Wednesday, August 1, 2012

15 Things {Day Fourteen}

The integration of two families is no small feat. 
Working out the kinks takes time.
(excuse the photo quality here...I hate my scanner and didn't feel like using it)
Greg's immediate family in 1997

My immediate family in 1997.

You know all those mother-in-law jokes?  They may be funny, but unfortunately they are indicative of decades of marital turmoil that, in many instances, the combination of two families has caused. 

I'll be honest...the first several years of marriage weren't easy when it came to my in-law relationship.  It wasn't extreme, like some of the stories we hear or read about, but there was definite tension and frustration. 

Greg and I both come from strong, cohesive families.  That is a good thing; however, each of our traditions ran deep, and we found it difficult to make our own traditions while still being integrated into the traditions of our families which span several hundred miles north, south, and west of us.
As those "crisis" times approached throughout the year, it would put us both on edge.

Needless to say, Greg acclimated better than I.  Ultimately, there was a bit of a confrontational moment where it seemed that my in-laws and I were able to express ourselves in a very honest, straightforward way.  And because we were all in it to better our relationship, that moment was the beginning of a new era in our marriage and in our family.

Please don't assume from this that my in-laws and I hated each other or anything like that.  They have always been very good to us and showered us with love.  What it boiled down to was a set of expectations that each of us had, as well as a lack of communication.  I'm sharing our situation with hopes that someone else can receive help. 

Here are my top four suggestions for any person wanting to have a great relationship with their in-laws (of course, this can vary depending on the situation):
  • Find out about your inlaws backgrounds, their family of origin, circumstances they experienced, etc. There are reasons why people have built certain walls or coping mechanisms into their lives. 
  • Learn your inlaws personalities.  When you are baffled by something, go back through the information in suggestion #1.  It will probably help to put things into perspective.
  • If your spouse is not the first child in the family to get married, look at the relationship between the other married children and the parents.  Likely they are building their expectations upon what their experience has been with other children.
  • Don't give up or avoid out of discouragement.  If we love our spouses, we can love the people who bore and nurtured them.  The key is to root all bitterness and selfishness out of our own lives, look for the good, and minimize hurtfulness in every way possible, and proactively build this relationship for the benefit of everyone...including the grandchildren, who desperately need and deserve the love and support of grandparents on both sides of the family.
  • Pray for your inlaws.  Pray that God will protect them, and cause them to grow in Him.  Pray that your relationship will be at its best so that your marriage can be at its best.  Pray that God will change your heart so that you can live in complete harmony.

Here are my top five suggestions for parents who wish to have a great relationship with their inlaw children:

  • Learn as much as you can about your inlaw's family, and experiences they have had in their life.  Don't compete with their family, just allow the beauty of their family and your family to come together to bless your child and the inlaw.
  • Study the personality of your inlaw.  Seek to magnify the strengths, and avoid magnifying the weaknesses.  If there are troubles, tell as few people as possible.  Don't reflect negativity.
  • Avoid the urge to smother.  Watch for signals.  Allow your child and their spouse to make decisions, and give advice when appropriate (normally when asked). 
  • Remember that your child probably didn't choose the person you would have chosen for them, but they are happiest when, with God's direction, they make the decision - especially given that they have their own tastes and preferences, and they are the ones who have to live with the person every single day. 
  • Pray for your inlaw children.  Pray that your child will be the spouse they should be, that their lives will be melted together in a bond that can only be broken through death, and that you will have the relationship with them that will be a blessing to the entire family. 
Over the last 15 years, I have observed (my favorite method of learning) family after family.  Although there are times that the roles are reversed, the husband's family typically comes in 2nd place.  I know that geography, age, etc. can make a difference in that, but I think my observation is fairly accurate.  Girls tend to stay closer to their families than guys.  That said, I think we as women need to be proactive in helping our husbands maintain relationships with their extended families (aunts, uncles, cousins), as well as their immediate families.  We need to encourage phone calls and visits.  We need to talk with them about family memories, deceased family members, childhood highlights.  When we listen, we communicate interest.  That does amazing things for a husband.  :-)

Not too long ago, I asked a teen boy about his father's family.  He confessed that he didn't know much about them, that his mom didn't like his dad's family, and that they rarely had contact.  Another friend confided to me that her family has been struggling because of a sister-in-law who is being controlling about family get-togethers.  It has caused so much friction and stress in the family, and no one really knows how to approach it.  A friend with whom I have been counseling shared recently that one of her struggles has been getting beyond a false accusation by her father-in-law.  The incident happened several years ago, but because of the fragility of the relationship, she has found it difficult to move on.

These are just a few of the types of situations that occur within families today.  I will wrap up this incredibly long post by saying this:

We've all made mistakes.  If you have regrets, do your best to repair the damage and move on.  Be the better person.  Begin now to build solid relationships with your inlaw family, whether it be mother/father-in-law, brother/sister-in-law, son/daughter-in-law.  You will never find joy in anything less.

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