If you have a mother-in-law who needs to feel in control, brainstorm with your partner about giving her something to do that will make her feel valued and hopefully give you space.
Ok, Edna, but what about the family we don’t choose for ourselves? Like our biological family and...cough, cough...our in-law family?
The holiday season brings us that glorious opportunity to spend more-than-humanly-necessary amounts of time with our family and our partner’s family. Whether you’re hosting your in-laws for the holidays or you’re a guest in their house, there’s an undeniable opportunity for conflict and tension.
Isn’t it funny how your mother-in-law knows just how to turn every compliment into a criticism?
“I love your new haircut...but it would be a lot better if you had done it this way...”
“Dinner smells delicious – oh, you’re going to chop the carrots like that? They won’t cook all the way through...”
“It is cold in here, but whatever blankets you have are fine! I’ll just take some extra vitamin C and hope I don’t get sick.”
And these are just the “easy” criticisms. It’s just a matter of time before the observations offered by your in-laws challenge your parenting tactics, your job, and how you arrange your furniture. This is usually when you start fantasizing about jumping on a cloud and floating away to some far away land where people don’t exist.
What’s the best defense against the in-law attack? How do you maintain a positive environment? How do you keep your sanity?
#1 Remind Yourself: They Aren’t Staying Forever
It’s only a matter of time before the in-laws go home. You can handle a few days of forced smiles and altered carrot-cutting habits, and then you’ll be back to your house, your way, and laughing about your mother-in-law’s controlling efforts behind her back – the way it’s supposed to be.
#2 Back Away From The Liquor Cabinet
The holiday season is a time to eat, drink, and be merry, but it’s the drinking part that will get you in the most trouble. For many, the added tension is a fantastic reason to pour another glass and try to unwind. But the boozing impairs your judgment, and can lower your social inhibitions to the point where you say and do things you can’t take back – not the best situation when you’re in the in-law’s company.
If you are drinking, try to match your drinks with water. It’s not the water that keeps you sober, it’s the extra time you give yourself between drinks. But if you’re at a breaking point, walk away. Maybe you “forgot” something at the store and need to take a quick trip – by yourself. In the past I have retreated to a bedroom or bathroom, alone, with the door locked, for five minutes and enjoyed every second of silence. Giving yourself a chance to breathe and remove yourself from whatever situation can be enough to regroup and achieve some small sense of calm.
#3 Find The Structure
If you are hosting the in-laws and other family members – whether it’s for one day or several – have a plan of events ready before the first guest arrives. Have set dinner times so you can control your cooking schedule. More importantly, have a plan for keeping everyone entertained. Have a card game at the ready that all the adults love to play. Pull out a few kid-friendly movies and have them waiting by the TV for when chaos erupts.
#4 Call For Back-Up
Have your partner help, after all, it is their family. Brainstorm with your partner about what can make their visit the most comfortable. For example, if you have a mother-in-law who needs to feel in control, or always be busy, brainstorm with your partner about tasks you can have ready for her; it could be a food dish she can help you with or let her rearrange your bookshelf. Whatever it is, give her something that will make her feel valued and hopefully give you space.
A word of caution: Don’t ask your partner to take sides. Chances are, they already feel in the middle and torn, and could very well be hearing complaints from both sides. Work together to make their visit go as smoothly as possible, don’t force them to choose their mother over you.
As much as you can’t stand your in-laws implying your children will have rotten teeth or that you dress too young for your age – they are still your family, and they are still your partner’s parents, siblings, etc. Nothing can change that. You cannot control what they say or do, but you can control how you choose to react. Take some deep breaths, give yourself space when you need it, and keep in mind “the holidays won’t last forever...”