Love 'em or hate 'em, every mom clashes with her in-laws. Scroll down any message board and you're bound to read hair-raising tales like the ones on Parenting.com's in-law board. As one mom writes, "My MIL comes over once a week to spend time with my son and uses that day to tell me what I am doing wrong -- I'm feeding him too much, he's not ready to walk yet, it's too cold outside, it's too hot outside, it's too windy outside, his feet are cold, his feet are hot. Apparently I'm an idiot and she is Dr. Spock. My husband and I have fought so much over her."
Writes another mom: "Most of the time, we visit my in-laws at their house or at a restaurant, where we pay for their meal (even though I stay home and we are on a limited budget -- they never even pretend to offer). One time my MIL handed me a 'gift' for my daughter and said, 'I'm not sure what this is, but here.' Hey, nice to see you put some thought into the gift." (Check out the top ten horror stories from our boards.)
Sound familiar? If you're like most moms, you can weather the friction with your own parents way better than you can with your in-laws -- after all, you've been negotiating with your parents forever. With your in-laws, you aren't always sure what you're allowed to say and how you're expected to express it. You may find yourself saying the wrong thing and hurting their feelings. Or you may keep silent while your resentment grows and grows.
And just to make things even more complicated, your husband probably has a huge investment in keeping his parents happy. As one mom says, "Every time I bring up something that my in-laws did or said that bothered me, my husband just starts defending them and makes excuses for them." So when the two of you don't agree about how to handle conflicts with his parents, you've suddenly got two conflicts on your hands.
You may never feel as comfortable with your mate's family as with your own, but working out such squabbles is crucial: These people will be in your life for a long time. Of course, it's impossible to head off all clashes. But there are ways to cool down even the hottest hot-button issues:
YOUR IN-LAWS ARE TOO INVOLVED
In-town grandparents may expect to be included in every family outing; long-distance ones can monopolize vacation time: "My in-laws only make the trip to our house once a year, so they expect us to spend all our vacations with them," says one Tennessee mom. (Like all the moms quoted in this article, she didn't want to go public.) "My husband doesn't mind using all our travel time to see his parents, but it drives me crazy that we never have the chance to get away as a family."
Before you can cure grandparents of wanting too much of your family's time, you have to get your husband on board with the idea of cutting them back. And even though kids do thrive when they have close relationships with grandparents, it's equally important for you to have some time, guilt-free, to strengthen your own family bond, says Susan Newman, Ph.D., author of The Book of NO: 250 Ways to Say It -- and Mean It -- and Stop People-Pleasing Forever. So let your husband know that what you want is to have more time together, not to punish his parents, and he'll be more likely to see things your way.
Then be prepared to compromise: You may need to cut back on your own parents' visits. If your husband sees you making sacrifices, he's less likely to resent the ones you want him to make. And you both need to plan your vacation time so that you take some family trips each year sans relatives.
As for the grandparents, let your husband figure out the best way to tell them that your next visit won't happen as soon as they'd like. If he has a hard time confronting his parents, tell him he has to -- you need to keep your relationship with them on an even keel and they'll accept the news better from him anyway. To lessen the sting, you can step up your efforts to make your ILs feel connected in other ways: Scan the kids' artwork and e-mail it, and encourage frequent telephone chats with the grandkids. They won't like the change, but if all goes well, they'll come to accept it as the norm.
With in-laws who live close by, the trick is to avoid an ugly confrontation but still get what you need. If you don't want your in-laws tagging along on every special outing, just keep mum about the immediate-family-only ones. If one of the kids spills the beans, explain that you've already made plans but you'd love to have them over for supper later in the week instead. Especially if you offer a compromise, they ought to be okay, says Newman.