From Dr. Jane's Notebook
The Family Tug-of-War
When it comes to holiday stress, most families worry about the cost of gifts, travel,
and other holiday concerns. But for some families, an even greater source of holiday
stress lies in dreaded confrontations between family members who dont get along too
well. Few stressors come close to the emotional pain associated with unfriendly family
This article has been written at the request of mothers and daughters-in-law who are in
the process of learning how to establish and maintain a mutually respectful relationship.
In some cases, relationships by marriage have gotten off to a rocky start and are in
desperate need of a little repair. Fortunately, the holidays offer great opportunities for
mending broken relationships and healing old wounds. When it comes to getting along with
in-laws, here are a few thoughts on the matter.
- Becoming a mother-in-law can be easy or tough. When a mother becomes a
mother-in-law, she often feels as though she is losing influence over her child and over
her family. The presence of a new daughter-in-law can feel natural or it can feel
strained. In some families, it is difficult to become friends with your new
"child", but that is exactly what needs to occur. You have raised your child and
now it time for him to leave your nest and create his own. Your job is to encourage and
support him in his choice of mate and learn to like her, no matter what!
- Becoming a daughter-in-law can be easy or tough. In most cases, when you
choose to marry a person, you are also choosing to marry his family. It is therefore best
to marry into a family that you like. If , however, you find yourself in a marriage with
difficult in-laws, it is largely up to you to create a positive relationship with them.
Find something you like about your husbands family, even if it is simply that they
have provided you with a mate! If possible, become a friend and an advocate for your
husbands family. In most families, men rely upon the support of their wives to help
maintain this important family connection.
- It takes more than one woman to hold a family together. Most of the time, after
mothers have raised one or more generations of children, their task is to hand down
rituals and family traditions to the next generation. However, the adoption of family
traditions often depends upon the relationship between mother and daughter-in-law. Since
most women are the gate-keepers of their families, mothers-in-law must learn to be
more flexible and respectful of their daughters-in-law, if they want to receive that same
respect in return.
As children grow up, family involvement becomes more and more voluntary, so family
involvement must also become more and more inviting. In each generation, the entire future
of the family is at stake. To avoid a breakdown in the family network, family members must
actively treat each other with love and respect, and develop an appreciation for the
unique way in which each succeeding generation will reinvent and create their own family
- Communication and acceptance are important keys to successful relationships. Each
of us enters into relationships with a set of expectations for closeness. Together,
mothers and daughters-in-law must negotiate a comfortable distance that allows them to be
close and yet avoid stepping on each others toes. The goal is to establish a loving
and supportive relationship, rather than one of competition and criticism. In general, it
is best to treat your in-laws like they are your blood relatives. Put up with their
personality quirks and avoid being judgmental. Everyone needs to feel accepted and valued.
The holidays are an important time for families to gather together in a spirit of love
and sharing. As families grow, our children and grandchildren observe the quality of
family relations, and either accept or reject those relationships. While the holidays in
particular cause us to pay special attention to the state of the family, we are also
reminded that family ties must be nurtured year round. This year as you consider
your holiday gift list, remember that the best gifts are those which draw families closer
to each other. In many cases, these are the gifts which cost us very little money, but
which are priceless.
ęCopyright, 2000, Jane R. Rosen-Grandon. All rights reserved.
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