Holiday Dinner With The In-Laws
Tips to Avoid Being the Turkey for the Holidays
Dear April Masini,
I'm dreading the holidays because my in-laws make me feel anxious and unworthy. Do you have any advice on how I can survive the get togethers at their house -- and maybe even have a good time?"
Turkey Time Blues
April Masini's Advice :
Dear Turkey Time Blues:
Somehow or other we all forget about the real meaning of Thanksgiving the second we realize we have to spend our holiday with -- shudder -- relatives! Oh, sure. Most of us love 'em, most of the time, but they wouldn't be family if they didn't push our buttons at least some of the time, and in-laws are usually the newest members of the family and any button pushing they do -- or you do to them -- is still new enough that it can evoke feelings of discomfort. Yuck. But don't let that spoil your Thanksgiving holiday! There are ways to get around the in-law blues and enjoy your day of turkey and even feel thankful.
When You Feel Like An Outlaw Around Your In-Laws:
It's very difficult to have a seamless relationship with anyone -- let alone your spouse's parents. Parents come loaded with issues because they are so integral in defining who you are, and whether you acknowledge it or not -- you've spent your lifetime trying to impress your own parents and have been dealing with their acceptance or rejection, incorporating that dynamic into who you are today and how you behave with them and in all your relationships. Then, just when you think you have your act together, and you even have a relationship that has resulted in marriage, along come your in-laws, an entirely new set of parents -- but not entirely not yours, either. And just like with your own parents, you will try to impress them, and incorporate their acceptance or rejection of you -- or your perception of it -- in a much, much, much shorter time. In fact, you'll probably, subconsciously, expect yourself and your in-laws to be at the same level you are with your own parents when it comes to having integrated your feelings about them into your life -- even though your in-laws are very new to you and you to them.
Don't Rush! In-Laws Take More Time To Get Comfortable With Than You Thought!
Basically, it's an impossible task, and that's why you feel anxious. You want everything to go smoothly, and it's still new, and new things have a tendency to not go smoothly. You may be trying to impress your in-laws, hide secrets from them, act a certain way in front of them (just like you did with your parents at different ages in your life, and maybe even still do) -- and the in-laws may be trying to do the same around you. You spent a lifetime getting to know your parents -- whom you did not pick -- and a year or two or three -- or however long you dated your spouse before you married -- getting to know him or her before actually choosing him or her. The in-laws, however, were not chosen. They were part of the package you accepted when you married your spouse, and the in-laws take even longer to get to know because you spend less time with them than you did your folks and than you did or you do your spouse. So, slow down and allow the relationship to happen on it's own time.
Scoping Out The Truth
In addition, the in-laws (if they're relatively new) may be trying to scope out what you're really like or what your family is like and you may be trying to figure out how much of what you've heard from your spouse and other family members and friends of your spouse's, about your in-laws, is true or not. Even if you've been married for a while. Or you may believe that they are all the things you've heard without giving them a chance to prove themselves. This is all because you know them the least of all the players in the family dynamic scenario -- and they are the closest to your spouse, which makes them important.
Getting To Know Them
If you see your in-laws often -- for example, weekly -- you have pretty clear boundaries. You know what time to expect them, what the activity for the visit will be -- if it's a sit down with beverages or a meal or a restaurant trip -- there are fewer suprises than if you bump into them in the same neighborhood or if you visit each other without calling first. This regularity and knowing what to expect can alleviate some of the anxiety you may have wondering what's going to happen next. If you don't see them very often, there may be panic on their part to see more of you and to have what time you do have together be "perfect." This is a recipe for in-law disaster.
Here are some tips for making your relationships with in-laws go work more smoothly:
- Be yourself.
No matter how you try to present yourself, they're going to find out the real you eventually. Besides, they need to know whom their son or daughter chose, and if they're not tolerant, your exposing them to new ways of doing things is a good thing. Besides -- any friction that may result from your different behavior may actually be because of one the in-laws likes the way you are and wants to be that way themselves, and the other one, doesn't. The real friction is between the two of them -- not you and them.
- Open your mind.
Don't be judgmental of them. If they do things differently than you do or your family does, allow them to be different. Loosen up and focus on having a good time. Fun is often contagious. Catch it.
- Get some privacy.
You should not have to spend hours on end with your in-laws without a break. If they don't give you one -- take it yourself. Either drive to the market for something "you forgot to bring" or take a walk around the block. Sneak off into a private room and shut the door for a snooze or a cell phone call to a friend. Do whatever you need to do to rejuvenate -- even if it's a mini break.
- Go with the flow -- but also be clear on the boundaries (as much as you can).
If you're spending a family Thanksgiving together, ask your in-laws what the tradition is on the meal. You'll alleviate a lot of anxiety for yourself by asking straight out if you should bring something or if you can help in any way. If you're not a cook, don't pretend. Gourmet take-out is very appreciated as is wine or fruit baskets. And don't forget the flowers!