So the love of your life finally got down on bended knee and asked you to be his wife. You daydream endlessly of your perfect wedding day and years to come of marital bliss; the dress, your first dance, your future children and their high school graduations…what no one dreams about? Duking it out with their in-laws. As you navigate those first years of marriage, you may come to dread those 6 words from your husband’s lips, “My mother is coming to visit.”
In-law relationships are one of the chief complaints of married women; ESPECIALLY regarding mothers in law. They insult your cooking, they talk about you behind your back to your husband, they undermine your parenting, they’re too involved, under involved, or are just plain eccentric. While there are extreme cases of monster in law that you can’t cure with niceties, there are also plenty of things you can do to improve your relationship with your in-laws.
Respect them: While you deserve respect as his wife, your husband’s family deserves respect as the unit who had a hand in raising him. You obviously think your husband is a good catch, and you can almost always thank his Mom and family for that. While you don’t need to be a kiss-up, killing them with kindness can go a long way. They were a family a long time before you came along, assuring them you want to join them, rather than take their son or brother away from them, can help immensely.
Draw boundaries: Pre-wife, she was the star woman in his life, and sometimes, moms have a hard time letting go of that pedestal. While no expert would disagree that a wife should always come first, expecting that to happen overnight is unreasonable. First, discuss your expectations with your husband; and they need to be fair and realistic. Maybe he was used to talking to his mom 20 times a day before he married you; while you can’t demand he only speak to her once a week, you can ask that they tone it down, and not to have calls during times when you need connecting (during dinner, right when you get home from work, etc). If his family is also used to having free reign of when they drop by without notice, it’s perfectly acceptable to expect them to now call first and accept if now is just not a good time.
The most important part about this? Your husband needs to be the messenger. It’s not your job to have awkward conversations with your in-laws about boundaries and respect for the marital home (same goes for you, in reverse). He also needs to be sensitive in his approach; instead of saying “Sally says you can’t come over all the time anymore,” he needs to be more diplomatic. “Now that I’m married, I’d appreciate it if you called before you came over so Sally and I are prepared for company,” is a much more productive way of going about it, and affirms a united front. If his family persists, he’ll need to have a more serious, sit down conversation with them, outlining his expectations now that he’s not living alone anymore.
Let Grandparents be Grandparents:I may be biased on this one, since I didn’t have Grandparents growing up, but one of the biggest complaints I hear is that the in-laws are spoiling their Grandkids. Listen, I get that you don’t normally let your child eat sweets, or try to refrain from giving them over the top Christmas presents; but one of the biggest perks of being Grandparents is that they get to dote on their grandbabies. Unless your in-laws (or parents) are your primary source of daycare, they should not be expected to reprimand or scold your child as if they were you. It’s a parent’s job to discipline, and while Grandparents should at least loosely follow your lead, a stern talking to or more are not necessary. If there are certain “hot button” issues that you’d like them to specifically adhere (sleep times for instance, since I know a lot of children who go to daycare need to remain on a strict sleep schedule), feel free to take it up with them. Otherwise, let them be the fun Grandparents they want to be.
Utilize the “smile and nod”: Someone said this to me back in college, and it’s served me well in all areas of life. Choosing your battles is an important facet to all relationships, in-laws included. You and your in-laws may be on opposite ends of the personality spectrum, but that doesn’t mean you need to argue every issue. While you may be a passionate environmentalist and they may drive a gas guzzling SUV, not recycle and own a tree destroying lumber company, your constant preaching will likely not only fall on deaf ears, but create a wedge in your familial relationship.
If you just can’t get along… Don’t put your kids in the middle of it. Unless your in-laws are putting your children in harm’s way (physically or mentally), there is no benefit to separating your kids from their grandparents. As they say, it takes a village to raise a family, they don’t say that the village will universally agree on everything.
Of course, there will always be “deal breaker” situations in which you will need to stand your ground, or feel the need to just stay away. You don’t have to “smile and nod” your way through a verbal lambasting or let you or your kids be in any kind of harmful situation for the sake of keeping the peace. However, nit picking over every perceived slight or forcing your spouse to take sides over trivial matters makes you a monster-in-law, not them. Merging families takes work; but if you do it right, all involved, especially your kids, will reap the benefits.