The holidays plus your mother-in-law can be a tricky combination. Advice on how to deal.
The holidays are chock-full of tradition. Whether it's the special stuffing you've made ever since you can remember, a pumpkin-pie eating contest between the cousins, or a special Thanksgiving prayer your father says every year, most families have some kind of ritual associated with the holiday season. These rituals create intimacy and reinforce familial bonds, so it's no surprise that when traditions change, people get upset.
Though family roles have shifted, in many homes mom is the Master of Ceremonies when it comes to big family occasions. Adding a new person to the family, especially a new daughter-in-law, can threaten her position as matriarch-in-chief. There won't be friction in every situation, but we've heard enough complaints about getting along with mothers-in-law to know that many of you could use some help in this department. So in the interest of family harmony, here are seven tips for spending the holidays with your new mom.
1. Find out what's important to her. Start by talking to your spouse, or directly to his or her mom. You may be able to mitigate any tension simply by finding out what she values and doing your best to keep those things intact.
"Ask your partner and mother-in-law for input on what traditions are important for her and her family. See how you can incorporate them into your holiday plans," advises dating and relationship coach Lisa Steadman.
"Identify three ways your mother-in-law can shine without stepping on your turf. Speak early and often about the value of her contributions. Your sincere understanding that your partner is also important to her will soften any impulse to fight for time or territory," says life coach Doris Helge.
"I would advise asking your partner or talking to your mother-in-law directly about what she really values about the holiday and see if you can compromise with her so you both get your needs met," advises therapist Melanie Gorman. "It's easiest to keep the peace when you have communicated with the source and know first-hand what she wants. From that place you can make a smart choice so you both get what you need."
2. Don't assume you know how she feels. "It's very possible your mother-in-law wouldn't mind a bit 'passing the torch' of managing the holiday celebrations, so she could just show up and ENJOY for a change!" says life coach and marriage educator Melodie Tucker. "Personally, I was thrilled when my daughter decided she wanted to take over Christmas Day dinner. Change won't always get a negative reaction, especially if she feels included in your decision-making."
3. Manage expectations. "Don't expect miracles," says psychologist Dr. Terri Orbuch. No matter how much you try, some mothers-in-law won't welcome the new addition with open arms. "Your mother-in-law won't be as close to you as your own family," says Orbuch. "Don't look for or expect her approval, either." Poll: How Do You Deal With A Monster-In-Law?
But that doesn't mean you should capitulate to her desires just because you're nervous. "If this is your first holiday season after marrying, don't wimp out thinking his Mom will mellow by next year. A lazy approach this year will produce more grief next time because holidays are tradition driven. You're creating expectations for the future by how you handle yourself this season," says Helge.
4. Be open to creative compromise. "Understand that blending two families isn't going to happen overnight. You may still want to maintain your own family traditions separately at first, for example Thanksgiving Eve or Christmas Eve with one family, the next day with the other. This is healthy and normal," says Steadman.
"Making the holidays your own doesn't have to take up the entire day or alienate the rest of your family or his from your celebration," says Gorman. "Consider taking time in either the morning or the evening to celebrate 'your way.' Make a holiday brunch or create an evening event that is celebrated exactly the way you want. If the holiday is over a weekend, take a day or two as your own."
5. Handle change with care. "If you and your spouse are changing a tradition that has been in place for years, it works best when 'blood speaks to blood'. This means that your spouse needs to own your joint decision and break the news to [his or her mom]. Also, do it as soon as possible and don't wait till the last minute after she's shopped, cleaned, decorated and started cooking," says Tucker. 5 Things Your Mother-In-Law Won't Admit
"If you decide to travel during the holidays or otherwise be unavailable, make sure to set aside a special day to celebrate with her and her family beforehand. You can also consider whether it would be feasible or desirable to include her in your new plans," Tucker says.
6. Set boundaries when you need to. "If your mom-in-law is possessive or controlling, take a different tact. Set boundaries with matter-of-fact, non-emotionally charged statements like, 'Our private time is _____ and we're looking forward to being with you on ____,'" says Helge.
7. Keep your cool. Try not to let your emotions get the better of you if things aren't going your way. "Protect your heart. Be tolerant and gracious—that's the best defense against getting hurt feelings," says Orbuch. "If things get too pressurized in the house, go out to volunteer for the day. How can she be upset if you all go to the community center and serve dinner to those in need?"
And above all, keep in mind that, as Tucker puts it, "mothers-in-law just want to be honored and part of the holiday action with those she loves."
How do you deal with your mother-in-law?