The Five Golden Rules to Surviving the Holidays with Your In-laws
As the frenzy of Thanksgiving draws to an end, I would like to share a story about my relationship with my in-laws. I’m not from here. And apparently, it’s a problem for some people. Like, if you weren’t born in Louisiana, you don’t belong to the club and you’re never good enough. At least, that’s how my in-laws have made me feel for the many years I have lived here. It all started innocently. I would say something random at my in-laws’ house. On Monday, my mother-in-law would call my husband and say that I had been “disrespectful” but it was probably “cultural.”
Then, it turned ugly.
Pretty much everything I said or did would be considered offensive. This is my side of the story of course, and I may have done or said things that weren’t in line with their beliefs, but never did I stomp in their house and scream at them or insult them in any way. I have been patient, trying to understand what I was doing wrong. I started going to therapy to get a second opinion to make sure I wasn’t the one being mean like they said I was. I started believing that I was indeed disrespectful. I hurt so bad inside because in my family, I have never been told I am such a vile person. On the contrary. Over several years, I was tormented by the fact that I had turned into somebody evil. Interestingly enough though, my in-laws kept putting pressure on us to come visit. Every free weekend we had was spent over at their house. I kept going because I took every one of these weekends as a chance to show them that I was a better person than they thought I was. Every weekend, I failed. The Monday call would come, and it would annihilate all my efforts.
My husband and I got an opportunity to move out of state.
I held my breath for days until we decided that for our our sake and my own sanity (I had terrible panic attacks and generalized anxiety at that point), we should move. It worked. The distance helped. We did not have to go over there anymore, and the anxiety disappeared. I then realized that no matter what I tried to do, I just was not good enough. I was not from Louisiana; I had other opinions and did things differently, and I was a bad person for this. I would always be “the wrong one.” I felt humiliated and ashamed, but then, I chose to be free. Free from their grasp.
My husband and I had to move back to Louisiana several years later, but I have chosen to set boundaries for my children’s sake as well. Our relationship has improved, but recent events have once more showed me that they just do not trust me and do not consider me equal to them. However, I do not think my in-laws are terrible people. I think they just haven’t seen enough of this world to understand that in other places, people live differently and that shouldn’t be a threat to them or their lifestyle. In a way, they are uneducated to others’ upbringing. With the holidays coming, I could be dreading to spend more than two uninterrupted hours with them. Trust me though – I’ll make it. How? By following these five golden rules. Believe me, I’m a pro.
Fake it ’til you make it.
Who cares if all your in-laws do is watch TV on Christmas Eve? If you’re spending the holidays with them, just do like them. It may not be an ideal tradition, but it is what they do. They’re not going to change that. So, put a smile on your face and look at the screen. Relax.
Get a teammate.
Somebody who understands how you really feel. I’m not telling you to roll your eyes behind your in-laws’ back, but having somebody who you know is in the same situation will help you make it through. It can be your husband, your shrink, or a friend. Text them, call them, and let the frustration out. We all need to vent. Nobody can put on a smiley face for days if they feel miserable.
Eat the food.
Sorry guys, but I think that calling something “stuffing” without actually sticking it in the turkey’s butt hole doesn’t deserve the title. Where I come from, you grab that bird and stuff it for real. Not with breadcrumbs, but with meat. Stuffing should be like it sounds. Heavy. But hey, why not try the food here? You may learn something. I still can’t eat those sweet potatoes covered with marshmallows, but I have come to like other menu items. Don’t be the narrow-minded one. Be open to new culinary adventures.
Regardless of your religion, you know that the holidays are all about thankfulness, forgiveness, and renewal. You may not have the best relationship with your in-laws, but they are people. With their own feelings, fears, and doubts. Respect them like you wish they would respect you. Forgive them, and move on. You know there are more important problems in the world. In my case, I did not grow up with living grandparents. I am thankful that my children have grandparents who love them (yes, my in-laws are good grandparents).
Haha. Just kidding, but not really. Bring your own taste to the party. Bring a new bottle of wine for everybody to try. Bring a new dish you know will please the crowd. Don’t be pushy. You will start being appreciated for the little things, and who knows – maybe you’ll even see a genuine smile on your mother-in-law’s face. It doesn’t hurt to try.