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Surviving the Holidays with Your In-Laws

Posted Dec 23 2008 12:54pm

Right about now young couples the world over are traveling to a family member’s house to visit for the holidays.  Many husbands will be staying at their wife’s parents’ home - here are some tips to avoid blowing your top with family that was never yours to begin with.

It’s completely normal to feel nervous and overwhelmed at spending the holidays with your in-laws.  Just remember, the holiday is there to relax, have fun, and build relationships with your family.

1. Be pleasant to everyone. People react to you the way that you greet them.  No matter how your last encounter with in-laws and your spouse’s siblings went, be nice to them and smile when you see them.  Get things started off right, at least.  Compliment the girls on their new hairstyles, and ask the guys about their new tools/cars/other toys.

2. Make room for yourself. Your wife’s family has been together for a long time - much longer than you’ve known them.  They all know where they belong in the pecking order and who usually does what.  Find a way to contribute to the holiday festivities, whether it’s helping with food, clean up, or wrapping presents.  If the family has a holiday tradition like re-enacting the Birth of the Savior, figure out in advance how you get to participate, and ask for clarification on things that don’t make sense.

3. Befriend the siblings. Chances are at least one of your wife’s siblings also thinks that Mom’s tradition of hand making Christmas patterned sweater vests for the entire family is a little bit hokey.  Use that to build common ground.  Having one of the siblings as a friend is one of your best resources when things start to get really tense.  You might find that they can lighten the situation with a little humor on your side.  They might also be kind enough to quietly explain to you why Grandma’s Jello mold is eaten every year even though no one likes it and Grandma has been gone for 10 years.

4. Learn selective ignorance. Every family has their established feuds and hot button issues.  After you’ve been with your wife for a while, you’ll learn what they are.  Do yourself a favor and stay out of them.  When they come up, subtly leave the room.  Under no circumstances should you start laughing when Johnny starts arguing with your mother-in-law about having girls over - no matter how many times you’ve heard the argument - you’ve never heard the argument before and it’s not funnyBonus tip: don’t tell your in-laws how to raise their children.

5. Join the holiday traditions. Is there an annual Christmas Day game of Monopoly that lasts for six hours?  Does her family take pictures of every single present being opened?  Does her family always light candles and sing hymns on Christmas Eve?  Join in the craziness.  These seemingly inane or repetitive traditions are built-in traditions in her family’s house.  Learn to love them and adapt them for your own future family traditions.  Even though they seem simplistic, these are the things that build families.

6. Plan “we time.” No matter how much your wife loves your family, odds are that she would like some time with you while you’re on vacation.  Make sure you plan some time where the two of you can be alone and have some fun together.  Get a hotel room for one of the nights if it’s a long trip.  Go out on a walk with just the two of you.  Give each other a special gift when you’re alone together.

7. Bring electronic backup. Your laptop, iPod, NintendoDS, and other electronics are your friends.  Bring them along just in case things get too scary.  Every man needs cave time, and being with the in-laws naturally brings out insecurities and a need to get away.  Don’t use them to the point of ignoring family, but having them is helpful.

8. Set your boundaries. Your in-laws may be very touchy-feely or just gregarious.  Know your limits.  If hordes of screaming children are not your thing, then pull yourself out of the situation before your nerves explode and you find yourself tossing a small child into the Christmas tree.  Don’t make a scene, but just pull yourself away for a while and read, go for a walk, or play a video game.

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