Managing the In-Laws at Christmas: How to set appropriate boundaries so you ALL can enjoy the holiday!

It’s Wednesday, the day when we always talk marriage. And today I’ve got a doozy of a topic for you: handling the in-laws at Christmas.

For some of you it’s easy. Your in-laws are great and you love them. For some of you it’s even easier: they live on the other side of the country! But for many of you, in-law relationships are stressful.

They come to visit (or you go to visit), and the tension fills the air. You don’t do anything right. It’s clear they don’t like you. They spoil the kids and ignore what you say. They feed them chocolate, or tell you you shouldn’t discipline them. Or they do the opposite and say that children should never make noise and why are your kids so out of control?

And your husband sits there and takes it.

And you feel so alone, even though it’s your family.

Maybe for you it’s not that bad, but you do find that your husband is a different person with his parents than he is with everybody else. And you don’t understand it.

So here are some thoughts for Christmas sanity when in-laws are involved.

1. Respect should be part of all relationships (even with in-laws), whether Christian or not.

You should treat your in-laws with respect, and they should treat you with respect. If they do not treat you that way, you need to speak up. Talk to your husband about it. Even talk to your mother-in-law about it. But you shouldn’t be in a situation where your children see another adult talking down to you.

Someone very close to me allowed her marriage to be ruined because her parents were constantly griping about her husband’s inadequacies. She did nothing to stop it, and not surprisingly, within five years they were split up. It was needless. No one should criticize you or talk down to you.

And if you have bullies in your family–and adults can be bullies, too!–I’ve got a post on how to handle adult bullies here.

2. Draw boundaries around your time during the Christmas season.

Christmas is such a special time of the year. I think we wreck it by spending it in the car, going back and forth to all the extended family. And what is worse, each portion of the extended family wants their “own” time with us.

Consider throwing a party of your own, and saying, “anyone who wants to see us, has to come to us at this time.” It will be hectic, but it’s better than spending your life on the road. My mother has joined my in-laws for Christmas at my house before, so we’re all one big, happy family. It works out well, and that way I don’t have to make two Christmas dinners. After a while, you need to create the kind of Christmas your family wants.

And it’s okay to say: this year we’re not visiting anyone. Or this year, we want to have Christmas just us at our home. We’ll visit you in the New Year, or you can come to us. There’s nothing wrong with that.

3. You and your husband need to be on the same page about how you carve out time with family and how they treat you.

This is really the kicker, isn’t it? What if he doesn’t see how his mother irks you? What if he doesn’t notice how his father subtly insults you? What if he thinks you’re blowing things out of proportion?

Can I be a devil’s advocate for a moment? Is he right? When I got married, I didn’t have much in common with my in-laws. But I threw myself into the relationship, and decided to love them. And I genuinely do! Others of my sisters-in-law spent much longer getting to love them (and some still don’t), and it’s not entirely their fault. My mother-in-law does take time warming up to people IF those people didn’t make great first impressions.

Now, my mother-in-law is actually an amazing mother-in-law. She loves me and she’s never interfered with my marriage or with how I’ve raised the girls. But I have another young friend who has been married for just over a year who doesn’t like her mother-in-law very much because the house is so much more formal than her own family of origin. But that doesn’t matter! You have to get beyond that when you’re married and just love her.

That being said, if your mother-in-law is very difficult, you have to talk to your husband about it. And ask him to draw boundaries. He is the key to your relationship, and he should be on your side. You are his wife. If he isn’t, talk to him, pray about it, and just try to love your mother-in-law. But make plans so that the time you spend with them is minimized this Christmas.

Finally, I would just encourage you to decide what Christmas you want to have. Don’t let in-laws and parents dictate it. If you have children, they come first. What kind of Christmas do you want for them? You don’t have to live for everybody else’s expectations. You can make your own.

But when you talk to your husband about it, don’t attack him or his parents.

Just share your feelings. And see what happens!

Please share your stories of in-laws in the comments, either to encourage others or to ask for help! I have great readers, and I’m sure many could offer another perspective that may prove very helpful!

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