dealing with in laws

My In-Laws Are Coming for Christmas. Help!

We don’t get married for the extended family, and sometimes what they bring to the table can be challenging. In fact, even if you really like your in-laws (which I do…in case they’re reading this blog), you’ve likely had to deal with the real challenge that comes when you are welcomed into a family whose traditions seem foreign to you. Holidays like Christmas can exacerbate this as family comes to visit, traditions collide, and everyone feels the pressure to make it a Hallmark-worthy event.

Do you find yourself dreading the fact that your in-laws are coming for Christmas? Here are 5 suggestions for dealing with in-laws during the holidays so you not only survive the season, but maybe even enjoy it.

1. Strategize

Often, what makes the in-law dynamic difficult is that you and your wife aren’t on the same page. Maybe you thought they were staying two days but she assumed three. You figured you’d let her hang out with her parents while you watched the game but she thought you’d all visit together. You need to strategize. Take 30 minutes prior to the visit to discuss what the in-laws’ time with you will look like so that you have shared and agreed upon expectations.

2. Prioritize

You will have to compromise when your in-laws are around. Just surrender to that reality. However, that doesn’t mean you have to lose control over your life for that period of time. You need to prioritize. Decide with your wife what the boundaries are. Where are you going to put your stake in the ground and say, I’m not budging here? Discuss this together prior to their arrival and then stick to your priorities, but gladly give way on less important matters.

For example, if your in-laws are overly critical of you, you shouldn’t budge on that. It’s not ok for them to tear you down and criticize you. However, if you know they hate it when you watch football during dinner, you could choose not to do that as a courtesy to them while they are with you. Some things are a big deal, others not so much.

3. Empathize

It’s helpful to see our in-laws as people as opposed to just as in-laws. Maybe it’s inconvenient for you to have them come to your home, but try to consider their perspective. After all, you’re a dad. Won’t you hope to be welcomed in your child’s home when he or she is an adult? Sure, this doesn’t give your in-laws a right to meddle or to treat you poorly, but we’ll deal with that next. If it’s simply an inconvenience, try to put yourself in their shoes and imagine how much it will mean to be a part of your kids’ lives when they are adults. Empathizing may change your posture toward them.

4. Customize

Consider planning to do something with your in-laws that you know everyone will enjoy together. Often the tension comes when we try to integrate our in-laws into our normal rhythms. However, if we can customize the experience by choosing one or two things we can plan with their interests in mind, not only will they feel cared for and valued, it will also give you some (limited) control over the situation.

5. Depressurize

You cannot control your in-laws, but you can control yourself.

Most difficult relationships have points of pressure where you know things will get out of hand. Politics? Religion? Football? You can depressurize these situations by refusing to take the bait and engaging with respect and kindness even while disagreeing. The key is to maintain what psychologist Edwin Friedmand called a non-anxious presence. You cannot control your in-laws, but you can control yourself.

Earn some points: Help your wife understand your mom better with this iMOM article, 5 Things to Help You Understand Your Mother-in-Law Problems.

Sound off: What are some ways you’ve worked to improve your relationship with your in-laws?

Huddle up with your wife and ask, “How can we make this Christmas with your family enjoyable?”