Linda Lewis Griffith

Surviving holidays with the in-laws

Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram/TNS

The holidays aren’t easy times for in-laws. You’re often forced to travel long distances to visit with spouse’s parents and siblings. You endure the headaches of canceled flights, icy roads and minivans packed with gifts and fussy children.

Your accommodations, upon arrival, can be equally unsettling. The entire family is wedged into the spouse’s old bedroom, unchanged since moving out for college. Posters of rock stars still decorate the walls and ceiling. Soccer trophies gather dust alongside copies of Huckleberry Finn and Gray’s Anatomy.

Every member of the extended family is visiting too. They pour out of the extra bedrooms like human lava flows. Sleeping bags are heaped behind sofas and end tables. You have to take a number just to use the bathroom.

You don’t even like some of these people. They talk for hours about their jobs, vacations and latest surgeries. You cringe when the topic turns to politics and religion.

They even celebrate the holidays in foreign, nonsensical ways. You find yourself constantly comparing their traditions to those you undertook as a child. You ache for a taste of Grammy Sue’s steamed persimmon pudding. You miss the needlepoint stocking Mom crafted for each of her children.

But your spouse’s family loves being together. Adult kids laugh at jokes you don’t get and retell stories and adventures you’ve heard over and over. Mom-in-law is ecstatic to have her whole brood under one roof. Cousins play an unending game of chase throughout the house.

Everyone seems to be happy but you. You’re a stranger in a very strange and lonely land.

It’s difficult to be an outsider. But in-laws are vital to the family experience. They’re not members of the initial team. Still, they’re the oh-so-important extension that grows the clan and ensures its survival.

It’s imperative you do your utmost to fit in. Sometimes the process is automatic. You instantly hit it off with your new family. At other times, it takes conscious effort. Either way, it’s your job to smile and be a good sport. The success of the holidays is hinging on you.

6 tips for success with your in-laws

  • Join in. This event isn’t about you. Accept your supporting role.
  • Develop a workable relationship with each family member. Find safe topics and activities you can share when you’re together. They don’t have to be monumental. You’re just facilitating communication.
  • Limit your alcohol. Nothing is improved if you’re tipsy. Keep your drinking to a minimum. If necessary, forego liquor altogether.
  • Set aside time to recharge your personal batteries. Give yourself adequate alone time. Maybe get up early and go for a walk, or take a break during the day to read a book.
  • Find a way to make the holidays your own. Arrive with a fabulous, local bottle of wine. Spearhead a craft table to entertain grandkids.
  • Keep the holidays in perspective. This time may be stressful, but it’s over in a blink. Take a deep breath and hang in there.
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