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Surviving Well-Intentioned (Overbearing) In-Laws


by Malini Bhatia

I didn’t just gain a husband when I got married. I gained his entire family. I’ve heard people say they didn’t marry the family, they married the man. I suppose I’m a little confused at that statement, as I didn’t realize there was an option there. I mean, come on, family is a package-deal, right?

As far as I’m concerned, it is. Now, let me be clear. I got really lucky with the whole in-law situation. My husband’s parents are an amazing couple with strong family values and true hearts of gold. They’ve been married 36 years, have raised two amazing sons, and have always been there for their family whenever anyone has needed a helping hand. They absolutely adore their grandchildren.

And they can be incredibly overbearing.

It’s completely unintentional. I fully understand this. It just doesn’t make their well-intentioned remarks and actions any less frustrating. After all, I’m a mother too. They have raised two amazing men. Their oldest son and I are raising 5 (so far) incredible kids – 3 girls and 2 boys, ages ranging from 3 weeks to 11 years. Neither party could possibly be mistaken as “novice parents” at this point. They raised their son with strong values, just as my family did the same for me. Their son and I are very straightforward (and some may say even a little old-fashioned) in our expectations for our children’s behaviors, manners, and family rules.

My amazing and wonderful in-laws, however, haven’t completely learned how to let their grandkids’ parents be the parents. When the kids are with grandma and grandpa, mom and dad’s rules are ignored, unacceptable behaviors are encouraged, and our parenting choices are questioned in front of our children. I am often left feeling as if I am being strong-armed into overlooking comments and behaviors of my in-laws in order to keep the peace, even if it means giving in on strong convictions or beliefs that I may have.

How is my marriage surviving?

We pick our battles, which is not always as easy as it may sound. For example, my 4 year old came home last weekend from a sleepover with his grandparents with his trademark faux-mohawk hairdo completely hacked off in front. The reason? Grandma didn’t like how it sat on his forehead when they went swimming at an indoor pool over the weekend. It wasn’t even cut off evenly! It looks like someone grabbed a chunk of his hair and sawed off a piece of it with a butter knife! But (deep breath), she meant well, right? Even if no one bothered to call and ask if they could cut his adorable hair, or even thought to mention it when they hastily dropped him off after the stay was over. Hair grows back. It wasn’t the end of the world.

We communicate. It doesn’t always go smoothly, but it’s definitely better than letting things fester, build up, and then years-worth of pent-up frustration suddenly exploding over something that might literally be absolutely nothing. A quick phone call from the most reasonable of you and your spouse (it usually ends up being my husband for us, as I tend to let my emotions control my immediate response and efforts at communication) to communicate a frustration is necessary. Did they overstep their boundaries with an off-handed comment? Did they forget that their child is now married and no longer living under their roof, and thus is not required to provide them with a play-by-play and explanation of every choice being made every single day? It’s highly possible the in-laws aren’t even aware how their behaviors are coming across. Someone needs to tell them. Tactfully and respectfully! (Remember, they are still your in-laws!).

We compromise. My in-laws’ believe in the baptism of infants. I believe in waiting until my child is old enough to make an educated choice on their own. Every one of my children have been baptized in my in-laws’ church at a very young age, with the understanding that my children will be allowed to be baptized later in life, when they are old enough to understand what it is about, if that is something they believe they should do. It’s important issue for both my husband’s family and myself, despite our different ideas of when it is appropriate.

We stand our ground (when it matters the most). When we tell our kids it’s not okay to hit, the grandparents cannot allow the behavior at their house “even in fun.” No snacks after brushing their teeth before bed is non-negotiable. It doesn’t matter if they are at home or sleeping over at their grandparents’ house. And one of my biggest “oh heck no” moments – never tell my kids “I’ll let you _________, but don’t tell your parents.” Nope. Not budging on that one. Ever.

Just don’t forget, whether you are picking your battles, communicating (tactfully!), compromising, or standing your ground, your in-laws are family. They raised that amazing person you chose to spend the rest of your life with. They have been there for your family when things have been hard. They’ve come to your kids’ birthday parties and have shared treasured family recipes with you because you love their child. They’ve welcomed you into their family, just as you promised to welcome them into yours. For better or for worse.


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