It is never easy coming into a new family. I don’t care how fantastic your in-laws are, the initial acceptance is always a little tricky. It is one of the few times in your life when you will question everything from the way you were brought up to every single stupid decision you have made over the past ten years. Ugh…
Just thinking about it makes me cringe.
For the most part, I’ve always gotten along with in-laws or my boyfriend-at-the-time’s family. Sure, there were quirky characters scattered here and there on the relationship road, but at the end of the day, I had very few scrapes and bruises.
I recently came across an article in Psychology Today that has really made a difference for me in dealing with my current situation. This situation is one that is causing a tremendous amount of anxiety and frustration for me, my husband, and the kids. It has to do with the in-laws. (Not all of them, mind you.)
The article is titled: Parents-In-Law Don’t Want to Play Nice? How to deal with your in-laws’ objections. It explains how to set healthy boundaries and to be perfectly honest with you, it sort of validated what I thought we should be doing. The question is… is it too late?
They recommend that you do not budge one inch when it comes to the decisions you make. In our situation, my husband and I are treated like children unable to make decisions for ourselves, and I assure you, I have been living my life just fine for 42 years prior to meeting his family. I find when people try to control behaviors and alliances, it is a sign of insecurity and a need to be in control – to keep you in check.
The next thing they recommend is to remember that we are the authority of our family. This I have no problem making happen, however, my husband is typically more of “go along to get along.” Our kids tend to spend more time with my in-laws and less time doing family activities with us. It is no wonder true bonding hasn’t taken place. We are put in a situation where my husband does not want to “make waves” with his mother and the others, so he lets his kids do whatever they want with the other family members, sometimes with no regard to any plans we may have made.
Then they recommend putting the in-laws in their place. I almost started laughing when I read that. Here again, if you know me, I have no problem putting anyone in their place, but in this case, it would isolate my husband from his family and that is NOT what I want. That one is a little tricky. I suppose being consistently firm on tolerated behavior is the key here.
Then the article suggests that you re-evaluate your boundaries. This is something I did about two years ago. I went to therapy for anxiety and uncovered it was my living situation. My husband and I were living in the family cabin on the family farm. We spent many nights and afternoons with his extended family and to be perfectly honest, it was smothering. We changed our eating schedule and did more things just the two of us, versus all of us. Then we moved in the house we built and this was a nice 9 mile padding.
The next suggestion is to keep your distance. THIS I think is important for me. Let me explain why: The loyalty is not there. The loyalty is with the first wife (the baby mama.. which I hate that term and feel it is trashy, but it fits her.) They constantly look and compare us. I believe you get a green light on behavior if you pop out a few kids, which I did not. Therefore, every move I make is evaluated. Every facial expression is dissected, and every word I utter is twisted to fit their dysfunctional needs. The best thing I can do is simply keep a polite distance to keep the peace. Show up at the big things, put on my vest of protection, and smile.
The next tip is a good one: Only spend time with your MIL if your spouse is present. I think this goes without saying.
I never considered the next tip, and that is to only meet on neutral territory. According to the article, “This gives you more control over the situation, and can help to keep their behavior in check. Your in-laws aren’t able to call the shots as easily in public as they can when under their roof. You’re also less vulnerable in not being a guest in their home.”
And it goes on to say things like: Don’t accept help or loan items, don’t involve other family members (like the kids, his sister & partner, etc.,) to evaluate how your spouse is handling the situation (which is something we are working on,) and finally to remind each other how you feel about one another.
The last two is exactly where we are at. By setting these new boundaries, some feelings got hurt and a mirror was held up to all involved. We have an ex-step daughter (who sees Tim as her father,) constantly stirring up drama via social media and gossip. He called her out on some of this and as expected, she reacted poorly. It made him feel terrible and he has spent many weeks since feeling bad, but also realizing he needed to put a stop to it. And finally, we are trying to remind each other that in the coming decade or two, it will just be us and to remember why we chose each other to grow old together and not let the behavior of others taint something so beautiful.
It is tough folks – dealing with people who may or may not have the skills or self awareness to make changes or see what is actually happening. It is also easy for people with very little outside activity in their life to want to spread gossip. Sticky situation all around.
At the end of the day, I wanted nothing more than to have a happy, healthy relationship with his family. I was hoping that when I left my family, friends, and safety net that I would be welcomed with open arms into a new family. They are so tight knit, I thought how beautiful this new situation would be. Yes, they are generous (financially,) because they can be, but there are emotional strings attached. No, I am not always included in plans and when I am there, it is as if I am just another guest. When I try to share my life by inviting them over or inviting them to see some things important to me, they have reasons or excuses not to participate. *Sigh*
So you see…. something has got to give.
More to come….