In with the in-laws

Local moms share how – and why – they keep the peace in a potentially tumultuous relationship

With the holidays in the recent past and March Break approaching, chances are that many of you have just spent time with your in-laws, or are about to.

In-law relationships aren’t always easy. After all, they’re family you didn’t choose, yet unlike your family of origin, you didn’t have a lifetime to become accustomed to their quirks. Those foibles, which seemed of little consequence to your day-to-day life in the casual dating stages, have likely taken on greater significance the longer you have been in your relationship until one day, that old saying, “you don’t just marry a person, you marry his or her family” rings true.

Parenting Times chatted with local moms about their relationships with their in-laws, and their tips for maintaining and improving the connection.

The Golden Rule

Married for almost five years, mother of two Karine Gaudreau is on good terms with her mother-in-law, who they see at least monthly. Her mother-in-law, who has 12 grandchildren, Skypes and emails, attends the children’s functions and is always happy to have the kids over. Gaudreau feels her mother-in-law understands and supports her gentle approach to parenting. 

On the few instances where Gaudreau has felt upset, she recognizes the intent was never malicious, so she let it go.

“My biggest tip is to reflect on how you’d like to be treated. Remember that you too will one day be an ‘in-law’ and that your babies now will still be your babies then. Sometimes my heart bleeds at how people talk about their in-laws. [I] can’t imagine if my kids’ future partners would talk about me like that, or cause a rift between all of us.”

Set an example for the kids

Victoria Bear says that she and her in-laws are reasonably close and recognizes the importance of being so: “Family is important,” says Bear. “Neither of us have big families, so it’s important for us to be there for each other and to show our kids how to love others besides mom and dad.”

Let your spouse talk to his or her own parents

Kristin Ireland has not one, but two sets of in-laws – her wife Tracy’s family and their son’s father Andy’s family – and loves them both. 

“We are not physically close enough to be in daily contact but visits are filled with quality time,” she says.

Good in-law relationships are important, she says, “for our emotional well-being and for our child’s.”

Her advice for getting along with in-laws? “Let the child of that family deal with their parents,” Ireland says.
“Any awkward conversations to be had with my parents are done by me and the same with my wife and her family. My wife and I always have each other’s backs first.”

Ottawa mom Emilie Fernandes agrees. “Let your partner (their child) tackle the delicate or hard topics/conversations,” she says.

Respect each other

“[My] mother-in-law had a tough relationship with her mother-in-law, so overall she’s pretty relaxed towards us, and for the most part very respectful,” says mother of three Tiffany Cait. They are also respectful of each others’ time. They see her in-laws once a month, and make appointments ahead of time.

Set the boundaries on ‘stuff’

Cait’s biggest point of contention with her in-laws is with stuff. “We wanted less, they buy more,” she says. The solution? “We provide them with a list for birthdays/Christmas and if the items are not on the list, we ask for receipts so we can return them. I really would appreciate them contributing towards RESPs for the kids instead of spending (more than) $100 on Christmas/birthdays, however, [my] mother-in-law is adamant that she prefers tangible gifts.” Danielle Ryland says she’s in the same boat. “My in-laws bring my son gifts year-round,” she says.
“I know it comes from a generous place, but I’m a minimalist at heart and can’t deal with all that stuff. We’ve agreed that the toys will be used and stored at their place. They’ve actually cut back on the gifts.”

The last word

“Embrace them as your own family,” says Khairoon Abbas, who says she’s close with her mother-in-law and three sisters-in-law. “Show them love, call them, hang out together. And be a helping hand, sort of like the glue that keeps everyone connected. A good in-law relationship is important because it brings families closer,” says Abbas. “Our kids then see how one is meant to interact with in-laws and hopefully grow up with happy memories. At the end of the day, the solid relationship builds love, compassion and closeness within the family unit.”

If all efforts fail, just do your best, parents advise.

“A positive relationship with your in-laws isn’t necessary, but it is a great bonus,” says Kathi-Ann Logan.

“I think it is ideal to have a good relationship, but I don’t think it’s required, so long as it doesn’t interfere in your primary relationship,” says Fernandes. “It should be a complement or add value to your child’s life and yours to have them involved… It’s nice to have support but not necessary.”