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Dealing with the In-Laws

So, you started your cute little family and you’re ready to settle down and create a nice little home for your child. You have anticipated this moment for a significant portion of your life, telling yourself what kind of parent you’ll be. You’ve gone over everything from your childhood that you liked and didn’t like and you are ready to share the best experience with your family. It’s just you now, you’re child, you’re partner, it’s your family and only you will influence your direction. Wrong! Oh, so, wrong. Sure, during those years that you were a new adult and were learning the ropes of life and hunting to find a sustainable relationship your parents left you alone for the most part- besides the odd nagging. But, now that there are children involved, guess who’s back? Along with your own parents wanting to find some way to be invested in your child’s life, guess who else is coming? The in-laws.

There is something automatically dreadful about the hyphenated word in-laws. It’s so menacing and binding, it kind of makes you want to cringe. Truth is, most in-laws aren’t so bad. Sure, some can be absolutely terrible, and if yours are, good luck. But, really, people are people and their are good people and bad people. Just like there can be good cops and bad cops, there are good in-laws and bad in-laws. There is such a negative connotation when it comes to your partners family, and for the most part it is because each family operates in such a different way that it seems alien to us when we become part of someone else’s.

Much of the fear and negativity comes from the dreaded ‘meeting of the parents.’ When you have become so invested in someone that you want to become part of their life, but to do that you need to be welcomed into the family by these unknown faces. No matter who you are, there is a level of intimidation when meeting someone’s mother. It’s understandable considering most of our mothers can be pretty intimidating. And, depending on how things go for you, you may need to relive this experience over and over again until you have finally found someone to settle down with. That first encounter with the in-law-kind can be a harrowing experience. Even if the first interview goes wonderfully and you can build a strong relationship, those initial feelings can always linger. No matter how long you have been a part of their life, it can always feel like you are the outsider.

I wish I had some scientific research or statistics to help you better understand the in-laws. Unfortunately, no two are alike. The process of understanding how to best interpret and cope with other people’s parents is an undeveloped science. The best thing you can do is be respectful. Even if they are not, respect can be earned. Treating your in-laws like they did something right enough to create this beautiful human being that you consider quality enough to invest yourself into will go a long way. Other times, we just need to stand our ground and everything will be okay. It’s like a bear encounter, if you come across a wild bear you make yourself as big as you can, puff your chest out, and make loud noises. While, I don’t recommend this maneuver as a great way to communicate with your partners parents, the point is to be certain of yourself. If you are confident enough the bear will eventually leave you alone... Or, it eats you. But that’s only one time out of three, odds are in your favor.

Like I mentioned though, once there is grandchildren involved things become a little different. No longer are you just this outsider in their family, now you are providing and influencing their own kin. Once you’ve hit this point, they have become invested in you, for better of for worse. You can expect more visits, more phone calls, and more interest in what you are up to. Becoming a grandparent is a pretty special thing, and most of us, myself included are excited for that day- not too soon.

Having this generation as a part of your child’s life can be very valuable. It may be cliché to say that it takes a village to raise a child, but it is something worth taking into account. We were all raised influenced by many people other than our parents, and majority of the time grandparents are a major part of that. These in-laws are in the same position as your own extended family, they just want to be a part of the child’s life, and offer support where they can. You should harbor and encourage any healthy relationship in your child’s life.

It may be best to understand what kind of grandparent your in-laws want to be. For the most part is up to them how involved they want to be, but to help you out I have narrowed down some of the most commonly found type of grandparents with a little summary of how to understand and cope with them:

  • Spoilers

These are the grandparents that go big! They take your children on lavish vacations, and buy them the best presents. They are pouring the love on to your kids in ways that make you question if your child will be grateful. It can all be a little much and you might question if they think you’re not good enough to supply for your kid. Don’t. This is just how they show their love. Sit back and let them have at it, after all your kid does deserve it. Plus, it could save you some cash on those big ticket items. If anything, it just takes some extra parenting diligence to make sure that your children understand gratitude.

  • Helicopter Grandparents

“Did you get the kids vaccinated yet?” “When did they go to the dentist last?” “You should really put your cutlery in the dishwasher the other way, the kids need clean dinnerware.” There are some grandparents that are around a little too much and they want to know every facet of your family’s daily life. Being firm on your boundaries will help these grandparents understand where they can assist, they are just looking out for everyone’s best interest. Plus, they do have the experience, be sure to listen to some of the advice and filter out the extras.

  • Forgot How To Parent Grandparents

I always think it is funny when an old man that raised five kids doesn’t know how to hold a baby. It is like those 20-something years of being a parent just vanished from their brain and they have no idea how to talk to children. If they are there, and they are trying, they still care. Having someone like this in your children’s life can be an opportunity to teach your kids about respect and boundaries, while caring for those in their life in different ways.

  • Highly Invested

This rare breed of in-law is ecstatic to have children in their life. They offer to help with everything from cooking up dinner to taking the kids to the park. My father is this type of grandfather and it is such a blessing. He is happy to get whatever opportunity to spend time with the kids, and won’t interfere unless asked. If everyone is happy, you don’t have anything to worry about.

  • “I Wish I Had More Time” Grandparents

Whether they live far away, or they are still heavily involved with work, these grandparents are afraid they are missing out. They dream of being the highly invested grandparent, but logistics hold them back. It is important to let them know that they can be a part of the kids life when they have time. Setting aside some special event or time for them may benefit everyone.

  • Christmas In-Laws

This category fits for almost everyone else. They are only around once or twice a year, usually during the holidays. They pack in as much visiting as they can usually consisting of bland small talk and they are gone within a few days. These are the in-laws you just need to stick it out for. Whether it is fun for you or not, just sit back and let it happen it will be over soon enough.

  • Everyone Else

As for the rest of your in-law clan, follow your partners lead. Whether it is siblings, uncles, aunts, or some distant cousin, your partner will know how to deal with them. Don’t be afraid to ask for some notes or pointers.

Remember, most in-laws are trying to show they care in there individual way. One day it is going to be you. You will need to meet countless boyfriends and girlfriends, and watch your child’s love blossom with a stranger. One day, hopefully, there will be grandkids for you to spoil, or look out for, or take to the park, or forget how to hold. Treat your in-laws today the same way you would hope to be treated if in their situation, show that you respect their relationship with your family, and everything will be okay.

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