In-laws or Out-laws?

So marriage is this funny thing. You find this person that’s your person, which of course is a beautiful thing, but it’s not just about the two of you. It’s about the person that’s your person and their whole family. We all have our own families to tend to. The laughs, the love, the bullshit. None of us escape childhood trauma free. And we spend our adult years grappling with tending to or avoiding those wounds (now if you happen to have somehow come through your childhood unscathed, good for you, this blog posts is still relevant.)

Then at some point in your life if you acquire a long-term partner you also absorb a whole other persons crap from childhood, but without any of the insider info. You don’t know why it’s so awkward at a family holiday or why you’re getting some real shade for talking about how you snuggle up to your man at night. Or that in-law person that you just saw at the grocery store that was so chummy, well you heard that same person was talking shit about you last week, but you don’t know the person well enough to call him or her out on it.

I think that’s what makes it so weird is that there isn’t the depth of relationship to do the same kind of work with them as your own family. In the nuclear setting of today’s modern society we just don’t see our relations that much. And to be frank I’m OK with that. I am a low maintenance friend and family member. I have got my own immediate family to tend to and a few others that require my daily love and support.

Now before I get too far I would like to say that I love my husbands family. Their quirky nature and isms somehow make me feel less awkward about my own families quirky nature and isms. This is just more a reflection on the oddity that is building these relationships. Because we spent a lot of time building the relationship with the person that we then spend our lives with, but who then goes and does that same amount of work with their in-laws (and if you do please comment below and share some insight)?

I don’t think that there’s some sort of huge revelation here on the topic, more just the honesty to call it what it is. Weird.

Because were fighting between two competing ideas. One is this new age idea that we are these autonomous beings in a modern world, that we can live anywhere and be anything. This is in stark contrast to the concept that we love our families and we need to stay connected. Amongst all of this conflicting information and the conflicting emotions it is important to know what your own needs are admits the whirling chaos. How much time do you actually want to spend with your in-laws? Not because your partner wants you to spend a certain amount of time with them, or if they want you to spend a certain amount of time with them. Are they rich relationships that you feel are guiding you in your development or are they hindering you? Is it a depletion of resources to see them? It’s really important that you allow these relationships to be free choices and not obligatory parts of your life. Because time and time again I hear people describe their relationships with their in-laws as something they are subject to and that these people are not held to the same standard as their other friends and family. That’s making them outside the social laws that one has conceived for their lives, hence out-laws. Remember that you are responsible for creating the boundaries that keep your in-laws from becoming out-laws. It is not their fault if you are going to family vacations at their house every year, or a weekly dinner, or mandatory Black Friday shopping trips.

So give your in-laws of all varieties, the mother-in-law to the cousin-in-law, the opportunity to be in-laws. Hold them accountable, move the relationship forward in a way that is healthy for you. And if that is not possible then perhaps you don’t go for Thanksgiving this year, and that is OK too. Feel at peace with your decisions, because who needs an out-law when you can have an in-law?

One thought on “In-laws or Out-laws?

  1. Kate says:

    This is a good post. My mother in law passed away 10 years ago, and my father in law more recently. If I could do things over with them, I would have done a few things differently.

    My in laws had already seen a few kids married and had several grandkids by the time I came on the scene. Both my in laws, and my husband in some ways, thought their family culture was best, and should take priority. The hardest holiday was Mother’s Day, because I learned like many other moms, that it had nothing to do with me as a mom.

    The May before we married my future mother in law called me to invite me to her own Mother’s Day celebration. I wasn’t prepared for that, and I hadn’t made plans yet with my own mom. Mothers Day would be a battle of sorts every year with the Mother in law planning and inviting others to her celebration. The underlying message to me was,whatever you think you might to with your own family, we take precedence. She wasn’t a bad person, I just never figured out to negotiate these issues.

    My husband was the youngest in his family, so all of the family traditions had been going on for a long time. My husband definitely had different rules for dealing with his parents and siblings than he did for the rest of the world. Of course my own parents/family weren’t always a delight either, but we saw them less.


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