When I first starting writing about life as a parent years ago the topic of family stress and getting along with your in-laws was the one most people asked me to write about. But adjusting to life with someone else’s parents comes into play long before you are a parent yourself.
Somehow, though, when kids are in the picture it all becomes much more difficult, stressful and, dare I say, maddening.
You want to see your family, and you want your kids to spend time with your family. But between the irritating quirks, special diets and their blatant disregard to your no bird policy, you sometimes feel that having a root canal would be a less painful route. OK, I know what you’re thinking, “This woman is the worse daughter, sister, aunt and daughter-in-law ever!” But we’ve all been there to one degree or another, and I am just putting it down in writing for ya’ll!
But before we go any further, I have to say I do adore my crazy immediate and extended family. And as my oldest brother often says, “We put the fun in dysfunctional." So, I already “get” my family, but just assumed everyone else would too as the family grew. Not so, as I have learned in the past few years.
From the consummate peacemaker, to the attention-seeker to the one who knows everyone, we all have family that defy explanation. But isn’t that what makes family time interesting?
So, what do you do when a new member of the family doesn’t get the personalities that make up your family? I say, don’t give up. Maybe you try to tone it down a bit, maybe you do family in small doses or maybe you check in with the newest family member to see how they are. And maybe you ask them to be a little more accepting of what a family looks like these days and remind them that maybe their own family isn’t so “normal” either.
Ah, compromise. The essence of family.
I decided a while ago to take my own advice and do some compromising. The joy in my children’s faces when they see their family is worth it, and so is what it teaches them. They learn that not everyone is like them. Some kids eat and go to bed pretty much whenever they want and that works (or doesn’t) for their family. They learn times were a lot different from when Great Aunt So and So was their age 90 years ago and iPads and iPhone weren’t lying around all over the house. And they learn that nobody is perfect, including their parents who give themselves a time out when family reunions get to be too much.
The compromise experiment went well and is still in force for the most part, but there are times (and this is the part people asked me to write about) when you can’t or won’t compromise. And this is when the real family friction can start.
You don’t want your small children around your parents' very nippy dog when you visit. You don’t serve your kids junk food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And you don’t want TV on 24/7 when they visit. When it’s your house the solution is easy: Enforce your house rules. My kids wrote them out and they are posted in our mud room. If there are rules you know might be broken when family visits, then discuss them ahead of time. For me, as you know from a recent article, it’s . I always mention this to my family when they come to visit and offer to get them slippers. For others, it’s constant sweets in the house and violent TV in front of the kids.
But what do you do when you are visiting family? Go back to school and get your masters in diplomacy? It depends on your relationship with your family and in-laws.
I am a straight shooter, so I just tell it like it is -- especially when it comes to my kids. When they were very little I just ordered their baby food and shipped it down to my in-laws along with diapers, wipes, etc. I bet my life there were some giggles about this, but I just don’t care. As the years went on my in-laws offered to get it for me and now we seem to have a standing order of organic milk and other things they might not typically have in house. I also stole a line from my like-minded cousin-in-law and say, “This is what works for my family” whenever I get push back on my organic food, low sugar, minimal TV and early bedtime parenting style.
I guess what I am saying is that every family is different. Boy are they different. And to get along and keep the peace some compromise is often the best recipe. But, with that being said, it has to come from both sides. So I have decided my new motto for life with my lovable family is to (as Teddy Roosevelt said) “Speak softly and carry a big stick."
Oh, who am I kidding? Let's try, "Try not to scream and carry a big bottle of Motrin."