The family is expanding. Our son is getting married this month and we’re delighted to welcome his bride, Gabrielle, into the fold.
Families are continually adding new members. Whether the recent arrivals are part of an unmarried couple, a first marriage or a remarriage following a divorce or death of a spouse, each additional pairing alters the constellation of the clan.
How families adapt to these changes determines the long-term viability and stability of the household. Ideally, members greet newcomers with open arms, developing tightly knit bonds and making them feel as if they belong.
But too often the blending process is fraught with tension. Mothers wrestle for control with their daughters-in-law. Parents disapprove of their son’s new girlfriend. Older children turn a cold shoulder to Mom’s new husband.
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The longer these conflicts take to resolve, the more angst there is in the family. Sometimes hostilities continue for years and result in nonstop bickering or grudges that folks can’t forget. Family members turn into related rivals.
Holidays and gatherings are sheer torture.
What family members forget is that they have no say over who is brought into the fold. Once children reach adulthood, they can select whomever they please.
The same holds true for remarrying parents. Kids, you don’t get to choose who Mom or Dad weds. Sure, they may solicit your input. They may be sensitive to your viewpoints. However, it’s ultimately up to your parents to decide who they’ll remarry.
All members of the household, including in-laws, must accept and get along with each significant other. You don’t have to be best friends. But you must be a cordial and pleasant team player at all times.
This doesn’t mean you can’t express your opinion. If Junior is dating a woman you think is bad news, it’s OK to kindly state your case. Present your concerns in a logical manner. Avoid nagging, hysterics or trash talking.
Those things are likely to backfire anyway and push the couple closer together.
Of course, wise family members would take heed of their loved ones’ concerns. They’d listen if Dad said, “I’m concerned about the fact that your boyfriend’s always borrowing money.” Or they’d think twice when Sis points out, “You’re fiance is flirting with my husband.”
Unfortunately, wisdom doesn’t always win out. Loved ones are going to pair up with whomever they select. Hopefully things will work out for everyone involved. If not, we couldn’t stop it.
Tips for welcoming newcomers to the family
Need help accepting a loved one’s choice in partners? Start with these suggestions:
Completely accept the new arrival. This person is going to be part of the family. Make your approval evident with your words, expressions and behavior. The quicker you put out the welcome mat the better your relationship will be. Focus on the newcomer’s strengths. Each of us has areas of weakness. The new arrival is no exception. Your job is to look beyond them. Highlight his or her assets. Find qualities you admire. You may even be able to understand what your loved one finds so appealing.
Develop a workable relationship. Look for activities the two of you can enjoy together. Seek out topics you can safely discuss. Whether it’s sports, cooking or politics, the more you have in common the stronger your emotional ties.
Understand your supportive role. Each person in the family supports the relationships other members have formed. They deserve your respect and concern, regardless of your opinion.
Let go of past issues. Sometimes we struggle with accepting a new arrival because of events that happened long ago. Your daughter’s boyfriend may have cheated while he was away on business. Or your husband’s sister may have said some unkind words. Yes, those actions were hurtful. But your loved one has taken that partner back. It’s time to let those memories fade and get back to business being a family.
Recognize that your acceptance keeps your family intact. If you want to maintain close bonds with your children or parents you must make peace with their choices of mates. Deep down you may think they’re being foolish. Still the survival of your family depends on your tolerance and approval.
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her visit lindalewisgriffith.com