What do you do if your extended family is rude and sets a bad example for your kids?

Reader Question: My extended family sets a bad example for my kidsThis week on the blog we’re going to talk about family harmony, and I thought I’d start with this reader question about in-laws. She writes:

My husband and I were raised in Christian homes and have made godliness a priority from the day we met. However, his family– all professing Christians– have gone off the deep end. Two of the brothers have scary tattoos/piercings/mohawks, curse/tell crass jokes, and wear profane/demonic shirts. (One of them is also bi-polar and gets into screaming matches with relatives, his wife, and even small children–way too often.) His other brother and his wife are churchgoers, but in recent years have begun socially drinking a lot and clubbing. It seems that’s all they talk about now– this and that club, what brand of liquor they like, etc. The big problem is that my mother-in-law, who I have grown very close with over the years, won’t stop any of it from happening in her home. Now SHE breaks out the alcohol and even tries to get us to partake in it. My father in-law, a former deacon, just sits back and stays quiet.

The part that makes it unacceptable is that we have two very smart, beautiful little boys– age 3 and 1– who I am determined to bring up in a wholesome environment. My wonderful husband, thank GOD, fully agrees and has tried to talk to his parents, to no avail. His mom just wants to keep everyone together. She is hostile to any suggestion of banning activities or upsetting anyone. We are the problem.

I am heartbroken for my husband, who is so very close with his brothers and parents, but the idea of bringing our kids into that place is more and more repulsive to me as time goes by. My older son is not a baby anymore. He is perceptive.

How can I reconcile taking them to church and Christian school, then turn around and trotting them into this ‘house of horrors’ full of people we appear to be perfectly happy to be around?!

Wow.

I’m sorry that you’re so distant from your family and feel so alone. I really am. Feeling like your family doesn’t understand you, and that you really are alone, is so isolating.

And I honestly understand where you’re coming from. In some ways we had a similar dynamic in our family. We certainly had our share of raunchy jokes and swear words at the Christmas table!

But there are a few things that I’d like to say, and I hope that you will hear my heart in this, and that others who experience this will also listen.

Problems with extended family can get tricky when it involves your kids. Here's how to love your family and resolve conflicts, which can be helpful during family visits, family dinners, and holiday gatherings.

Jesus did not ask people to clean up their act before He hung around them.

He just enjoyed people, and they enjoyed Him! And that means that He wasn’t walking around judging people for all the things they do wrong. If you look at Scripture, we’re not actually supposed to judge those outside the church.

Now, in your case you say that your brothers-in-law grew up in the church, but  today they’re not following Jesus. Well, if they don’t know Him, then why should you expect them to act as if they do?

And if they don’t know Jesus, then isn’t it your job to show them?

That means loving them the way that Christ did. The apostle John wrote:

For Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. (John 3:17)

So let me ask: What are you doing to participate in Jesus’ mission? It sounds like you’re ready to condemn this family right now and give up on them, angry at them because they’re so terrible to be around. That’s not very Christlike to me.

Don’t worry so much about your kids

Your children will pick up your values. Even very young kids can learn that “we love people even if they aren’t like us, and even if we wish they’d act differently.” My kids heard swearing from very young ages, but Keith and I just didn’t react, and the girls didn’t even realize it WAS swearing until they were about 8 or 9. We just hung out with people.

And you can honestly enjoy people who don’t know Christ. Just find things to talk about. If they only want to talk about alcohol, change the subject! Take an interest in what they’re doing in their lives. Ask about their jobs. Ask about their schooling. Even ask about any recipes they’ve tried! It’s not that hard usually to steer the conversation in a good direction.

Look, your kids are going to encounter swearing and difficult people. You can’t shelter them forever. Why not instead show them how to handle it with grace and love? If they grow up like that, from the very beginning, ti won’t be jarring. Do that, and it really won’t affect them (trust me; my kids were fine).

Put yourself in your mother-in-law’s shoes for a second.

You’re asking your mother-in-law to ban her children, her flesh and blood that she loves so much, from family gatherings.

Not to be harsh, but it’s no wonder she thinks you’re the problem!

Imagine for a minute that your boys grow up, and one of them goes off the rails and doesn’t follow God. How would you want the other brother treating him? Would you want that brother to love and embrace him anyway and keep a good relationship with him, or would you want him to be ostracized?

Have you thought about your calling to your nieces and nephews?

I don’t know if you have nieces and nephews yet–it sounds like one of your brothers-in-law at least has kids? Have you thought about what a great influence you can be on those children, whom God has put specifically in your path?

I have three nieces and nephews on my husband’s side who grew up with my kids, and I love them dearly. So dearly. We took them to Family Camp for about six years straight for a week every summer when they were younger. Our kids grew up together.

Cousins and Nieces and Nephews--relationships matter!

Katie and her cousin Jessica in 2004.

Loving Your Extended Family

Still loving on each other–at a family wedding a few years later.

One nephew I even had in my house for about a year and a half while we homeschooled him! I love them, I love the relationship they have with my kids, I love seeing them grow up.

Family Alex Dunns River Falls - Reader Question: How Can We Raise Godly Kids Around Worldly Family Members?

We took Alex with us on a cruise for his 16th birthday. Celebrating in Jamaica!

I even went paintballing with Alex. And I hate paintballing. It’s called being a good aunt.

Loving Your Extended Family

Paintballing with Alex

And honestly, I have found over the years that if family conversations get too raunchy, I can just go hang out with the kids!

Now the kids have great relationships with each other, and they get together just as cousins every Christmas to play board games. (Alex is missing from this picture! So’s David (Katie’s husband). This was last Christmas, before they were together).

Loving Your Extended Family

Board games with the cousins!

Beyond your nieces and nephews, what about your calling to your sister-in-law? If she’s married to someone bipolar who yells at her, don’t you think she’s going to need you as a support? Don’t you want to be there for her if she’s ever in trouble and can’t handle things? This is your family. Stay close to her so she knows she has an ally if she needs it.

Can you see your family through Christ’s eyes?

We don’t see eye to eye on faith with all of Keith’s relatives. But they are wonderful people, and we still have a huge amount in common, because we base our relationship on what we share, not on what we don’t share. And when you get talking to people, you realize how much there is to admire in all of them. Two of my brothers-in-law MC’ed Katie’s wedding (and they were hilarious). They have helped us move, helped us with work stuff, they have been an amazing part of our lives. One sister-in-law even manned the book table at one of my events for me!

But if every time someone had said a swear word we had decided that we wouldn’t do family dinners with them? That would have been OUR problem, not theirs. We would have been the ones sinning, not them, because we wouldn’t be showing love.

The cool thing about family is that they are with you always. These are relationships that can be among the most precious in your life, if you let them. I have had friends come and go, but I have known Kurt, Kevin and Kris for almost 30 years. I have been to everyone’s weddings and everyone’s family celebrations. And we will always be there for them, and them for us.

Yes, family can be difficult. But you don’t have to see them everyday. You just have to love them and accept them during family dinners. Can you do that? Or will you reject them until they fit into your life?

Which do you think Jesus would choose?


I know relationships with in-laws are tricky, and I wrote before Christmas about how to handle family dinners if your family is abusive or is refusing to accept your husband/children. That’s a different situation. In this case, the family is more than happy to have them. They simply don’t act in a way that she likes.

You don’t need to subject yourself to abuse. But having people laugh and swear and drink in front of you is not really abuse. It may not be pleasant for you, but it’s not abuse. So can you love people even if they’re not like you?

What do you think? Do you have awkward relationships with extended family? How do you handle it?

Covenant Eyes 720 Not Enough - Reader Question: How Can We Raise Godly Kids Around Worldly Family Members?
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