Avoiding the Monster-in-Law

My mother-in-law came to stay for the weekend. 
Since Brother and Sister have extensive food and chemical sensitivities, having houseguests is always a touchy thing. All it takes is a dollop of scented lotion or a squirt of hairspray to ruin the whole visit. 
Parenting is a touchy thing. Everyone has a different idea of how to do things, and it’s personal because everyone does their best to raise their own kids. Anything I do differently than you do/did is because I think my way is better for my family, and if I’m not careful that can quickly turn into, or at least feel like, judging. With my own parents I can always be sure that, whether or not we agree, they love me and my children, regardless. But that’s not always true in the case of in-laws. There are a few things I’ve learned about relationships with parents and in-laws that helped in my marriage and family relations, so I want to share them with you.

1. You marry the whole family.
        Never go into a relationship with the idea that if you don’t like your Love’s family, they will just go away. 
Not. Going. To. Happen. 
Always assume you are going to have to deal with these people for the rest of your life. If you can’t deal with that idea, well, there are other fish in the sea. Remember, this is your Love’s family, chances are he/she feels the same way about them that you do about your own. 

2. Complaining doesn’t endear anyone.
        So you made the decision that you can deal with your spouse’s family and now you’re married. Don’t complain about them. Complaining and whining about family just creates strife and resentment, and causes your spouse to have to choose sides. 
Granted, sometimes there are real issues that need to be addressed, as a couple, with one set of parents or the other, but nearly everything can be addressed in a helpful, constructive manner. I hope this doesn’t embarrass anyone (yes, my in-laws read my blog!) but when Hubby and I were first married we moved into a house that his parents own, and into Hubby’s old bedroom. We were leaving the country, so it didn’t make sense to rent a place for a month when there was an empty house available. One morning when his parents were visiting, I was sitting on our bed with the door partly open, and his dad walked in, opened the closet, put something in it, and walked out. It’s HIS house, HIS son’s bedroom, it didn’t even occur to him that it might be an issue. But it was to me. By some insane luck, my 20-year-old self reacted correctly: I went to my husband and calmly explained what had happened and that it made me uncomfortable. Thanks to The Lord, his 20-year-old self reacted correctly, as well. He pointed out that it had been FIL’s house a lot longer than it had been mine, that he didn’t mean anything by it, and then he mentioned it to his dad and it never happened again. Wins all around.

3. Space is the best peacemaker.
        Sometimes it’s not practical, or even possible, but putting space between you and your families is one of the best ways to keep the peace. I’ve never, ever, ever met anyone who said to me, “We live with my parents/in-laws and it was the best decision we ever made.” If it can be avoided, two adult women should never have to share one cooking space. Even if you have to share a house, finding a balance and respecting each other’s space is non-negotiable. 

4. Communicate.
        Your in-laws are your spouse’s family, it’s important to treat them like family. One way I make sure to do that is at Christmastime and birthdays. Since our families live 10 hours apart, planning is imperative! Making sure each family gets the same amount of time and different ideas of what the kids want/need is just a beginning. Sometimes communication is best when it goes through your spouse, especially if there have been bridges burned in the past, but ladies, a word for you: don’t make your husband/son choose between you. Even if he makes the right decision (sorry, Mom, the right decision is his wife) he’s still going to be miserable, and so will you. Trust me, it won’t end well. Open, honest, direct, and mature communication is key to a good in-law relationship. 

5. Respect each other.
        My sister-in-law lives with us. She has been with us since Sister was born, and she’s a permanent authority figure for my kids. I’m not going to lie, it’s been difficult for both of us to learn to live together. One of the big things for me was letting her be an authority, even when I was around. A few times one of the kids would come to me with tears in their eyes and wail, “Auntie told me NO!” 
I had to learn to say, “then go talk to Auntie about it.” If I had comforted, or even dismissed the issue, that would have been disrespectful to her and undermined her ability to be an authority to my kids. Hubby’s parents afford me the same respect, and if I make a decision about the kids there is no argument from them. Occasionally they will discuss a decision with me, but always later, never in front of my children, and they frequently have good ideas that I’ve never thought about before. (Huh, well, I guess they DID raise three kids…) Not only does this mutual respect create a peaceful and secure atmosphere for my children, it also fosters good in-law relationships. 

So when Hubby’s mom said she was coming for the weekend, my reaction was excitement, not dread. When she got ready in the morning, she skipped hairspray because I’ve explained to her that it bothers the kids. When the two of us went to town together, it was a fun and stress-free outing. 
What I’m saying is, good relationships with your in-laws are not only possible, but desirable. They just take a little effort.

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