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Getting on With the In-laws

By Ann Richardson September 04, 2021 Family

Do you get on with – or even like – your in-laws? All of them? Really? If so, you are a lucky person indeed!

The Diversity of In-Laws

We all have in-laws. They come into our lives completely unbidden. Sometimes they are there for a long time. It’s not that they are always awful people – it’s just that they don’t always fit easily into your life or the way you want to spend your time.

It started when your sister married that completely decent guy, with a burning obsession with old cars and nothing else. Or you married a lovely man whose mother incessantly recounts her life history, forgetting each time that she has done so before.

Or his brothers are interested only in drinking beer in front of the TV when you like walking in the country.

Or your son is living with a beautiful young woman who is, unfortunately, a desperate social climber. (Having in-laws does not require a marriage to take place – some people call these ‘out-laws.’)

Perhaps no one has examples of all these at once, but most of us have someone who causes us an internal scream from time to time.

Why In-Laws Can Be Such a Problem

In-laws are a problem primarily because you are supposed to like them – or at least get on with them. Indeed, worse, they are suddenly part of your family.

Also, you are likely to see them on ‘special’ days like Christmas, which may be just the time you could do without them because you want to relax.

Of course, if you are lucky, your in-laws have delightful personalities, compatible interests and a warm heart. You enjoy their company and see them frequently. You are pleased that someone’s marriage (or partnership) brought them into your life.

If you are unlucky, they have completely different values, politics, religion or personal habits. So many problems start here that the less said the better.

And in between these two extremes, there are the in-laws who Really Try. This is probably more common than you think.

When I married my English husband, my American mother tried to make him feel welcome by buying bottled Guinness (I think England and Ireland got mixed up here). She put it in the fridge for him, where Americans always put beer.

Being young and not wanting to displease his new mother-in-law, my dear husband drank the stuff, although he didn’t even like it and certainly not cold.

This proved, of course, that he liked it. She always had some available when we visited their house. It took some years to put this right.

Grandmothers and In-Laws

When I was first planning to interview women for my book about what it is like to be a grandmother, I thought I might get nothing from them but sentimental stories about how wonderful it was. As all good books need a little grit, this was the cause of some initial concern.

But in-laws came to my rescue. I hadn’t even realised the number of ways that sons- and daughters-in-law could cause problems for grandmothers.

Some were bringing up the grandchildren in ways that seriously disappointed – they overfed them or ignored them or let them have too much screen time. Some were felt to be altogether too controlling of their direct family.

Much more problematic were those who were so hostile to the grandmother interviewed that she couldn’t even visit. There are many painful stories out there.

Final Note

Whatever the problems we experience, we may need to remind ourselves that we are not always innocent. Probably, we are someone else’s irritating daughter, sister or mother-in law. It makes you think.

What is your relationship with the in-laws like? Do you try to get along? How has that worked out? Please join the conversation below!

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The Author

Ann Richardson’s most popular book, The Granny Who Stands on Her Head, offers a series of reflections on growing older. Subscribe to her free Substack newsletter, where she writes fortnightly on any subject that captures her imagination. Ann lives in London, England with her husband of sixty years. Please visit her website for information on all her books:

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