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By Jessica T

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About this blog: I'm a late thirties mother of a ten-year-old and infant twins. My family moved to Menlo Park 6 years ago from Virginia - where I grew up, went to college, got married, had my first born, and got an MBA (in that order). I'm a manag...  (More)

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Holidays with the in-laws

Uploaded: Dec 9, 2013
Many of us with families will be spending time with our in-laws over the holidays. Why do these occasions often lead to uncomfortable exchanges and misunderstandings? I have a theory?

When I was a teenager, I had two significant romantic relationships. In both cases, my boyfriends' mothers took ample time getting to know me. I can recall fondly going Christmas shopping with one of my boyfriends' mothers. The other boyfriend's mother made me a favorite dinner for my birthday and called me in college to lend support when my relationship with her son was on the rocks. Perhaps I'll never know why these women felt it was so important to integrate me into their family lives. They took time out of their busy lives to get to know me (their son's teenage girlfriend). Maybe I was the daughter they never had. Maybe they thought I might just marry their son...

I didn't. Thank goodness, I didn't marry my in-laws, I married my husband! (And I am lucky indeed - had I been born in another era or in another culture, that might not have been the case.) And yet, if I had ended up with one of my teenage boyfriends, I believe that time invested by my supposed mother-in-law would have been time well spent.

We inherit our in-laws and they inherit us as a necessity of custom, but investing in our relationship is often an afterthought. We might fall in love across the country or overseas, leading to limited interaction with our beloved's family. Suddenly we are married and required to have forced intimacy with "family" we may not know very well. Building a relationship is the basis by which we understand each other and build the trust necessary for having all manner of awkward and personal conversations that our familial station requires.

After all, how much easier are these cringeworthy questions to answer, when a friend is asking?

--"What kind of wedding do you want?"

--"Why don't you want to have children?"

--"Why did you choose to (or choose not to) take our family name?"

--"What religious tradition will you raise your children under and why?"

--"Do you plan to breastfeed or bottle feed?"

--"Do you plan to work after you marry or have children?"

--"Will you send your children to public or private school?"

The loaded list of intimate questions goes on...And while all of the answers are ostensibly a husband's and wife's decision, I can't blame in-laws who want to provide input based on their experience. I will want to do the same! When it's my turn to be a mother-in-law, I hope I'll have the chance to really get to know my daughter- and sons-in-law. Maybe spending more time (not less) with our in-laws is the prescription for more satisfying holidays.

How have you built a relationship with your in-laws? What's your formula for a good rapport?
We need your support now more than ever. Can we count on you?


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Mother of 4, a resident of Palo Verde School,
on Dec 9, 2013 at 2:52 pm

The topic of in-laws (or outlaws as our family has jokingly called them) is one of those hard to discuss issues as oftentimes a couple themselves find it hard to do without appearing to criticize the other's family or upbringing.

There is a big difference between visiting the in-laws as guests in their home doing things their way, and having them visit you where things can be done your way. I have had more problems in my in-laws home than I have had in our home. However, either way, it is better to be well prepared telling the children that both sets of grandparents are very different and what works with one set is just not the case with the other set. When it comes to in-laws asking difficult questions, I would not hesitate to say that some things are just our business and I am not willing to discuss it with them. Some issues are best discussed between husband and his parents rather than full blown DIL/MIL confrontations. Certainly, don't allow a heavy discussion in front of the children, no matter how young (or old) they may be.

 +  Like this comment
Posted by Jessica T, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Dec 9, 2013 at 7:26 pm

Jessica T is a registered user.

Thanks Mother of 4 (as always) for your insights and wisdom. Our daughter understands her grandparents' sets of unique attributes, so I love your advice for discussing that with the kids to help them navigate the relationships. I'm so grateful that my kids have all four grandparents in their lives and are so close to them.

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