As we much as we love them, there’s just something about the phrase “the in-laws are coming” that makes the little hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
Whether it’s a comment on your lifestyle, how you’re raising your kids or just an off-the-cuff remark about your home, sometimes they can just rub you the wrong way. But hey, they’re family right?
Here’s a few tips to get you through the holidays without creating a divide that takes a year to recover from.
1. Understand the cause
Some of the root problems with this complex relationship can come when you feel challenged in your role with your partner. We all like to think we are the most important person to a spouse (children excluded) and it can be tough when that notion is questioned or a spouse doesn’t stick up for you.
This can be especially hard if you feel like your ability to keep a home and family are questioned. It’s important as a parent to be supportive and it’s equally important to have a conversation with your parents or in-laws if you do feel like they are judging you or your spouse. Sometimes they may not understand that a certain statement or observation is taken as a criticism.
On the opposite side, it’s also easy to feel stuck between a parent and a spouse – especially if either of them are a little on the pushy side. Make sure you’re not putting unnecessary pressure on your spouse to choose between you and their parent or parents.
TIP: Make sure you and your spouse are sharing the positives with your parents as well. If you only go to them with problems or frustrations they don’t hear about successes or when you make up after a fight. This can create an unhealthy or biased picture of your relationship that’s not good for anyone.
2. Set boundaries
Setting clear boundaries can help prevent someone’s feelings from getting hurt and make everyone feel respected. Whether it’s how many sugary snacks a child can have or who will be hosting dinner, establishing these roles or boundaries early on can help family functions run smoothly.
If for example, your mother-in-law likes to take over your kitchen when she comes over and that bothers you, you – as a couple – may have to have a conversation with her and explain why it bothers you. That conversation may be as simple as asking her to prepare a salad or dessert for the next meal so she’s still contributing, but doesn’t need to be in the kitchen. It may just be as simple as asking her to put her feet up and relax when she comes over so she doesn’t feel obligated to “help” in the kitchen. Sometimes, you just need to get someone to step away from a routine they’ve had for years.
TIP: Most couples struggle on some level with in-law issues. It does not mean you are in an unhealthy relationship. However, you can’t assume your partner is aware of any frustrations or concerns if you have not vocalized them.
3. Don’t over schedule your time
The holidays can be tough as it usually means blending both families’ traditions. This can create some obvious challenges. A lot of families and couples stumble when they try to jam too much into the holiday or schedule every minute of time off. Instead of running to several different locations on Christmas Day so every family tradition from both sides can be observed, try alternating. This works especially well if either side has out-of-town family. By alternating, one year with one side of the family, the next with the other, you create a schedule and don’t have to feel pressured to accommodate everyone all the time.
This can also help your in-laws plan their holidays as they know well ahead of time whether you will be joining them or not.
TIP: If keeping up with your family’s traditions is feeling overwhelming, then don’t. You can start your own traditions as a family that make everyone happy.
Find the entire holiday edition of West Shore Family online.