowe and his wife Nancie for the last 15 years. Ted interviewed the Guynns about how they have navigated the new world of being parents-in-law.
Interview with Stephen & Jana Guynn
Can you introduce yourselves and tell us a little about you?
We’ll have been married 27 years here soon and have two great kids. A 25-year-old son named Dalton and 23-year-old daughter Quincy. Dalton has been married for two years to the love of his life and Quincy just got engaged over the weekend.
Talk a little about what you do professionally.
I (Stephen) work for a local IT company and am a proposal response manager. Up until about four years ago, I was in IT sales and wasn’t wired for it all. God opened this door up and I’m enjoying what I’m doing for a change.
I (Jana) have been with North Point Ministries for 15 years, most of it working in marriage ministry or production—producing the main services. I’ve recently taken on some duties to shepherd the people who get baptized as well.
How do you act as each other’s biggest champions?
We are flawed and have struggled but we’ve stepped into being each other’s biggest cheerleaders. It is the best feeling in the world when your kids are employed and are taking care of themselves, working in the groove God created them to work in.
We high five each other every now and then. We were pretty purposeful about raising our kids to be fully functional adults. We had people in our lives who were ahead of us and we were able to go to those people for advice.
How have you downsized since becoming empty nesters?
We went from five bedrooms down to two when we moved into a smaller house. We got rid of two-thirds of things we owned. It was the most freeing thing we’ve ever done.
It was difficult for me (Stephen) because I didn’t realize how much I identified myself with what I had. But it is freeing not to have all this stuff. It has freed us up to live our life and it has made us better for each other.
Why is it difficult for people to be great parent-in-laws?
I think it boils down to trust. You have to trust your children enough to know they are picking a great person to date. From the minute they started dating, we would invite that person into our family. We really believe that if God put this teenager in our family for a season, we were going to love on them. We’ve been intentional about creating an easy space to hang out.
I wish I (Stephen) had a dollar for every time Jana told our kids, “God has a plan and a purpose for you.” By instilling that, it causes your kids to recognize that it’s not just about their little box but God has something more out there for them to do.
Hopefully by later high school, your kids have a sense of who they are and whose they are. So when they do get into that serious relationship they can step into that clearly.
How did you guys talk to your kids about their future spouse when they were growing up?
One important thing we’ve seen play out now with Dalton as an adult. He was a very sensitive kid and we used to pray over and with him to thank God for his sensitive heart.
As a boy, he thought he shouldn’t have a sensitive heart, but we kept encouraging him that God was going to use that to be a great caretaker and husband to his wife. He loves his wife, Emily, dearly. As you parent and lead your children toward whose they are. And it sets us up to be great parent-in-laws. It starts early.
What are the challenges for people who want to be a great parent-in-law?
If you have a strained relationship with someone that your child is married to, you have to own your own part in it. As a parent, you can be a benevolent dictator, but as an in-law you just have to be benevolent. You have to want the best for that person, give the most generous explanation for that person’s behavior.
What I mean by ‘benevolent dictator’ is that when you’re raising your children, you are in charge of their schedules, their phone, who they’re hanging out with, etc. When they are adults, you just become benevolent and love on them. When they’re adults with jobs, we speak into their life when they ask. But if we’re not asked, we don’t speak into it.
When our kids went off to college, we took more of an advisory role with them. We let them experience the consequences when they messed up. It’s important to let them fail and then help them figure out how to move forward.
How do you form a good relationship with your child-in-law?
You don’t know what your child-in-law might be bringing into the marriage. It may not be all about you—it may be something going on with your child-in-law. The thing there is to try to figure out what’s going on at the heart of the issue with a strained relationship.
We’ve raised our kids to have their first thought be for their spouse. They should go to them first with their good news, their hurts. We should always take the back seat. We want to be the easy in-laws. We want to be the ones who make things easy for them.
That’s one thing we learned early in our marriage. When I (Stephen) first married Jana, I was still a momma’s boy. The life lesson we learned was how important it is to go to your spouse first before going to your parent. Jana felt second best in the relationship, and that’s not how it should have been. The challenge is to raise your child to leave and cleave.
How do you take the route of being the ‘easy’ in-laws?
People are inherently selfish. I know I am! It’s something we battle all the time. But as a really good in-law, you have to continually put yourself in your own place. I’d much rather put myself in my place than my son have to sit me down and say I offended his wife.
How do you build a relationship with your child-in-law’s family?
We were already good friends with Emily’s parents when she and Dalton started dating. We were thrilled, but also treated the situation like they may break up. Thankfully, they never did. Our daughter met her fiancé on a high school mission trip, so we met his parents thinking it wouldn’t last. But we’ve always invited them into our life and gotten along.
The challenge in our marriage is that Jana’s mom is in North Carolina and Stephen’s family is here (in Georgia). We always felt pulled in different directions for holidays and we were always determined we wouldn’t let that happen with our kids.
How do you fix a strained relationship with your in-laws?
If it’s your fault, you have to be the one who goes to them to repair the situation. You need to own your responsibility, and then be purposeful in treating them better than you even treat your own child. I take Emily out shopping or to lunch without Dalton. She loves my son—so why wouldn’t I do everything I can to love on her?
Talking about the other side of it. It takes some maturity on the parent’s part to take a step back and realize it may not be about you. Your child-in-law may be trying to manage their own wound and without realizing it you may be poking a wound. Is the challenge more important than the relationship? Ask loving, non-invasive questions to nurture a relationship.
Your one simple thing for this week.
Stephen: Remember that you’re not only gaining a child-in-law but also potentially a son or daughter and you have the opportunity to love them like that. You gain a potential source of joy. They married this person for a reason; jump on the train with them!
Jana: The simple, fun takeaway is to love that child. Love them the best you can—find out things that are fun for them and do those things with them.
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