Wednesday, September 29, 2010

8 Ways to Be the World's Greatest In-Law

If you ever get with a group of women and want to start the conversation off with a bang there are two topics guaranteed to get things going: pregnancy and mothers-in-law. Every woman's got a story about her labor and an even worse account of her mother-in-law.

But the funny thing is, I have a great mother-in-law. In fact, both sides of the family could write a book on how to be a good in-law so I'm sharing a few things I've noticed that my mother-in-law and my parents do that get them big points in the "Greatest In-Law" category. Some may seem pretty obvious but I'm continually surprised by how many families have problems incorporating these "obvious" suggestions.

1. You're not a parent any more.
You're a friend, a confidant, a helper, a support system, a cheerleader, whatever you want to call it but once your child has become an adult your days of parenting are over. At least they should be. Once your kids reach adulthood they don't stop needing you but the way they need you should be very different from when they were children. You have to starting thinking of yourself as a resource, not as a parent.

You can expect that whatever person you have produced after 20 years of parenting is a finished product--so far as you are concerned. You've done your part and the rest of the burden for improvement, correction or adjustment is with them. Besides, if your child hasn't learned a principle after you've tried to teach it to them for 20 years it’s pretty sure that your nagging isn't going to fix the problem. Once adults, children need to live their own lives regardless of how you feel about things--after all, isn't that the whole point of parenting?

2. Don't give advice.
Even when you're asked for it--or at least very reluctantly. Many times when someone asks another person for advice they already know what they want to do, they're just looking for validation in which case advice is pointless. Other times they don't know what to do and want you to tell them the answer in which case advice keeps them from learning to find their own answers to life's problems.

Occasionally you might have a time when advice is sought and when it would be appropriate, as a friend, to offer it. But advice is like salt--it's fine in very small amounts but too much and it makes things unpalatable and too much could kill you. Of course here am I, giving out all sorts of advice in this post. How ironic is that?

3. Give your kids and their spouses your approval when it's earned.
Even as adults we still want to think that our parents are proud of us so don't stop telling your grown children when they're doing something well. In fact, I'd say that as an adult I care more than I did as a child about what my parents think. I want them to approve of the way I'm a mother or a person because I understand life and the importance of one's character more than I did as a child.

Tell them that you love them, tell them that you're proud of them. All those years when you told them that you want them to grow up to be better than you were? Well now is the time to tell them that they've succeeded. And that goes double for your children's spouses--be sure to compliment them. And not those back-handed compliments that really mean something completely different (i.e. "Wow, you've actually learned to cook and it's not half-bad!")

4. Don't interfere with child rearing.
Of course if there are extreme issues where grandchildren are in physical danger intervention might be appropriate but otherwise you should be completely invisible as a disciplinarian. Your job was to raise the parents NOT the grandchildren. To undermine parental authority, however well-intentioned, is a serious, serious infraction--one that de-stabilizes a family and turns members against each other so don't ever be guilty of getting between your children and their own children. It will just harm things in the end and push them away from you.
You may think that your grandkids don’t get enough discipline and that you’re the only one standing between them and prison and that as such you have an obligation, nay, a moral imperative to get involved but I’m still going to go with my “stay out of it completely” policy and tell you to leave it alone. Believe it or not your children really pick up on criticism well (to say nothing of their spouses) and that is what this will be interpreted as: criticism of their parenting. Which, coincidentally, it is.

Besides? Who wants to be parents forever? Being a grandparent is much more fun anyway. My Dad says that the whole reason you have kids is so that you can some day be a grandparent.

5. Do nothing to harm the unity of your children's marriages.
It is not a contest to see who your grown children love more: their parents or their spouse. Don't make them choose because if they must they darn well ought to choose their spouse, no exceptions.

I can see that for some people--particularly mothers whose lives revolve around their children--it might be painful to allow kids to grow up, move away and build a life with someone else but that's the way it's supposed to be. It's what's healthy for everyone concerned and what will build stronger, happier marriage and families.

A good parent would never want to jeopardize their child's marriage or relationship with their spouse so don't do it.

6. Accept their spouse unconditionally.
There is a tendency, as a parent, to see your child in a rosy light. Love has a way (as it should) of dimming our vision of imperfections. Because of this, it's easy once our children get married to think that everything they do is right and that their spouse is the outsider who doesn't deserve the same benefits of affection as your own blood relation.

However, once children marry and make a choice to join their lives to another person legally and morally it's time to get on board. It doesn't matter how you feel about this new person, it doesn't matter if you like them or hate them or are ambivalent. You owe it to your child to welcome the new spouse into the family in full fellowship, with all the love you'd give to your own children.

So many of the problems you see between in-laws and married spouses are because parents take the part of their child and treat the spouse as an outsider and it's just wrong.

7. Don't make demands.
Not in time, money or emotion. Yes, your children should honor, respect and help you but you have no right to demand a certain kind of treatment you think you deserve. And this includes the not-so-subtle guilt tactic.

Remember for a moment what it was like to be a parent with young children. Did you feel pressure? Were there lots of demands on your time? From work, church, children, and spouse? We all lead busy lives and have lots of pressures but loving parents don't increase the pressure on their children by making demands and insinuating that their children don't love them unless they play the game their way. Parents are supposed to be the mature ones, right? This tactic doesn't usually have the effect you want anyway, it just pushes your children away.

8. Be involved in your grandchildren's lives.
With the caveat: let their parents decide how much. Yes, retirement is nice. Yes, you've deserved a break (perhaps), but don't check out on life completely. It's hard raising kids today and parents need all the support they can get--having extended family as a support network is a great blessing today and being there to lend a hand or take a minute for one-on-one time with a grandchild is wonderful.

One of the reasons we decided to move to Alaska was for the benefits of having a strong extended family around--so that when we told our kids that living a certain way would make them happy we could point to examples in our family circle and say, "See? It's not just your parents who believe this stuff--it works for them too."

While being a parent may be behind you, being a good example and role model is not.


Raejean said...

I enjoyed your post on Chocolate on my Cranium. While I was reading it, it was strange to be thinking about being the mother-in-law instead of being mother-in-lawed. Don't you love how time changes our perspective?

Chocolate on my Cranium said...

Thank you for guest posting today! It was a great post with many good points to remember.

dyuane said...

I agree 100%. do you need my mother-in-law's number

CountessLaurie said...

LUCKY, LUCKY YOU. That is all I am saying...