“I think this is really big between the MIL and DIL.”
Avery and I were talking about the challenges of being grafted into a new family through marriage. One frustration she shared was that, especially early on in a marriage, those in-law visits can be downright difficult!
Oftentimes when adult children return home to visit, they slide right back into their former roles and relationships with family members.
Does that happen to you? To your spouse?
The oldest sibling immediately exhibits characteristics of “Ms. Bossy Boots” and the youngest becomes “the Baby” yet again. The two who rarely got along while growing up find themselves arguing with one another … again … over anything or nothing.
Their spouses can be mystified by this metamorphosis. Hard to say why it happens, but … it does.
Another thing is that the new inductees to the family are introduced to a culture possibly quite foreign to them.
“There are these habits, how they were around each other.”
She really didn’t like it.
“When your Dad comes home, everyone hides. When your family members are done eating supper, they simply get up and leave the room without waiting for everyone else to finish.”
“There’s all this engagement and activity and the MIL, as the elder, she kind of sets the tone and the pace. ‘I don’t want you to help. I expect you to help.’ I think it’s really critical for a person and their partner to really talk explicitly about how to partner through that.”
“There’s this activity, this behavior, that he (her husband) doesn’t even notice, that’s really hurtful to me. And I don’t even know how to respond because I look to him and he’s not even responding. So, I don’t have any clues about how to ‘do it right’ and if I try to talk to him about it without a lot of intention, he replies ‘Don’t worry about it. She’s just like that.’ It’s not helpful to the spouse who’s trying desperately not to drown in this pool of missteps. I’m going to say the wrong thing. I’m going to do the wrong thing. I’m going to do the thing that no one does. And then…. I’m done. Not in real life, but in your own in-law way. I’m the outsider now and I’ve sealed the deal forever as being the outsider.
“Here’s the lesson.” Avery leaned forward as she spoke. This was important for her to share with other DILs.
“I needed to know that when we’re together in his family’s home that he’s on my team – even if he’s also on their team.”
Couples need to be very intentional about communicating this regularly during family visits – verbally and otherwise. This could look like the two of them going out for a long walk, hopping in the car and going for a ride, or going upstairs to the bedroom, closing the door and taking a nap together.
In-law visits. They can be daunting. So much so that, if you don’t find a constructive, healthy way of conducting them, you might find yourself saying – as I did one weekend – “Honey, I think I’ll skip this trip to the Lake House. Why don’t you just take the kids and go?”
Here’s another idea from someone who’s been “in the game” for 19 years. Suggest to your spouse that, each evening, perhaps for 15 minutes or so before bed, the visiting in-law (or outlaw as my father-in-law calls me) gets to share some of his/her observations about how things are done differently in that household. These can and should be done without judgement. For example:
“I noticed that your family likes to take photographs whenever we sit down all together at the dining room table.”
“All the women of the family are expected to clean up after a meal.”
“Wow, your family sure likes to get up early in the morning and get going!”
“Wine is a regular part of every supper at your parents’ house.”
“Your mom is quite the hugger!”
There is no need for explanation by the spouse. No need to defend the practices. The sharing could simply provide a safe place for the in-law to articulate what he or she is noticing and this could aid in the processing of those differing behaviors, assumptions and attitudes. One way of doing things may be just as valid as another. Different doesn’t necessarily mean wrong or bad. But, just being able to say “Gee, I’m really uncomfortable with the way this is done” and know that one is being heard can go a long way toward releasing stress and sorting out one’s feelings. Maybe, just maybe, it would move the couple toward recognizing, understanding and perhaps even accepting one another’s family and upbringing. And future visits might be more enjoyable and comfortable for everyone.
I wish someone had suggested these things to me and my husband many long years ago. It might have prevented a lot of pent-up frustration that had plenty of time to turn into bitterness. Now that I’m on the other side of the fence, I will take heed!
What do you all think? Weigh in on this topic with your insights and experiences.