George Banks, father extraordinaire in Father of the Bride, said, “I hate the expression ‘in-laws.’ What does it mean, anyway? We’re legally bound to these people? I don’t want to be ‘in-lawed.’” If wholesome, loveable George Banks isn’t optimistic about in-laws, what hope do the rest of us have?
I’d love to meet someone who doesn’t complain about at least one of their in-laws. You choose your husband; you don’t choose his parents, or siblings, or extended family. But, it’s a package deal. The road to a great relationship with your in-laws isn’t paved with gold, that’s for sure. It can be a serious learning curve.
I adore my in-laws, and it’s still hard. Occasionally, I can’t help but feel a tiny degree of disloyalty when we are together, mostly during special occasions or holidays. I feel guilty for not being with my own parents and siblings even though I enjoy being with my husband’s family. I feel awful even admitting it, but it’s true.
And when it comes to my mother-in-law, I am my own worst enemy. I find myself constantly making comparisons, even with trivial things. Sometimes I don’t even realize I’m doing it. My mom loves to cook; my mother-in-law would live on cereal if she had her way. Is my mom a better mother because she loves to cook and my mother-in-law doesn’t? Of course not. Who cares?
When our daughter was born, my relationship with my husband’s family became a bit more complex. The differences in our personalities and parenting styles definitely became more apparent, but we also became much closer.
A quintessential first-time mother, I was extremely overprotective of my daughter. I—probably very noticeably—cringed every time someone picked her up without washing their hands first, or didn’t follow my instructions. I stayed silent for fear of seeming rude or hurting feelings.
During each visit I would get frustrated, and that frustration would mount. Inevitably, I would have a meltdown on the car ride home. It was incredibly unfair to my husband and his side of our family. When my parents do something that frustrates me, I just tell them. I owed my in-laws that same respect.
I’m discovering again—and again, and again, and again—in every relationship of my life, communication is usually the answer. Complaining to my husband about how his mom insists on rocking Penny to sleep isn’t going to make her put Penny to sleep our way. Figuring out a way to kindly and warmly communicate why we put her to sleep a certain way, however, might.
I hope that the more the two of us successfully communicate, the more natural these conversations will feel. It’s fine that we have our own parenting styles; we both can learn from each other through our differences.
My brother is getting married in a few months, and I’m seeing the difficult position of the mother-in-law from the opposite side. Now, my mom is the mother-in-law. I feel so protective of her, just as my new sister-in-law feels about her mother.
I’m sure certain things I do annoy my mother-in-law. It’s more difficult for her to openly voice those thoughts for fear of being intrusive or overstepping. I often remind myself that the daughter-in-law relationship must be really challenging, too.
When my mom disagrees with something I do or has a suggestion, she just says it. We don’t tiptoe around each other’s feelings. On the rare occasion we disagree, we either argue about it or laugh and move on. Although my mother-in-law and I are very close, we haven’t been mother and daughter for 30 years like my mom and I have. We are two people who are closely connected and love each other, but are still building our relationship.
Ultimately, I realize this is the best type of problem to have. Some people have in-laws or even their own families who they will never be close with. We have the opposite problem; we have two families who love us and want to be a part of our lives. I will say that over many years of marriage, I’ve learned a lot through trial and error, and through just getting to know my husband’s family better.
This doesn’t mean it always comes easily. Just as it can be tough for me, I’m sure it can be tough for them too.