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THE MOM CLUB - I'll Be Home for Christmas: Dealing with the In-Laws without Becoming an Outlaw

Kristen Chase took the plunge into motherhood via a surprise pregnancy and is a married mom of two children under three.  Formerly a college music professor now writer (has her own blog), stay-at-home-parent, and military wife who recently moved to the Atlanta area.

When those pesky know-it-all friends told you that you’re not just marrying your husband and that you’re marrying his family, chances are you probably should have listened. Of course, no matter how many well (or not-so-well) meaning people told you, it wouldn’t have changed your mind. And in most situations, it really shouldn’t change your mind.

But then you get pregnant, and suddenly you’re not so sure. Your mother-in-law tells you that you’re “spreading all over the place” and offers you a list of “appropriate” baby names. Then she questions why you’re co-sleeping and why you’re holding her all the time. All this while she refuses to change a diaper because “she already did that once.”

And then all the trouble they caused you at your engagement party and wedding seem incredibly trite. I haven’t quite figured out what it is about mothering that gives every single person in the world an opinion about it, but I’ve never had so many people try to tell me a specific way to do something with someone that they don’t even know.

But it seems magnified times ten when it’s your mother-in-law. Depending on how often you see your inlaws, the holidays may or may not be an anxiety inducing affair. If they’ve driven you to near medicatable episodes on a daily or even weekly basis, perhaps a Christmas dinner or a Hanukkah celebration should be old hat. But even your well-rehearsed routine that includes long hours of cleaning and cooking, as well as a full spa day and coaching for your kids on what to say or not to say when Grandma and Grandpa come to visit might not be enough to deal with what is already a stressful time of year.

It often comes down to the mindset that their way is the only way, and any other way to do anything is just plain silly. So, even though no one in their right mind puts bourbon on their baby’s sore gums because it’s dangerous, they are still incredibly surprised that you would never consider it. And just try explaining the benefits of breastfeeding to a woman who laughed at the doctor when he asked her if she was going to do it.

Let’s just say you’d better find a quiet room in the back of the house just so you can feed the baby. But as we all know, parenting is a subjective experience, and the best parents are connected with their own kids and do what’s right for them. Who’s to tell you what’s best for your own child? They can certainly offer you advice and information, but when it comes down to it, you know your child better than anyone else.   

That doesn’t mean, however, that you get to block out all the comments, many of which seem to come out when you’re stuck in a house full of talking Irish Santa figurines, brightly lit fake Christmas trees, and weird tasting Swedish meatballs. Even the toughest athlete could not endure the holiday onslaught from the inlaws that includes anything from sugaring up your kids with cookies and cakes, to asking you why your kids aren’t wearing those ugly clothes they sent.

But that doesn’t mean that you need to stand by and drink eggnog alone in the corner all night. Instead, try dealing with the inlaws in a way that will make your holidays a bit more enjoyable but won’t cause strife in your own marriage.

And no, I’m not talking about sending them on an Alaskan cruise. The most important approach is to let your spouse deal with his parents. That means, if there’s an issue or problem before or during the visit, let him handle it. You don’t want to get tangled up in a mess that could get way more complicated than it should be. So, talk with your spouse prior to your visit about your expectations and how he can handle situations and then let him do it.

There are times that you won’t be able to stay out of situations, be it that your inlaws are directing negative comments to you or you’re within earshot to things they are saying to your kids. And in those situations, it’s best to deal with it when it happens. If you just let things go, chances are they will build up resentment. And aside from extremely bad wrinkle lines and gray hair, resentment does absolutely nothing for you. So, address them quickly and quietly, with a smile on your face and the knowledge that someone somewhere probably has it worse than you do.

And when all else fails, try your darndest to let things go. If your kids are young enough, you can trash those terrible battery operated psycho toys they seem to like to buy when they’re asleep. And if they’re not, you can always take the batteries out and make your kids earn them back by doing chores. Unless your inlaws are terribly devious people who are purposely trying to make your life miserable, I’m betting they come from a good place- a good obsessively clean place with plastic on all the furniture that matches to the point of lunacy, but a good one at that.

When it comes down to it, your inlaws did raise your spouse who’s undoubtedly a pretty great person. And while it might be a total fluke, chances are, they probably did something right.

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User Comments:
Laurel Cossitt said:
Kristen, I'm getting ready to write a "grandparent rivalry" column for the site. I'd love to hear your thoughts on that! Everything confidential of course. BTW I wouldn't have let my kids in a house with plastic covered furniture but thanks for the laugh. (I'm still rather fond of yogurt and cheerios!)
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