Written by: Cally Worden
In-laws can be a blessing or a curse, and how you deal with them can make the difference between family harmony and, well, a family nightmare! Finding a balance in your family life that meets the needs of everyone is never going to be easy, but the benefits of achieving equilibrium can be many. Extended families offer support when times are tough, and help to provide a sense of history and belonging. We’ve put together an In Law survival guide that we hope will help you navigate these often choppy waters!
Quite simply, make sure you and your spouse are on the same page when it comes to in-laws on both sides of the family. An accord between the two of you should be sufficient to fend off even the most persistent of troublemakers in the ranks. Avoid putting your spouse in a position where a choice has to be made between you and the wider family, as this only ever leads to resentment.
Be Clear on your Boundaries
Whatever rules and boundaries you operate within your own family unit should be clearly communicated to your in-laws, with the total expectation that they will respect them in your home, and where your children are concerned. So many arguments arise over issues of feeding and bedtime when in-laws help out with the kids, and these can often be avoided with a little forethought.
Enforce your Boundaries
It is absolutely pointless making the effort to establish boundaries if you then fail to enforce them. It may sound drastic, but just as with a wilful toddler or teenager (or frankly, child of any age in between!), giving an inch will encourage them to take a mile. If you don’t want unexpected drop-in visits, then don’t accommodate your in-laws if they turn up unannounced.
Direct Communication is Key
If you have a problem with an in-law, don’t expect your spouse to be the messenger. Be brave and go and confront the offender yourself. This will avoid sentiments being lost in translation, and also prevent your spouse from feeling like a go-between who can never please anyone.
Be Yourself, and Accept Others
Don’t try to recreate yourself in an image of the person you perceive the in-laws want you to be. It won’t work, and it will make you unhappy. Be true to yourself and your own values. Always. Even if it creates conflict. Chances are the in-laws will respect you more for it in the end.
And conversely, don’t place your own expectations of what in-laws should be, and how they should behave, onto your extended family. Accept them for who they are, in ways that don’t force you to radically alter your own beliefs of values. You may never agree on everything, but sensible adults can usually find a compromise on the things that matter most.
Take a Time Out
When we are teaching our kids to learn how to manage their emotions, we often use time-out as a way of helping them to get some space. This can work for grown-ups too. If something to do with your in-laws in riling you, then take a step back before you kick-off with a verbal tirade that may damage relationships for months to come. Reassess your feelings when you have calmed down, and if necessary address them when you are in a less emotional frame of mind.
Be a Grown up
For most people it’s true to say that your Mum and Dad love you, pretty much unconditionally. That’s what they signed up to when you were born. But your in-laws made no such contract, and have no personal obligation to get along with you, or even like you. Try to view difficult situations from their point of view, and you may see that what you perceive as a deliberate effort to wind you up is actually them taking care of their own. Don’t sweat the small stuff, and where big issues are concerned, be prepared to negotiate a little.
It’s not difficult, and a kind word or a simple smile can go a long way to diffusing a situation. Maintaining a sense of humour helps too, and may just save the day when an in-law comes out with a random comment or act that is so absurd you could cry. Try laughing instead, it may just help!