How to be a Good Inlaw Being a good inlaw is like walking a tightrope without the security of a safety net, if you say too much or too little you fall off balance. Obviously, both can have serious consequences. Lately I’ve been seeing and hearing a lot of the results of poor inlaw behavior. Thankfully I can be proud to say-I have been above reproach. At least that’s what my son-in-law told my daughter. So for the moment I can say, I am a good example of how to be a model mother-in-law. One friend shared with me her hurt at being totally forgotten on her birthday, again. In 18 years of marriage 90% of her inlaws had never even so much as called her on her special day. They had also not remembered to call her children on the days of their births. Mind you this included not just the aunts and uncles, but the grandparents and step-grandparents as well. She pointed this out to her spouse.
In all these years they had been married she had made sure his family had always received, at the very least, a phone call and a card on these occasions, plus on their individual anniversaries. A family member of mine called and regaled that her mother-in-law had done the unthinkable-she bought a car from a dealership that had treated her son worse than dirt! In case you’re wondering, this woman was at the agency and witnessed firsthand the treatment the young couple had endured. Both felt as if this woman deliberately stabbed them with a butcher knife. Especially since she had just paid off a car and had promised to help them buy furniture for the impending birth of her first grandchild with the money she was no longer putting out on a monthly basis. The mother-in-law in kind, thought they owed her an apology, leaving them a five minute tirade on their answering machine telling them just that! Five days later, the young couple have decided that maybe disowning the soon-to-be grandma would not be a bad thing to do.
My question is: what did she think was going to happen when she decided to behave in this manner? Did she intend to have herself cut out of what should be one of the most wonderful times of her life? Now I’m sure in the two years that I have been an inlaw I have probably said or done something I shouldn’t have, I am a force to be reckoned with when something “gets my goat”. But I try very hard to be a “good” relative. My mother probably had the world’s worst in the way of marital relatives to contend with, so from an early age I took mental notes about what you should not do if you want to be loved for a lifetime by your adult children. To give you an idea, without airing familial dirty laundry, by the time I was fifteen, I never saw my father’s mother again, and neither did the rest of my immediate household. My parents are very good inlaws, not perfect (who really wants to be? too much pressure) but darn close. My husband’s family could have learned a few things, but I’ve come to love my sister-in-law and wished that she and her family lived closer. Same with one of his cousins. The way I see my position is this: everyone has a right to make their own mistakes. I am not the keeper of the clan. What was a good choice for my husband and myself doesn’t mean that it is the only way! So I keep my mouth zipped, unless I am directly asked what would I do in the given situation. If something really bugs me, I say so-to my daughter. I say it honestly, once. Then I shut up. Okay, sometimes twice. I’m working very hard on correcting that. I always remember birthdays and anniversaries of the immediate family, call when I hear someone is sick or hurt to see how they are doing. When time or need comes up, I offer my services in any way I am able. In general however, there is no “trick” in having a wonderful relationship with inlaws. It boils down to learning to never butting in unless you’re asked too. And when you are asked for advice or opinions, preface by saying: you know in this case, this is what I would do, because this would work out best for me.
Never tell your adult children what to do! If it turns out in a less than positive light, they will blame your intrusion and any monetaries losses on you-they might even claim you owe them! Being a good inlaw is not the same as being a good employee-there is no yearly review! No one calls you in and tells you what your strengths are or where you work on improving. There is no merit raise for doing the job to the best of your ability. It’s all trial and error. Kind of like being a parent for the first time. There’s an entire other topic that there should be a few sure-fire tips that would help make outcomes of the positive type easier. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was a class to take? “In-law: 101-the ins and outs of getting along with your married children” I for one, would sign-up.