If you’re married, these scenarios might be all too familiar to you:
- your mother-in-law (MIL) barges into your bedroom at midnight, just for a “chat”;
- your father-in-law (FIL) insists his son’s wife shouldn’t be allowed to work;
- your monster-in-law blames you for bringing bad luck to the family business because you washed your undergarments with your husband’s clothes. Adoi.
In-laws can either be a blessing or your worst nightmare. If you have a good relationship with yours, be grateful: supportive in-laws can provide lots of practical help, such as providing homecooked meals or taking care of the kids, as well as moral and emotional support.
If, however, you find yourself at the end of your rope when it comes to your significant other’s parents, you may find these tips helpful. Remember, forging a good relationship with family members can take time, energy, patience and grace.
1. Change your perspective
It helps to think of your in-laws as your second set of parents, as opposed to “just” being your partner’s family. By shifting your mindset, you may be more inclined to spend as much as time you can with them.
Also think of the bigger picture: as a parent, you would surely want your children to have quality time and fond memories of their grandparents. And when you become a grandparent yourself, you’d similarly want a strong relationship with your own grandchildren, wouldn’t you?
Seeing things from these perspectives can encourage you to nurture a positive and loving relationship with your in-laws.
2. Set clear parenting values
Differing parenting styles can cause relationships to strain, especially if there is a newborn in the family. Some in-laws may feel they are the parenting experts and dole out one too many pearls of wisdom that might seem critical of a sleep-deprived parent.
Take a deep breath and recognise where the advice is coming from. Don’t forget, everyone wants the best for the baby.
That said, remember you’re the parent now, so you get to choose how to raise your children. It’s important for you and your partner to be clear on parenting values and stand as a united team.
3. Establish boundaries
To that end, it’s crucial to set boundaries with your in-laws. Creating healthy limits that are agreed upon by you and your spouse can improve wellbeing among all parties.
- Communicate assertively
Respect your in-laws’ views and try to understand where they are coming from, especially when it comes to child raising. Show appreciation for their advice, then politely let them know how you and your spouse are choosing to parent.
If you find yourself in conflict with your MIL over issues like breastfeeding vs formula, sleep schedules, starting solid foods, or potty training, work with your spouse to decide what is important and what is not.
Define your own family values, and then communicate these clearly to your in-laws.
- Say no without feeling guilty
Constantly giving in to your in-laws’ requests or demands is not the way to maintain peace. You don’t always have to say “yes” if they want you to come over for dinner for the umpteenth time that week.
Learn how to say “no” in a firm but respectful manner.
4. Don’t sweat the small stuff
Do your in-laws love spoiling your kids to bits? But does it also feel like they are undoing your disciplined parenting?
When it comes to familial relationships, one rule of thumb is not to sweat the small stuff. Learn to let things slide, especially if you can see that your in-laws’ actions come from a place of caring for their loved ones.
So, if you feel your patience being tested, take a step back and let your MIL and FIL enjoy their grandkids. It will also make your children happy to be indulged by their grandparents every now and then.
5. Again, take a deep breath
Your MIL has once again criticised you, and you feel an angry retort at the tip of your tongue. Take a moment to cool down instead. Remind yourself that this is merely one person’s opinion, and just because it comes from your in-law, it doesn’t mean you have to follow it.
Sometimes, the best thing to say is nothing. You can’t stop other people from dishing out unsolicited advice, but you can control how you react and whether or not you wish to listen to them.
6. Express appreciation
Value and respect your in-laws as you would your own parents. Gestures of appreciation could include:
- helping them with errands;
- providing IT and tech support;
- making the effort to participate in family events;
- remembering their birthdays, anniversary or other special dates; or
- asking for their advice or opinion.
Of course, there’s always the time-honoured method of saying “thank you”, even for something like your MIL cooking dinner for the family. Heck, in this day and age, a simple text expressing your gratitude can go a long way.
Remember, no matter how annoying your in-laws can be, the person you love would not exist without them. So focus on the positive aspects, and find ways to make time with your extended family as enjoyable as possible.
This article was written by Lucy T for makchic, a Malaysian-based online site for chic, curious, and spirited parents. makchic has been providing trustworthy and authentic family-related content since 2013. For diverse stories of parenthood that inform, support and uplift all families, visit makchic.com and follow them on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter (X).