Adam and Eve represent the archetypal married couple, the ideal, happy pair who weathered adversity together and remained married for their entire long lives. What was the secret of this accomplishment? Neither one had a mother-in-law.
In-law jokes are a staple in American culture, although there is no research that suggests that orphans have better marriages that people whose parents are alive. In fact, in-laws can be a significant source of support to a marriage, if they play their cards right.
Here are a few tips on how to pull this off:
1. Do not get involved in their relationship
That’s rule #1, folks. Your children’s marriage is their marriage, not your marriage. You have no business being involved in their marital issues. If they are experiencing relationship troubles, providing love and support to your child/child-in-law is wonderful; getting involved in the disputes is not. This is especially true if you were not asked to intervene – but it is even often true when you are asked to intervene. Getting in the middle of marital conflict is a job for a counselor, not a parent.
This is true for several reasons:
- It is impossible for you to be objective in a situation where your child is suffering.
- It becomes very difficult to get out of the middle once you get in.
- Even once you get out, you are often don’t hear what the resolution was. So if your son-in-law has been a jerk, you may hear about that, but you don’t hear that he apologized and fixed things up later. That leaves you bitter at your daughter’s husband, while she may have long forgotten the incident.The exception to this rule is if you feel your child is in actual physical danger from his/her spouse. In such a case it is warranted to get involved, even without being solicited.
2. Do not get involved in their parenting
It is so hard for parents to watch their children raise their own kids in ways they don’t approve of or agree with. And it is so easy to slip into advice-giving, correcting, even criticizing. All this accomplishes is putting a strain on your relationship with your adult children. If your children want your advice, they will ask you for it. If they don’t, assume they don’t want it. Again, empathizing with their struggles (and everyone has parenting struggles) is welcome and meaningful. That is a good way to help your child and child-in-law with the stress of childrearing. Telling them what they’re doing wrong is not. (Again, the exception to this is if you are afraid your grandchildren are in actual danger.)
3. Offer to help
This means offer your child and child-in-law the help that they need. To find out what that is, ask them!
If they are struggling to make ends meet, monetary gifts may be appreciated; but if they are well-off financially, that’s probably not what will help the most. For most parents with young children, offering them some time off by babysitting would likely be the most needed. But the golden rule is: ask! Nothing is more frustrating to all parties involved than your trying to push “help” on them in ways that aren’t needed and them not expressing gratitude for your efforts.
4. Don’t put pressure on them
Most likely your child and child-in-law have another set of in-laws to attend to – the parents of your child’s spouse. Those in-laws also want to have the kids and grandkids over for holidays, they also want time with the grandkids, they also celebrate mother’s and father’s day, and so on. To be a good in-law, you need to understand that and allow for them to split the time between both their sets of parents, guilt-free. (If you find yourself protesting right now that they already spend much more time with the other set of in-laws, it may be time to reflect on whether you’ve been transgressing any of the no-nos on this page or otherwise making it unpleasant for them to be around you.) If you guilt or pressure them into spending more time with you, odds are you’ll find them spending less.
The art of being an in-law in many ways is about honing your skills of laissez-faire. As it says of Adam and Eve, “therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother and cleave to his wife.” Letting go may be the hardest thing for a parent to do – but it’s the best way to help your child and his/her spouse succeed together in their marriage.