In-laws are unique members in a family. We weren’t born and raised with them (mother or father in-laws) and we didn’t choose them to be a part of our family (brother and sister in-laws or son and daughter in-laws), yet we are still expected to welcome them with open hearts and arms. It can be a challenge.
Having such a large family has given me a lot of experience in this arena. Not only have I had to learn to accept and eventually love people with whom I share no history or core similarities, but I’ve also had to listen to my children lament when they feel they’ve lost their sibling to someone else…someone they might not like all that much.
Maybe it is easier for the parents…well, not easier in the classic sense of the word, but easier to accept that there is no choice. You either love who your children love or you get pushed out of the picture…and you can’t fake it. Your kids will know you are faking it, believe me. Sometimes siblings fight it…and of course, lose. Marriage, a man and woman leaving their parents and forging a new and permanent bond, was created by Heavenly design. No mere sibling can alter that.
My personal approach to the in-law situation has been this: when I am meeting and getting to know ‘the one,’ I look for anything and everything good in them. I still see the annoyances and dissimilarities, but I consciously choose to put those out of my mind. I write those things off to differences in upbringing and do not allow myself to ever hold those things against them. When you are actively seeking the good in someone, you will be amazed by quickly you can love them.
I do love and have loved every son or daughter in law that has been introduced into our family, some more than others. I’ve even loved some boyfriends and girlfriends who I thought might become ‘the one’ and my heart still aches over their loss. This love has not always made me popular with my children [after a break up], even though they were happy with me during the time they were with that particular person.
I remember when my oldest daughter, Miranda, was in high school. She began dating a boy, Tom, when she was 15. Miranda and Tom were quite the well matched couple. Both sets of parents [me and Tom’s parents], thought it looked like a ‘forever’ kind of thing. Of course, our reaction to their relationship may be in part because they were each of our oldest children and each of those children’s first relationship. We were all newbies to the kids falling in love thing. It sounds crazy to me now how involved we all were in a such a young relationship. Hindsight….:)
The end of that relationship two years later involved a lot of heartbreak and tears. I actually forced my daughter to honor her commitment to attend prom with Tom and then two months later, Tom was a part of my wedding party (as I wed my current husband, Steve). Looking back, we all have a good laugh, but I guarantee nobody was laughing back then. I’m pretty sure my daughter despised me and thought I was a complete psycho. But, I loved Tom and could not bear to think of her hurting him. I still love Tom, am friends with him on Facebook, and love to see that he has married a wonderful woman and lives a good life. I can’t help it. He still matters to me. I was once asked to love this boy.
But if I thought that was hard, it is nothing compared to the grief I have felt over the loss of an in law. When your child divorces their spouse, the expectation is that you (the parent) will also divorce that spouse. No matter that you spent years and years of focusing on their positive traits and ignoring their negative traits to such a degree that you now love them deeply. No matter that you were not part of their disagreements and falling out of love…just one day you are supposed to love them and the next, circumstances force you to turn your back on them. To me, this has been the biggest ‘in law’ challenge so far. I’ve never been much good at falling out of love with people.
We parents and siblings are constantly asked to accept and love. Do any of you remember the old movie, ‘Father of the Bride?’ Since the dad was a shoe guy, and my husband was a shoe guy (retired from 32 years at Clarks Shoe Company), that movie was one of our family favorites…we must have watched it a hundred times over the years. We can all quote scenes from it. And although at first glance, that movie seems to be about a dad letting go of his beloved daughter, there are many scenes in it that speak to the difficulties of accepting and learning to love in laws.
One of my favorite scenes is when the parents meets one another. When the Banks’ go to the MacKenzie’s home to meet them and find that the MacKenzies are far wealthier than them [and that the dad lets the dogs lick him in the mouth and that he cries over everything], George Banks rejects them and behaves badly. He decides the marriage of his daughter to their son is a bad idea. But, then later, when he is faced with a sobbing daughter who wants to call off the marriage and sends him [her dad] to do the dirty work; he finds that he has come to love and respect this new man who will become his son in law, and instead tells him how to remedy the fight. If you haven’t seen this movie—or this version of this movie—I highly recommend watching it. There are many subtle nuances in regards to the ‘in law’ situation, not to mention its hilarity.
I remember when I first met my oldest daughter’s ‘boyfriend,’ who would later become her husband. We were at one of her softball games at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. There was this giant of a man sitting right behind home plate, heckling the other team and umpire very loudly. My husband and I were very put off by this guy, and honestly wished he would shut up so we could enjoy the game. I distinctly remember giving a sideways glance at my husband and saying, “good grief, I sure hope that guy isn’t her new boyfriend.” You can imagine my reaction when she came over to introduce him (James) to us. Of course, we now love James, understand that his heckling is all in good fun, and share a laugh over our initial meeting.
And this past week, I was faced with yet another challenge involving the in-law situation. My daughter and her husband of less than one year had a terrible disagreement. When she sought solace from her family, we all encouraged her to work it out and gave her advice on how to do that. Unfortunately, we ran into the larger issue of what I can only refer to as ‘friends in laws.’ These are people who are forced to accept the spouse of their friend. In this case, with my daughter’s husband being the only one of his group of friends who is married with a family, the support did not come, but rather he received nothing but encouragement to walk away…very sad and potentially damaging. If you are a ‘friend in- law,’ please try to lift up and support your friend during their early years of marriage. Marriage is hard work, and a huge adjustment, especially when you throw a new baby into the beginning.
I guess [as I read back over what I’ve written] that if I had to sum up what I’m trying to say, it would be to keep your heart open and approach all new people who have been placed in your life, with a positive attitude and a loving heart. If you find things you don’t like about them, they’re no doubt feeling the same things…and it will take each of you making the effort to stay focused on the good and looking away from the negative for a relationship to grow and allow us each to love our in-laws.