Once upon a time, I was a married lady with a very cute husband and a mother-in-law who just, well, really didn't like me. Every holiday, birthday, or family event, I would be filled with dread, worry, and fear over what might happen. Would there be a fight, a cruel word, or perhaps everything would go great? My anxiety drove me nuts, and probably my ex, too. Now that I'm divorced, my ex-mother-in-law and I have come to a mutual unspoken peace, and we get along. She is a fabulous grandmother and is extremely helpful to my ex and me with my daughter, so what more can I ask for, especially in a divorce situation? Will we go out for tea? Nope, but as long as we work together, it's what matters.
This holiday season, instead of dread over a potential spat, I am grieving the loss of my family as it once was (it's also my first holiday season that I will be splitting up time with my daughter). But for those of you about to go into the in-law trenches with the holidays approaching, here are some survival tips to keep your sanity — and your marriage — intact.
The Backseat Parent
This one is a popular complaint among my mommy friends: are your in-laws "backseat" parents? Do they tell you how to feed, bathe, clothe, and entertain your tots? If you nodded an empathetic yes, be prepared for more backseated parenting this Thanksgiving. In fact, I am pretty sure your backseat in-laws will be ready to tell you how much turkey to give (or not give) your little ones. Instead of reminding them whose uterus the kids came out of — do we need to go there? — just gently say, "Thank you for caring so much about the kids. It means a lot to me that you care so much, but don't worry. They will be fine."
Then smile like a friggin' Miss USA contestant. Whatever you do, do not smirk, frown, or give them the evil eye.
As much as they should keep their mouths shut, it's better to keep the peace at the turkey table, lest someone should throw a drumstick at you. Besides, that could ruin your outfit, and as a mom, how often do you get cleaned up and presentable without finding copious amounts of snot, glitter (it's like a drag queen secretly lives in my house), or stickers all over you?
The "You're Not Good Enough" In-Law
You may have married their child, but that doesn't mean they would have chosen you had they had a chance to go to the "wife store" to browse. As sad as it is when in-laws can't find the silver lining in their daughter-in-law, it happens.
If you get snide or subdued, but clearly unkind, remarks about your clothes, cooking, parenting, housekeeping, job, or the way you breathe, you should promptly pull up your skirt, turn around, pull down your undies, and moon those in-laws! That'll show 'em!
OK, so I was just playing out an imaginary scene in my mind.
If your in-laws hate your cooking or anything else about you this Thanksgiving, do this: don't give a hoot! As long as your partner thinks you're the cat's meow, just do your best yoga deep breaths, silence your inner monologue of "I want to choke him/her," and remind yourself that it is just one night together and then bam — they're outta here! Of course, if you have in-laws who are traveling and staying in town with you, you may have to heavily drink or walk away to get some air. Didn't you need to water some plant or something?
The "Blowouts," and I'm Not Talking About Your Hair
If indeed you find yourself head to head with one or both of your in-laws each holiday or event or wonder to yourself, "Is this eggnog or cyanide?", here are your choices:
- Choice 1: Don't invite them. If it is that awful, don't subject your kids to it or yourself to the stress and drama. On the other hand, they're your kids' grandparents. If it's not too explosive, try your best to turn the other cheek and be kind. When your kids are older, they'll figure out very fast how nasty a grandparent can be and will be quick to be on your side or ask nicely, "Do we have to see them?"
- Choice 2: Invite them but make a pact with your partner that if things get out of hand, it's time for them — or you — to leave. Leaving before things escalate is always smart and actually prevents problems down the line.
- Choice 3: Ask to stay briefly or have the in-laws only stay briefly if tensions are too high, as it's important your kids see their grandparents. As long as the in-laws are good grandparents, don't cut them off. The kids didn't choose for their grandparents to not like you or you not like them. They shouldn't be punished.
If they happen to be crappy grandparents, though, you can always turn down an invite or claim that this year you're eating pizza for Thanksgiving as you are protesting the inhumane treatment of turkeys as a family kindness project. No one will believe you, but at least it's funny!
Keep in mind that we don't choose our own families, and we can't always love the ones we marry into and they can't always love us. Being respectful of each other's differences and different family styles is key. Your children also are (usually) lucky to have grandparents who want to be around them. Let your kids treasure these relationships. Both sets of my grandparents were gone by the time I was 2. I wish I could have known them.
Plus, the two biggest rules of all: pick your battles and stick together as a team. There were many times when it truly hurt me that my mother-in-law didn't love me or try to befriend me and also plenty of times when I picked the small battles that I should have just left behind for my marriage's sake. Being a team together was a challenge for us too, although we both believe we tried as best as we could.
Pick the important issues, and ignore the smaller ones as the problems won't go away. It's not worth the fight or stress with your partner. And as for teamwork, as long as you and your partner decide together how to handle any in-law stress, you're golden!