Dealing with the in-laws and their sharp teeth.
We’ve all been there...the awkward exchanges at Thanksgiving, or when your spouse so conveniently disappears to take a 20-minute “bathroom break” and leaves you with the in-laws to fend for yourself. If you’re an introvert, like me, the first few months are painfully uncomfortable, unless you find yourself blessed with genuine people who know what it’s like to be in your situation as the newcomer. The polite sentiments continue for a while. Warmhearted exchanges are the new norm, and you actually may start to think your adoptive family isn’t so bad.
UNTIL…you have a baby.
DING. ROUND ONE.
I say all of this after perusing the inter-webs for advice on how to deal with my charming mother-in-law, who finally broke out of her electric cage.
At the 12-month mark, mommy dearest flipped on myself and my husband, threatened to call the authorities (read: CPS), and have our daughter taken from us after she cried while leaving their home. That’s it. She cried. I mean, really?! She could have come up with SOMETHING a bit more dramatic.
Despite the sheer outlandishness of the situation, I was pissed, confused, scared, and ready to flee my new home country (that I already wasn’t too thrilled about living in). At that point, I was even ready to be away from my husband if it also meant steering clear of my in-laws and their extreme psychosis. I also knew that, unfortunately, a long term solution could not be reached if I disappeared with their only grandchild.
So here’s my take on how to handle your overbearing/scheming/big-mouthed in-laws, who seem to have forgotten that they DON’T control the universe or you.
1. Breathe: After encountering my worst nightmare as a mother (having your child taken from you…I still get sick at the thought), I had to take a step back. (Note: This was IMPOSSIBLE the first week. I’m pretty sure that if I would have seen my mother-in-law at that point, I would have taken her out with a blowdart without hesitation.) After emotions wane, try to put everyone’s feelings into perspective (note: this takes practice). Maybe they really do have good intentions, maybe they were also stressed at the time, or perhaps they are dealing with unresolved childhood issues that have NOTHING to do with you, your spouse, or your child.
2. Create Space: The beauty of being a parent is that you get to call the shots. ALL OF THEM. Your in-laws can spin for all eternity about what horrible parents you are, and that’s ok. Eventually (or maybe not, which isn’t so bad either), they will realize that they have to play nice if they want to enjoy their grandchildren. If you believe you have done everything in your power to be accommodating, it’s now time to distance yourself and wait until they make the first move towards a peaceful resolution…often seen as the “I’m sorry,” text.
3. Be Firm: Being assertive is tough for many of us. You want to be respectful, you want things to go smoothly for your child’s sake, and more importantly, life is just easier when you’re not fighting! All of these sentiments are great, until you’ve reached your limit. At that point, it’s time to speak up and let them know who is in charge. Being self-confident is not the same thing as being malicious. Setting ground rules is completely ok when it comes to your children, and often required when dealing with domineering in-laws, who can’t help keeping their overflowing criticism to themselves.
4. Remind Yourself: As a new parent, many of us can secretly admit that we have NO clue what the hell we’re doing. We are looking for praise, acknowledgment, and most often, for someone to tell us that we are simply doing a good job and that we aren’t going to royally screw up our perfect babies. Guess what? You’re not always going to get it. Do yourself a favor…remind yourself that you are doing the absolute best you can do. You love your children more than you thought was humanly possible, you’d stop at nothing to make them giggle in that cute little way that is uniquely theirs, and your main purpose in life is to keep them healthy and safe. If someone (anyone) else thinks that it should be achieved differently, THAT’S OK. At the end of the day, you don’t want to look back and say that your in-laws (or anyone else) raised your children through their disapproval because you were too afraid to speak up. You are the best parent for your child….so remind yourself.
5. LET IT GO: As much as our egos feed on drama…it’s simply not worth your health, happiness, or your marriage. Releasing negativity is the only way to move forward in life without carrying 20 pounds of unnecessary crap on your shoulders. It also allows you to be a more present parent. Is stewing over a nasty comment in your head, really worth missing your child giggle over dumping an entire bowl of cereal on the floor? Not a chance.
Kelly Acs is a therapist turned plumber (seriously), who grew up in beautiful San Diego. After years of dealing with both emotional and physical crap in her professional career, she moved to cloudy Eastern Europe to pursue love. She recently became an unexpected stay-at-home mom, who has found her passion writing and attempting to help other expat women transition smoothly into their new lives living abroad. Despite the daily challenges, she wouldn't have it any other way.