How to handle your in-laws over Christmas

Christmas dinner
Christmas dinner
Image: Pexels

For many families, ours no different, 2021 will be a very different Christmas holiday.

A multiplicity of our loved ones who used to form an important part of our holidays are no longer among us due to Covid-19.

However, many of us will still spend time with in-laws these holidays.

We’ll reminisce and firm up our relationships with other family members.

And for new couples, it could be an interesting experience to navigate.

We thought of Christmas holidays earlier in our marriage when we had to spend time with in-laws before we developed our own family traditions.

The nerves, anxiety and walking on eggshells trying to master the delicate balancing act of being our real selves with being sensitive to grown people you’ve just met.

You feel you often have to hold back your honest opinions about issues like politics, religion, culture and other polarising subjects — even when you’re challenged to offer your views.

Things can get even worse when you’ve heard that one or more of your spouse’s in-laws never quite approved of you, and you feel you always have to prove yourself to them.

Even if you get along well with your in-laws, you may still  find it difficult to spend long periods of time with them.

It is always important to remember that every marriage is a cross-cultural experience even if you’re from the same cultural backgrounds.

You are coming from different families, and the family you — as a couple — create is a brand new culture that has not existed before.

Going into Christmas, we offer the following ideas on how to manage in-laws, and possibly have an enjoyable holiday.

Your loyalty is first to your spouse

What if you strongly agree with your parents and disagree with your spouse on something?

What if you feel conflicted between wanting to please your relatives and pleasing your spouse?

What if you know your sibling is right, and your spouse is wrong?

Your spouse is the one you need to please above everyone else, including your parents.

They may be unhappy with you, but you don’t live with them.

It is your duty to support and protect your spouse, and to manage your relatives in a way that consistently conveys this fact as a matter of principle.

Hopefully they never have to put you in that position. But your relatives must never find it easy to gossip about, or speak ill of, your spouse in your presence without you protecting your spouse.

Manage your expectations

As the new member of this extended family, remember that you’re engaging with people who have their own feelings, thoughts and behaviours that may be completely different from yours.

Your spouse’s family has generational traditions that began years before you.

If you bring a mindset of curiosity to the family gatherings this year, you may learn things about your spouse and their family — and yourself — that you never knew before.

Nobody’s perfect, so don’t pressure yourself to be. And don’t expect to receive that from your in-laws.

Knowing this can help you not take things so personally.

Don’t try to make everyone happy.

People-pleasing your way through the holidays will lead to you feeling drained, anxious, and resentful.

It is understandable to want to walk into holiday get-togethers on your best behaviour, but you don’t need to filter your actions to the point of putting everyone else’s needs and wants before your own.

It’s vital that you focus on being yourself without being disrespectful.

Allowing your in-laws to get to know you the way your spouse does is the first part of developing authentic relationships with them.

So, don’t say yes when you mean no.

Get with the programme

Not every father-in-law lives to snake out your kitchen sink; not every mother-in-law dreams of baking biscuits with her grandchildren.

Put away the stereotypes on all that you’ve read, heard or seen about in-laws, and adjust your thinking to the reality of your situation.

Don’t expect what people can’t deliver.

Let them be, and let your relationship with them take its own healthy shape at its own pace.

Some grandparents actually don’t necessarily look forward to spending all school holidays with your children.

They may be happy spending just three days with them, and there’s everything right with that.

Remind yourself why you’re doing it

The effort to accommodate your spouse’s family is one of the greatest gifts you can offer in marriage.

You are used to putting up with your own family and you’re accustomed to their quirks and imperfections. But now you have to do it all over again.

The closest thing to a “magic bullet” for motivating yourself to put the effort into in-law relations is to remember that you are doing it because you’ve not only decided to love your spouse, but you also seek to be permanent in each other’s lives.

Furthermore, by staying on good terms with your in-laws, you are honouring and promoting your relationship in one of the best ways possible.

Always remember that your in-laws form a crucial part of your spouse’s life.

This should make them a crucial part of your life as well.

It’s not easy balancing your needs with the needs of others, especially the needs of an entirely new family.

But the creation of harmony and mutual respect is not only possible, but very necessary and worth every conscious effort as well.

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