Over the weekend a good friend of mine sent me a message that she had finally confronted her sister-in-law about an on-going family issue. My brother and sister-in-law were visiting us with their kids for the weekend, so it was an interesting time to hear about such a confrontation. I am very fortunate in that not only do I love my sister-in-law like a sister having known her since I was eleven years old, but my husband and I get along very well with my brother and sister-in-law. While adding kids to the mix over the last seven years has certainly changed the dynamic, we still enjoy spending time together and now watching the kids grown together.
But of course everything isn’t always perfect with sunshine and rainbows floating around us. No family dynamic ever is.
So what was the cause of the confrontation in my friend’s life? It seems that her sister-in-law had a habit of complaining about the family to my friend. About my friend’s family, her own flesh and blood. Who was this outsider to cast judgement? This reminded me of conversations I’ve had with my husband about the same topic. For some reason it has always been okay for me to complain about my family members, especially on the phone to my brother, but if my husband tries to join in he has suddenly crossed a line. I’ve often felt the same way in talking to my sister-in-law, although she pretty much gets a pass because she’s been a part of the family for over half of her life.
What about daughters-in-law complaining about their mothers-in-law? I’m fairly sure that all daughters-in-law are required to complain about their husband’s moms, and in fact, I believe it is included in the marriage contract in most states. But what are the rules of etiquette for these complaints? Is it okay to complain to my husband about his own family? What about to other members of his family?
Every family has a different dynamic and way to interact be it quietly passive-aggressive or loudly confrontational (my personal favorite), but as parents we need to find a way to merge all of these dynamics peacefully. In making a decision to have children, we’ve also made the decision to blend two often very different families.
It’s also critical that family disputes occur out of earshot of kids. While it still sometimes surprises me, my children are just as much related to my husband’s family as they are to mine. It is critical that even though my parents spend much more time with my kids than my in-laws do, we still find a way to speak positively about the family that is less involved in their lives.
How do you balance family differences in your own family, and how do you protect your children from family disputes?