How to Break the Ice with In-Laws

December 21, 2011 — Leave a comment

Of all the difficult relational situations you’ll ever face, none takes the cake like rubbing elbows with the in-laws. Holiday dinners, gift-giving, and even simple get-togethers can all raise issues bigger than we are. Before you set off a firestorm of family feuds this holiday season, try implementing a few in-law enforcement steps to protect your in-laws from becoming out-laws.

This time of year is full of strong feelings and emotional sentiment about how things should and should not be. An individual, who is usually reasonable and of sound-mind 364 days of the year, can become ferocious at the suggestion of a simple change to a Christmas tradition.

A girlfriend of mine called me in tears yesterday regarding all the angry e-mail exchanges among her family members surrounding the topic of, “what are we going to do for Christmas Eve?” Some people wanted to play games, others wanted to watch a movie, some family members complained last year’s program went too long and voted not to read the Christmas story this year. When the suggestion of food was broached, some wanted potluck, others wanted a catered dinner, one person even said they hated last year’s dinner so they didn’t want a “repeat roast of 2010.” Other disagreements were over the Elephant exchange; “can we just have one for the adults, and not the kids?, or do we need to continue to have two different exchanges, one for the adults AND the kids?” The tears and the ideas went on and on.

So right off the bat you suggest that the person who HOSTS decides the MOST.

HAVE HOST DECIDE MOST

The rest of us get to practice being gracious and kind. Isn’t that wonderful? If you have tension in your family right now, hooray! You will especially feel the true spirit of Christmas this weekend because it will be such a contrast to how you feel right now. As you practice Christmas, whatever that means to you, you will notice the striking contrast. Without the juxtaposition, the true meaning might elude you. So take advantage of it; let bygones be bygones; forgive; be flexible; be kind; be grateful. When it is your turn to host or to be in charge of the white elephant game, do it your way. But this year, it is not your turn and the holiday will not be ruined because of the absence of or adjustment to such tradition.

AVOID FAMILY FUEDS

Avoid this tempting triangle of taking sides. (Ever heard of the Bermuda Triangle? It’s not good, trust me!) If you are the newest one in the family, watch out! because others may want you for a team-member to strengthen their side. One of the e-mails my friend received from her step-mother in- law was, “You’re not going to believe what so-and- so said about you?” This can be such a hook if you’re not careful. Remember, emotions run high, this communication did not come to you directly and could easily have been misinterpreted along the way; and who among us hasn’t said something in frustration about each other to each other? The best answer, “Oh, there must be some misunderstanding because I adore _____. Thank you for telling me but I’m sure ______ didn’t mean it to come out that way. Everything will work out and we’ll have a wonderful holiday/party/dinner.”

MODEL KIND CONNECTIONS EARLY

Model kind, respectful relationships with your extended family members, including all your variety of in-laws. Even before your children reach the age of young adulthood, discuss with them your family traditions; which ones came from generations before, which ones started when you and their father married, and open the door to discuss what traditions they think they might want to start in their own families one day. Help them build their own ornament assortment they will take with them one day for their own holiday decor. Notice the message it sends: “I want you to grow up and have a family of your own one day; I trust you to be able to do so. And, I am readying myself for you to one day leave and live a successful life of your own. That is why I’m raising you as well as I can. You never were mine for keeps. One day you will be part of a much larger family and won’t that be wonderful!”

You may remember me telling you about the story of a friend of mine who, in those ripe teaching moment would say to her son, “Learn to do this for Barbara. Do it for Barbaraââ?¬Â¦Honey, one day Barbara will love you for it!” Finally one day he said, “Mom, who in the world is this Barbara?” She replied saying, “Well, Barbara is just the fictitious name I’ve given to the woman who will one day indeed by your wife. I’m trying to live right by you and AND by Barbara.”

BE FOREVER WELCOMING

We can’t perfect what we haven’t practiced. Open up the communication doors, especially as your teenagers begin to date. Become familiar with the other parents and their rules, morals, and values; share yours and find common ground you can agree on. Give your children the opportunity to build a connection with these other parents; help them practice being respectful and kind. This sets precedence for building good in-law connections later on down the road. Practice leads to refinement.

If you are an adult and are dating, question the belief of “it’s best to wait until we’re really serious before introducing each other to our families.” Do it sooner than later. Every situation with your dating partner teaches you about that person’s family-of-origin ~ those family members play a large part of how that person came to be. Learn all you can. The only time I would maintain the rule that you wait for personal introductions is when we are talking about introducing your minor children to your dating prospects. Make certain that you are serious enough about your dating partner to introduce them to your children; otherwise, it’s too confusing to children to be introduced to the ââ?¬Ë?flavor-of-the-month.” It makes your dating life seem cavalier and careless.

Perhaps this is the genesis of everything; there is often a we-against-them mentality. Is your son good enough for my daughter? And vice-versa? We are proud of our families, we prefer our own type, we like our own foods, culture, and traditions. So, the more we practice opening up our arms and enlarging our hearts and flexing our flexibility muscle, the more refined we will be as our family grows and blossoms, changes shape, color, texture, style, and even religious extensions.

ALWAYS MAKE A “CONTRIBUTION”

Start with the end in mind�..think what you can contribute to game night, Christmas dinner, or Sunday brunch that will leave any setting better because you were a part of it (certainly not worse because you were a part of it!) An easy-going attitude and quick-smile are sure winners when nothing else comes to mind.

Keep your eyes out for new board games, family activities, questions to ask your in-laws about their childhoods; stock-pile an arsenal of tools to assist you in getting to know your partners family. It’s hard to dislike someone is who genuinely interested in us. Remember your youth! This family was formed long before you came along; do not “think” your ways are better or more refined. They may be, but just thinking them so makes them not so! One of the important steps in being happily married is to be a good in-law. Start being a better mate today by improving the relationship you have with your partner’s family. Start somewhere. Start NOW!

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Dr. Liz Hale

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