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Do you call your mother-in-law your mother-in-love? If so, you’re not alone. Christians have been doing that for going on 300 years…

Ever since Jesus came to fulfill the law two thousand years ago, even the very word law has been making Christians flinch. Just like some Christians don’t like to talk about deviled eggs, other Christians don’t like to apply the term “in law” to their family. After all, we’re family because we love each other, not because the law tells us we have to stick together.

Enter the term mother-in-love. I’ve got it documented back to 1716, but I have a hunch it’s even older than that. Take a look at the definition below!


mother-in-love n. An alternative term for mother-in-law; the alternative suggests that the connection to one’s mother-in-law is not due merely to law or social custom but is in fact grounded in love. See 1975 citation below.
Similar Christianese kinship terms are *father-in-love, *brother-in-love, and *sister-in-love.
See also *euphemisms.
1716 Marvin The Life and Times of Cotton Mather (1892) 423 : She said unto her excellent and obliging mother, whom she would not suffer to be called a mother-in-law, but a mother-in-love… 1895 Ashmore Side Talks with Girls 233 : I will not call her your mother-in-law. I like to think that she is your mother in love. She is your husband’s mother, and therefore yours, for his people have become your people. 1896 Perry “In-Law Relationships, Versus In-Love Relationship” Christian Work vol. (9 Jan.) 64 : There are “mothers-in-law” and “mothers-in-love,” and the writer of this tribute must have been a mother-in-love. 1912 Zimmermann Sparks: A Series of Popular Reflections on Ethical and Social Topics 49 : It is such women as Naomi that enable the son-in-law to speak of his wife’s mother as “mother-in-love.” Naomi was not selfish, but was concerned about the welfare of her daughters-in-law. 1975 Hobbs Welcome Speeches 37 : We call you mother-in-love because we were bound to you in love before in law. Indeed, it was our love for your son or daughter and for you which led us to make the legal relationship. 2005 Ehman, Hovermale, Smith Homespun Memories For The Heart 37 : Here are some ideas to celebrate the mother or mother-in-law (or mother-in-love—the ones you choose) in your life.
sister-in-love n. An alternative term for sister-in-law. For more information, see *mother-in-love.
1880 (Louisa May) Alcott Journals (Oct.) (Univ. of Georgia Press ed. (1997)) : Sophie is a sweet girl, with much character and beauty. A charming sister in love or in law. 1985 Jacobs They Were Women Like Me: Women of the New Testament in Devotions 65 : I thank God for a sister-in-law who has been a sister- in- love for more than 20 years of our lives. 2008 Snow Performing the Pilgrims 219 : “Sister-in-love” was the Pilgrims’ equivalent of “sister-in-law.” 2011 Maguire A Time to Love 328 : When I asked for prayers for Colleen in our church during her first illness I called her my sister-in-law and then I changed it to my “sister-in-love.” And that is what she was to me.
brother-in-love n. An alternative term for brother-in-law. For more information, see *mother-in-love.
father-in-love n. An alternative term for father-in-law. For more information, see *mother-in-love.
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