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In-laws or Outlaws? 6 tips for building a healthy relationship with your extended family

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We’ve all heard of those dreaded in-law stories. The mother-in-law (MIL) who barges into a couple’s marital bedroom at midnight, just for a “chat”. The father-in-law (FIL) who insists that his son’s wife shouldn’t be allowed to work. The monster-in-law who blames her daughter-in-law for bringing bad luck to the family business, just for washing her undergarments along with her husband’s clothes!

There’s even Reddit thread entitled “Just No MIL” for over 1.8 million members to vent. In-laws can either be a blessing, or your worst nightmare. I truly count my blessings, because I have an enviable relationship with my in-laws. They are caring, generous and supportive, although my husband and I are separated. 

My MIL provides practical help, drop-off babysitting services (including home cooked meals, arts and craft, storytelling, home schooling and spoiling my kids), as well as emotional support. She always has words of wisdom and encouragement when she knows I’m going through a tough moment.

However, getting to this point took time, energy, patience, and grace. Based on my experience, several factors were key to building this healthy relationship.

Here are some of the lessons that have helped me in this process:

1. Treat them as family

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

I always think of my in-laws as family, my second set of parents, and not as his family. We spend a lot of time together, and I try to include them as much as I can – visiting and calling them several times a week, as well as going on family vacations together. I want my children to have special memories of their grandparents. When I become a grandmother myself, I would like to have the same strong relationship with my grandkids too.

2. Set clear parenting values

Differing parenting styles can cause the in-law relationship to strain, especially when there is a newborn in the family. Some MILs may feel they are the parenting expert and dole out one too many “pearls of wisdom” that can seem critical of a sleep-deprived mother. Take a deep breath and recognise where the advice is coming from. Don’t forget, everyone just wants the best for the baby. 

Remember that you’re the mother now –  so you get to choose how to raise your children. It’s important for you and your husband to be clear on your parenting values and stand as a united team. Which brings me to the next point…

3. Establish boundaries

Figure out what boundaries you should define with your in-laws. Creating healthy boundaries that are agreed upon by you and your spouse can improve your wellbeing and the relationship between all parties. Try: 

  • Communicating assertively

Respect your in-law’s views and try to understand where they are coming from, especially when it comes to child raising. Show appreciation for their advice, then politely let them know how you and your spouse are choosing to parent. If you find yourself in conflict with your MIL over issues like breastfeeding vs. formula, sleep schedules, starting solid foods or potty training, work as a team with your spouse to decide what is important and what is not. Set your own family values, and then communicate this clearly to your in-laws.

  • Saying no without feeling guilty

Giving in to all your in-law’s requests or demands is not the way to maintain peace. You don’t always have to say yes when your in-laws want to you to come over for dinner for the third time that week! Learn how to utilise the word “no” in a respectful but firm manner. 

4. Don’t sweat the small stuff

My MIL used to rock my babies to sleep, fussing over them constantly, with few restrictions as to candy or screen time. She loves spoiling them to bits, and it often irked me because I felt she was undoing my disciplined parenting. Slowly however, I learnt to let this slide, focusing instead on her positive intentions. I realised that her actions were a reflection of how much she loved and cared for my kids.

I may have set some further boundaries if my MIL watched my children daily, but since it wasn’t often, I took a step back so she could enjoy her grandkids. I do think it’s nice for my kids to be indulged by their grandmother every now and then (I certainly don’t fuss over them like she does!). 

5. Express appreciation

Value and respect your in-laws as you would with your own parents. It could be as simple as:

  • helping to run their errands; 
  • providing tech support; 
  • making the effort to participate in family events; 
  • sending a thank you text to your MIL for cooking dinner; or 
  • asking for their advice and opinion. 

6. Take a deep breath

An angry retort might just be at the tip of your tongue, as you receive yet another piece of unsolicited advice from your FIL. But take a moment to cool down instead. Remind yourself that this might merely be one person’s opinion; you don’t have to follow it. Sometimes, the best thing to say is nothing. You can’t control other people from talking, but you can control how you choose to hear them. 

No matter how annoying your in-laws can be, without them, the man you love wouldn’t exist. So try focusing on the positive aspects instead, and find ways of making the time with your extended family as enjoyable as possible. All the best, mamas! 

by Lucy T.

From our team of purposeful, multi-faceted mummies. For editorial or general enquiries, email to us at hello@makchic.com.