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By Jessica T

Holidays with the in-laws

Uploaded: Dec 9, 2013

Many of us with families will be spending time with our in-laws over the holidays. Why do these occasions often lead to uncomfortable exchanges and misunderstandings? I have a theory?

When I was a teenager, I had two significant romantic relationships. In both cases, my boyfriends' mothers took ample time getting to know me. I can recall fondly going Christmas shopping with one of my boyfriends' mothers. The other boyfriend's mother made me a favorite dinner for my birthday and called me in college to lend support when my relationship with her son was on the rocks. Perhaps I'll never know why these women felt it was so important to integrate me into their family lives. They took time out of their busy lives to get to know me (their son's teenage girlfriend). Maybe I was the daughter they never had. Maybe they thought I might just marry their son...

I didn't. Thank goodness, I didn't marry my in-laws, I married my husband! (And I am lucky indeed - had I been born in another era or in another culture, that might not have been the case.) And yet, if I had ended up with one of my teenage boyfriends, I believe that time invested by my supposed mother-in-law would have been time well spent.

We inherit our in-laws and they inherit us as a necessity of custom, but investing in our relationship is often an afterthought. We might fall in love across the country or overseas, leading to limited interaction with our beloved's family. Suddenly we are married and required to have forced intimacy with "family" we may not know very well. Building a relationship is the basis by which we understand each other and build the trust necessary for having all manner of awkward and personal conversations that our familial station requires.

After all, how much easier are these cringeworthy questions to answer, when a friend is asking?

--"What kind of wedding do you want?"

--"Why don't you want to have children?"

--"Why did you choose to (or choose not to) take our family name?"

--"What religious tradition will you raise your children under and why?"

--"Do you plan to breastfeed or bottle feed?"

--"Do you plan to work after you marry or have children?"

--"Will you send your children to public or private school?"

The loaded list of intimate questions goes on...And while all of the answers are ostensibly a husband's and wife's decision, I can't blame in-laws who want to provide input based on their experience. I will want to do the same! When it's my turn to be a mother-in-law, I hope I'll have the chance to really get to know my daughter- and sons-in-law. Maybe spending more time (not less) with our in-laws is the prescription for more satisfying holidays.

How have you built a relationship with your in-laws? What's your formula for a good rapport?