My In-Laws are awesome! Now there’s something that you don’t hear every day, right? It’s true though. I am one of those lucky people who hit the jackpot, because not only was I fortunate enough to find the perfect partner, but she happens to have fantastic parents with whom I have a great relationship. There are a lot of awful things about in-laws on the internet (just Google “in-law” and watch what spews forth), but not many positive things. Maybe it’s because there is a long tradition of poking fun at in-laws, or maybe it’s honestly because more people have bad relationships with their in-laws than good ones. I sure seem to have a better relationship with my in-laws that most of my friends. So, this is my attempt to tip the balance and get some positivity about in-laws into the mix. Here are six big things that my In-Laws do right. They are things that all people who play the role of in-law might find it helpful to know.
1. Be Kind to Your Child
Whenever my friends and I get to talking about our In-Laws I often hear the same complaint over and over again. They say that this item is the biggest problem they have with their In-Laws, and you might be surprised to know that it’s not about their own relationship with their In-Laws. They say that the number one thing that upsets them about their In-Laws is that they are unkind to their child (my friends’ spouses). One friend, for example, said that he can barely stand to be in the room when his In-Laws visit, because they are always putting his wife down. Look at the tough situation my friend is in. He loves these people’s daughter and gets furious with them, because he doesn’t think that they love her enough – or at least have a terrible way of showing it. This might be something that in-laws have a blind spot about. They don’t realize that being less-than-kind toward their child can cause their son- or daughter-in-law to dislike them.
Fortunately for me, my wife’s parents are huge cheerleaders and advocates of her. They praise her for her successes and support her during the tough times. I’ve always felt that they are on her side in life and that they are proud of the adult that she has become. After all, they raised her and she’s excellent, so they deserve to take some pride in the way she has turned out.
2. Don’t Try to “Parent” Your Son/Daughter-In-Law
I already have parents. They’re great. I didn’t get married because I needed more parents. My In-Laws seem to get that fact and treat me differently than they do their children. I would say that they are somewhere between my friends and mentors. One big thing they don’t do is offer me unsolicited advice. Sure they do it to my wife all the time, and my parents do it to me, but hey – that’s just the natural order of things. Still, they often have great advice, so I do consult with them on things; that’s when they fill the role of mentor. Otherwise, they just treat me like I’m a heck of a lot of fun to be around.
3. Be Good Marriage Roll Models
Lots of folks have crappy marriages. Some of these people have children that are married. Here’s some advice – if you have a crappy marriage, don’t flaunt it around your adult children and their spouses. If my In-Laws have anything other than a terrific marriage then I’d sure never know it. They seem like each other’s best friend, greatest advocate, and co-conspirator (because they spend half their time planning their next great adventure). Admittedly, they will sometimes bicker with one another in front of my wife and me, but it’s actually a healthy influence on us because we also see them work things out. Most importantly, neither of them speaks ill about the other in front of us. I appreciate them as marriage role models. Contrast this with my friends who say things like, “I’ve seen how dysfunctional my In-Law’s marriage is, why should I take any marriage advice from them?”
4. Engage with Your Grandchildren
I’m sure there are exceptions, but I would argue that grandparents as a rule love their grandchildren. That is as it should be. But if you really want to wow your son- or daughter-in-law then do what my In-Laws do – get in there and really mix it up with them. My In-Laws have made grandparenting a contact sport and it impresses the heck out of me.
Recently, my family and I were vacationing with my In-Laws. I was in the bedroom unpacking when I heard a lot of commotion and giggling coming from the living room. Concerned that my three-year-old twins were already getting out of control and might annoy their Grandparents, I rushed into the main room to see what was going on. To my surprise, I found my Father-In-Law chasing my kids throughout the condo. The kids were – as you might expect – giggling and loving it, and I couldn’t have been happier. Not only were they not driving their Grandpa crazy, they were making fun memories.
Last week, my In-Laws came over to our house for lunch. After we finished eating, I was cleaning the dining room and could hear my Mother-In-Law and daughter speaking in the living room. Mind you, I could hear them, but I couldn’t see them. My daughter, who loves books and enjoys being read to, asked her Grandma to read her a book. Grandma obliged and they settled in on the couch. I heard my Mother-In-Law say, “The name of this book is Emily.” And as she began to read I thought, “We don’t have a book by that name.” And as she ‘read’ the book I realized what had happened. My daughter once had me staple several sheets of paper together and she ‘wrote’ her own book using her three-year-old’s scribbles, and then had me write her name on the cover. Emily had asked her Grandma to read that book to her. My Mother-In-Law had gone along with it and was simply making up the story as she went along. I was honestly a little overcome by the sweetness of it all. Go Grandparents!
5. Be Respectful
As the old saying goes, “You must give respect to get respect.” Roughly 15 years ago, when I first met the people who would become my In-Laws and wanted desperately for them to like and approve of me, they did something that left quite an impression on me. They were respectful toward me. They took a true interest in getting to know me and seemed to really want to hear what I had to say about whatever the topic of conversation might have been at any given moment. That sense of respect has remained over the years. And believe me – there have been times when I have not been completely deserving of it. However, even when they’ve had to knock me back in line, they’ve done so respectfully. They are believers in the Golden Rule and treat me the way that they want me to treat them.
6. Think of Him or Her as Family
When my wife and I got married, my In-Laws took me aside and said that I was part of the family now. I appreciated the sentiment; it meant a lot to be accepted as family. Still, over the years I’ve noticed something interesting. They don’t merely treat me like family, they genuinely seem to think of me as family – and I don’t believe that I’m just splitting hairs when I say that there is a difference between the two. A person might treat a dinner guest like a member of the family, but that doesn’t mean that they are going to involve that person in deep family discussions and actually listen to what he or she has to say about important matters. Though a person who genuinely thinks of another as family would, and they do. I never feel like a dinner guest, I feel like the permanent resident that I am.
In closing, I should add that I get the fact that all relationships are a two-way street. My relationship with my In-Laws is important to me and I do my best to keep up my end of it. That said, the six things listed here have made my part a joy instead of a chore. And for that I am truly grateful.