Tag Archives: open communication

5 Ways to Improve In-law Relationships

I have been working with two clients who are struggling with in-law relationships.

Client A is stressed and sad that her future daughter-in-law will not let her (Client A) help with the wedding plans.

Client B is angry and defensive because her mother-in-law questions everything Client B does with her 6-month-old baby.

One thing I have been emphasizing with both clients is, “What is your role in the interactions?

It’s hard for many of us to remember we only have control over ourselves and control over how we react to situations. We cannot change others, and the level of our influence on others is not a stable indicator of shifting things to go “your way”.

Even when a relationship, exchange, or situation is complicated, we have the power and control to shift our energy and move forward.

I provided the following reminders, for my clients, to keep at the top of their minds, when they are interacting with their in-law relatives:

Relationships take a lot of work

Cultivating a positive and thriving relationship with in-law relatives does not happen overnight. You have to be willing to put yourself out there and model constructive interactions. You will sometimes have to step outside your comfort zone and express your feelings or emotions to your in-law relative, knowing their response could be welcoming or unwelcoming. This is the case of you get out what you put in.

Change is scary – and may cause tantrums

Entering into a family or having a new family member join is a major change. An in-law relative may not realize it, but he/she may be grieving a loss – loss of how things “used to be” – and not directly dealing with it. The change may prompt him/her to throw a tantrum – which comes out in the form for being withdrawn, judgmental, or possessive.

One way to approach this is to acknowledge the joys and challenges of change. You can express what brings you joy in joining your in-laws, welcoming a new baby, planning a family event, etc. – and you can also express where you are feeling uneasy. In being clear with your own voice and feelings, it gives in-laws a chance to learn about you and understand your commitment to the in-law relationship or situation. This also lessens the fear of the unknown – which is a large characteristic of change.

Don’t take the bait

If an in-law relative is good at pushing your buttons – take a look within and figure out why this is a trigger for you. Are you holding on to limiting beliefs about yourself that make you defensive, hurt, or reactive? If so, explore this.

As I mentioned, you are in control of how you react to situations. If you work through your limiting beliefs and release yourself from any thought dungeons  – your in-law’s bait with have no effect on you.

Take a step back

If you are interacting with your in-law relative and things seem to be going down a dark road, take a break. You cannot do the important work of having open communication when you are feeling stressed, defensive, or angry.

Step back from the situation, refuel, and try again.

Practice forgiveness

It’s not uncommon for flair ups to take place between in-law relatives. Sometimes in-laws can show us their best, and often the worst can be displayed as well. Do not hold on to resentment because it takes up too much space and energy. Resentment does not serve anyone – so let it go. Practice forgiveness so you can release any hurt or pain.

You may not forget the incident or interaction, but forgiveness allows you to heal so that you are open to working on the in-law relationship – and moving forward in your living your best life.


Love Your Parents {Get over your own sh*t}

“Love your parents. We are so busy growing up, we often forgot they are also growing old.”

My friend posted that quote on Facebook today and it made me take a big pause.

Living in a multigenerational home has put the aging process at the top of my mind. I’m not talking about aging in regards to staying wrinkle free, getting a facelift or anything like that.  I’m thinking about aging in regards to how time is spent as my loved ones (husband, kids, mother-in-law, my parents) are growing and growing older.

I’ve been spending more time having conversations with my family members about their perspectives on the past, present, and future. It’s been fun and educational to write down and record their voices and lens on their individual and familiar worlds. I love seeing the intersections of my children’s realities with their grandparents. I’m trying to realign certain areas of my life to be more in-tune with them.

I’ve been talking with more caregiver experts and organizations about the aging process, and what I can expect as an adult to aging parents. I think it is unfortunate we do not talk more openly about this, as a family, when there is time to create an “aging” plan. I know there is fear in thinking about the “old years”, but there is also the difficult burden that comes when these conversations happen once crisis has set in.

My parents have been fairly open to discussing this topic with me – if I initiate it. Part of me thinks that’s because I’m an only child and they don’t want me to be in alone in caring for them  – if/when they need me to step up and in.

I get stressed a bit when I think about this topic and my mother-in-law. Hubby and I are not talking about it with my mother-in-law because she shuts us down if we try to bring it up, and hubby is not discussing it with his siblings. I’m not sure what to do about it – so I do nothing.

I’ve been noticing the natural tensions that come with generational differences. I’ve also noticed I’m not as patient as I know I should be. My children, or course, are in their own worlds and time moves so slowly in how they conduct their business. Nothing seems urgent and they often lose time in doing whatever moves them. I admire this, but I’m also challenged with slowing my own thinking because there is so much that “has to be done”.

With my parents and mother-in-law, they are also in their own worlds with time moving slowly. I hear them telling more stories from the past and fewer from the present. The way we talk about days, weeks, and months is not in sync. I’m looking beyond the current week or month. They are just focused on today – as it should be. I’m learning, daily, from them on how to stay in the moment.

My next step in my own growth…increase the quality time I spend with my children, parents, and mother-in-law – and keep my interactions based in love.

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Sex Education

geld 1  (gld) tr.v. geld·ed or gelt (glt), geld·ing, gelds

1. To castrate (a horse, for example). 2. To deprive of strength or vigor; weaken. [The Free Dictionary]


All I was trying to do is get to my first cup of morning coffee.

I scurried into the kitchen to grab my travel mug, and before I could even get to the coffee pot, my 12-year-old jumped in front of me and hastily asked, “What does gelded mean?”

Gilded? Was this from her history class? Was this from one of the many Rick Riordan novels she’s reading?

Me:  “Gilded means…”

Before I could finish, my mother-in-law piped in.

Mother-in-law:  “Not gilded. Gelded!”

Me:  “I don’t know that word? Did you all look it up?”

12yo:  “Grandma knows what it means, but she won’t tell me.”

Me (sighing):  “Well it must have to do with sex.”

Mother-in-law (now turning a shade of vermillion):  “It’s when a boy is not a boy anymore.”

Me (getting frustrated):  “Are you talking about castration?”

12yo:  “What’s castration?”

Once the Webster dictionary entry was read, and I explained the lame joke of the comic strip (which had prompted this discussion), I looked over to my mother-in-law and said, “Hey, we’ve got to answer these questions when the kids ask. We’re in competition with Google. We can’t have any communication barriers otherwise the kids will go to someone else for the answers.”

Mother-in-law (with a knowing look):  “OK.”

This is not the first exchange, of this nature, my multigenerational family has had.

I think back, two years ago, when my daughter was in 5th grade. Hubby was on work travel and my daughter’s class was studying human development. During dinner, my daughter started asking my mother-in-law about family health history and female development. My mother-in-law tried to pass the questions on to me. My response to my mother-in-law, “She asked you because she wanted to know from you. Please respond.”

And so began our stroll down the puberty brick road.

When my mother-in-law came to live with us, I don’t imagine she was anticipating going through puberty, again, with her son, daughter-in-law, and oldest granddaughter, but here we are.

I know conversations about the birds and bees were handled differently when my mother-in-law was parenting my hubby and his siblings. It was a different time, different region, different mom, and life without the internet.

Last summer I purchased Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret for all of us to read. The book was a great access tool in trying to get us all on the same page for having discussions about puberty. We still have some work to do.

I haven’t gotten upset with my mother-in-law about being a bit tight lipped about human development because  I think she’s wondering how appropriate it is for her, as the grandmother, to be educating my kids about this. I have been confused by the “choppy” responses my mother-in-law has provided, but hey, I guess she’s doing the best she can when she’s caught off guard by my daughter’s questions.

I have taken a step back to have private conversations with my mother-in-law about my approach (and my hubby’s) to this topic – which is – answer ALL the questions.

My recommendation for having the talk, in a multigenerational family, would be:

  • Parents and grandparents have to acknowledge and be ready for these questions to come up.
  • Decide who will answer the questions (all the adults in the multigenerational family or just the parents)
  • Be clear on how much information, during the talk, will be shared. (For us, we stick to the questions that are asked. We let our kids guide us [parents/grandma] in the topic.)
  • If the parents/grandparents are caught off guard – ask for more time, but get back to the child’s question.
  • Be honest.
  • Take deep breathes.

With my daughter being in 7th grade this year, the human development course is coming around again, and I’m sure there will be more questions.

I’m thinking I should have my mother-in-law re-visit Blume’s book to prepare.

How do you handle questions about the birds and the bees and human development with your children? Are the grandparents involved in any of these discussions?


images: For the love.., tumblr