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For Those In-Law Visits

“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.

 

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Self-fulfilling Prophecies?

Ever heard of Bob Rosenthal? He is a Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Riverside. His interests include self-fulfilling prophecies, which he explored in a well-known study of the Pygmalion Effect: the effect of teachers’ expectations on students. Much of his work has focused on nonverbal communication, particularly its influence on expectations: for example, in doctor-patient or manager-employee situations.

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On my way home from meeting with my writing partner over a cup of coffee at Me and Ollie’s, I heard a broadcast of This American Life and they were talking about how expectations influence behavior. Yeah, we’ve mentioned that in this blog before.

Bob Rosenthal conducted experiments with rats. He brought a bunch of experimenters into his lab and told them that some of them were going to work with incredibly smart rats and some would work with incredibly dumb rats and that they were to see how well the rats from each set would run through a maze.

Now, the rats were all your ordinary run-of-the-mill lab rats, but he had labeled their cages “smart” or “dumb” and had told the experimenters what to expect. Guess what? The experiments ratshowed what they expected. The “smart” rats went through the maze almost twice as fast as the “dumb” rats.

Turns out that what the experimenters were thinking and feeling greatly affected how they handled the rats. The “smart” rats were handled more gently which affected how they performed.

Carol Dweck, who’s a psychologist and researcher at Stanford says that this same phenomenon holds true for people as well. Teachers expectations of students has been shown to raise or lower their IQ scores. A mother’s expectations can greatly influence the drinking behavior of her middle school son. A military trainer’s expectations of a soldier can actually influence how fast or slowly he/she runs.

And so on.

Somehow we communicate our expectations to people around us – sometimes by how far we stand from them; sometimes by our eye contact or lack thereof; how we touch or don’t touch them. Our assumptions and beliefs about people – what we exWoman Thinkingpect from them – is often a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So, there it is. Wouldn’t you guess that it applies to our MIL/DIL relationships, too? We’re not talking “control”, but influence that can tip the scales in one direction or another.

What do we expect from our DILs? Our MILs? Are we even aware that we have expectations?

What are some of mine? Yours? How might these be affecting our relationships with our MILs/DILs?
Might we want to change our thinking??

To listen to or read the entire broadcast, click here: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/play_full.php?play=544

Fascinating!

Is Your MIL an Only Child?

Here’s a “look-see” into another factor that influences “Why people are the way they are” and “Why people do the things they do”.
Kiera and I had just sat down to a fabulous “I just threw a few things together” lunch on the back deck of her home on the river. We had recently become “paddle boarding buddies” – She had the equipment and I had the availability and desire. (Woot! Woot!) Today, however, we were considering a kayak excursion because of the cool, cloudy weather. Our conversation was peppered with comments about the spiciness of the salsa and who else from our group might join us that day. When we realized that it would be just the two of us, I jumped at the opportunity to talk with her about her relationship with her MIL.

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Interesting discovery #1 – Kiera had expected her MIL to be the same as her own mother since her husband did the “scouting” thing and the “work with your hands” thing as her own mother had promoted.
Funny thing – she wasn’t! It took several years of visits to discover that it was her husband’s father – not mother – who had passed on these traits to Dan.
Here’s more of the “backstory”. When he became an adult, Dan had moved a couple of hours away from the family homestead as he wasn’t keen on the idea of every weekend being taken up with birthday parties and family gatherings of one kind or another. It turns out that Kiera’s MIL preferred that family gather around her, that she be surrounded by loved ones. She wasn’t one to venture out to be around others. Years went by before Kiera realized – and her MIL confirmed this in a conversation – that Millie only liked her own family, not people in general. She wasn’t interested in participating in community activities. She was perfectly happy to have her family dote on her.
Surprisingly, or perhaps not so, Dan is enthusiastic about – even craves – doing things for his community. Kiera had expected that to be a family trait. Not so. Dan’s experience growing up had been so insular that he now actively seeks out social involvement with people not related to him.
“What would cause someone to adopt that attitude? The attitude of “I only want my family around ….” I pondered aloud.

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“I have a theory” Kiera announced.
(Intriguing. Another analytical like myself.)

Okay, let’s hear it.
“The people that I know who are ‘only’ children want things to be about them. They need this. They demand it. And they’re not happy – ever – no matter how many times someone visits because it’s never enough.”
Kiera’s conjecture was that if one had lots of siblings, one learned that you have to share, you have to take turns – with toys, in playing games. They don’t expect much attention later on because they experience the reality that there’s only so much to go around.
But, if you don’t get much attention and affection when you’re young, do you want it even more as you get older, I asked myself?

Hmmm.
Kiera’s MIL was an only child. “She doesn’t understand that we have other things that we actually like … other than coming to visit her. … It became apparent to me that she wasn’t used to sharing and she didn’t have to share. She did not view herself as “selfish”. It’s just the way things were”
“It’s almost like a muscle that wasn’t developed on-time” I posited. That’s interesting. I mean, it fits!”
Kiera’s face widened into a big grin. “That’s my theory!”
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How much do we assume about our MILs because of what we see in our spouses? Sometimes, those speculations are “right on”. Other times, they miss the mark completely.
Who knows why people act the way they do. It may be a reaction to what they didn’t get or got too much of in earlier years. Some people turn out “just like Mom”. Others choose to go in the exact opposite direction.
What are my “take-aways” from this story?
1. Be mindful of my expectations and assumptions about people, especially my MIL/DILs.
2. People are much more complex than I expect them to be. I need to be reminded of this regularly.

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3. A lot of who we are now is because of who we were earlier in life. And we weren’t necessarily the ones who made those choices or set up those situations. We simply found ourselves smack dab in the middle of them.
Perhaps the most important thing for me to remember is that no judgement is needed here. Understanding and acceptance go a looong way toward a great MIL/DIL relationship.
And that’s what this Blog is all about!

 

 

Rust

Does this look like me?

Rust?  What’s rust got to do with the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship?  Possibly more than you might think.

Occasionally I surf the web, looking for suggestions, recommendations, advice – pearls of wisdom – on how to promote good in-law relations. If you’ve done the same, you’ve probably discovered that there’s not much out there. It’s way too “in vogue” – acceptable – to make snide comments about your MIL at which everyone will laugh. Did you ever notice that there are some groups of people who are fair game for public insult and degradation? Mothers-in-law seem to be among these.

Here in America, our communal dysfunction is on display for the whindexole world to enjoy.  Grown women post on Facebook, log onto blog sites, text and phone and appear on television to denigrate those grafted into their families by marriage.  What a novel idea for promoting family bonding!  What an inventive method for communicating to our sons or husband that we really, really love them!  It makes everyone’s holidays that much more enjoyable, doesn’t it?

Wrong.  Bad idea.

Rudeness, criticism,  lack of consideration and mockery are the language of the immature, the ignorant, the self-centered and those starving for the approval of others.

Mockery is a rust that corrodes all it touches. – Milan Kundera

All it touches.  Everything and everyone.

 

Do these words seem harsh to you?

Definition of rust (Merriam Webster Online Dictionary)
1
: the reddish brittle coating formed on iron especially when chemically attacked by moist air;
2
: any of numerous destructive diseases of plants produced by fungi and characterized by reddish-brown pustular lesions
Could we say that belittling someone – whether to their face or behind their back – might be called attacking them?  What about characterizing snobbery or fault-finding as fungi which could cause pustular lesions – wounds – even on a strong person (iron) to slowly form and break down their mettle (pun intended!)?

 

And neglect?  A passive approach which causes rust – verb: To deteriorate or degenerate through inactivity or neglect

Who am I really?  And what kind of stuff am I really made of?
Is rust what’s happening in my heart?  In hers?
Or is this –

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What I Learned in May

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Did you catch the rainbow?  They always make me smile!

 

Okay, okay!  So, I seem to be a bit “behind the eight ball” so to speak, with getting my “What I Learned In …. ” posted in a timely manner.   I could tell you I learned it in June so as not to look like I’m late announcing this.  However, truth be told, I did “learn” this in May.  So, I might as well say so.

This was definitely worth recognizing, worth writing about, because it changed my perspective on the MIL/DIL thing.  So, perhaps you’ll find it worth the time to read.  😉

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This is one thing I became very much aware of in May …..

I’m HIS mother.  And he is a grown man now.  (THAT part I already knew!  Keep reading.)

I’m not HER mother.  I’m not HER friend.  I’m not HER family.  She need have nothing more to do with me than she would with an acquaintance.  My daughter-in-law did not choose me and I didn’t choose her.  They chose one another.  He is HER husband and she is HIS wife.  I have no claim on her – her time, her attention, her friendship, her love.  It may come – and I hope it will – but I have NO claim.  Nada.   Rien.  Niente.  This is at the core of the MIL/DIL relationship.

We both get to choose how much time, energy and effort we will put into the relationship, how far we let the other into our life, how often we want to spend time with one another, … whether we will choose to be friends …. family … allies ….

It may have been different years ago … in previous generations.  And it’s most likely different in other cultures.  (This we will explore in future posts!)  But, for here and for now, that’s what I see.  That’s what I hear.

That sheds some light on the subject … for me!  And in some way …. it seems to make the whole relationship a bit …. easier.  I feel more relaxed.  And that’s got to show.  This “I get it!” realization dissolves any pressure I might have been experiencing – even unknowingly so.  Fewer expectations … fewer “should”s ….. fewer “need to”s …. more time and space to see what, if anything, will come together.

Rainbows?   Perhaps.  But, there’s no rush.  I feel less inclined now to “make it happen” and much more comfortable to “wait and see”.

A Man’s Perspective

My husband and I were sitting on a wrought iron bench in thBench at Washington Cirdlee middle of Washington Circle.  It was a gorgeous Friday in September and we were waiting to meet our son, Ethan, for lunch.  Since we were visiting with him and our DIL, in-law issues were at the front and center of my mind.  I decided to ask my honey for his “take” on an issue.

“So, if a MIL is anxious about ‘doing the wrong thing’ thereby losing access to her son and grandchildren, what do you think is going on there?”

He paused to think for a moment – this man of mine who doesn’t  get too rattled about much of anything.   His reply surprised me because he likened the situation to riding a bicycle.

“Have you ever been on a bicycle on the side of a road, a paved street, and you’re right on the edge of the pavement, almost falling off into the dirt & gravel on the side.  You’re looking down to make sure your tire doesn’t slip off the edge and spill you into the poison ivy and ragweed.  You’re looking in that direction, so you almost feel drawn to where you don’t want to go.    And you’re wobbly, trying not to swerve into traffic at the same time.  More than a bit off-balance, to be sure.

The solution to this situation is to not look down right in front of you, but to set your sights on a spot further down the road.  For whatever reason, that helps to stabilize your steering.  The harder you try to navigate the street foot-by-foot, the more difficult it is to stay the course, especially if you’re going uphill.”

“So, if you’re concentrating on the place right where you are” I echoed, “you’re more unsteady than if you fix your gaze on some point in the distance ahead.”

“Yes.  If I looked at it relationship-wise, the more you’re comfortable with who you are and you recognize that this MIL/DIL thing is a life-long affair (hopefully!), you worry less about ‘Did I send the right gift?’ or ‘Did I say the wrong thing?’ or ‘What did she mean by that?’ or ‘Why doesn’t she pick up when I call?’  If you keep looking in that direction, you’ll head in that direction.

Relax.  Quit worrying.  Be who you are, treat her as a friend and it’s likely that a lot of these concerns will sort themselves out or disappear altogether as time goes by.  You’ll get there.  Keep peddling and set your sights on where you want to go.”

Words from a FIL who enjoys both his daughters-in-law and is not terribly concerned with pleasing them.

Very interesting.