They say when you marry someone, you marry their whole family. If you are any type of Asian, you are probably furiously nodding your head. This can be both a blessing and a curse depending on who you ask. You can toss a rock and hit 9 Indian soap operas with an evil mother in law and a Cinderbeta-type daughter in law treated as the hired help. While this is obviously dramatized, dealing with the in-laws can be tough for many people. Since I’m fresh off of living with mine for 3 months – I have some tips to share.
I met my in-laws when I was 15 years old, probably younger but I don’t remember too well. My mom, however, can remember seeing Sahir’s mom pregnant with him in our local Jamat Khane (place of prayer) almost 3 decades ago. I grew up with them and have a special bond that comes with the rare opportunity to have known your spouse your whole life.
I have to start this post by saying that I am extremely lucky to have married into a family with such kindness. My father and mother in law have treated me with the utmost love and affection as if I was truly their own. But I’ve heard from my friends and so many of you that have more strenuous relationships with your in-laws and I hear you. Ultimately every family is their own and you need to do what’s best for the physical and mental health of yourself and your family. Here are a few tips that might help:
Make It Even
This is less about your in-laws and more about your relationship with your spouse. One prominent source of contention when it comes to family is an uneven balance of time and responsibility. Gone are the days when “men take care of their parents” and “women leave their own families behind” You need to (kindly) demand that your partner gives the same amount of time and love to your family and you do his – obviously as much as possible. This will help make sure neither of you resent the other for the extra time and that your parents feel as though they have gained a son instead of loosing a daughter (and vice versa.)
The Golden Rule
Want to be treated like family? Act like family. Mothers-in-law get a bad rep in the South Asian community in particular (well and that JLo movie in the early 2000s) but are daughters owning up to their part in the mix? Communicate with your new family – running late? Let them know, it’s common courtesy and something you would probably do in your own home. Another way to be a contributing member of the family is to be resourceful, when possible. I’ll admit, I cooked 3 times and 3 months and twice it was the same dish (facepalm here!) Can I cook? Yes. Did I cook? No. I fell victim to finishing my work and letting my mother in law do the cooking, but I always tried to help with cleanup and dishes when possible.
Speak Only In Kindness
You know how if anyone else makes a critical comment you want to burst into tears, but your mom can degrade your existence in 4 seconds and you are totally fine after? Yeah, it’s a thing. Some may disagree, but I believe it’s not your place to get into disagreements with your in-laws. Speak only in kindness to your in-laws. If something isn’t working out it’s your job to communicate that to your partner and their job to communicate that onward. The intake process should be the same. This way your partner is aware of what’s happening and is actively trying to mitigate any issues before they get big.
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Cultivate a Relationship
It’s never easy to put yourself out there, but your in-laws will appreciate if you try to do something to build a relationship with them. My father in law is really into worldly events, the news, and technology so after I listed to the Dropout podcast I knew I wanted to watch the HBO documentary. I rallied him (and the whole family) and we watched it together. It was a little too long for my taste (see my list of favorite documentaries here) but hopefully they appreciated that I thought of them and wanted to share and learn together.
Assume the Best
As with all relationships (friendship, familial, or romantic), assume that the other person has your best intentions at heart. We can sometimes fall victim to building things up in our heads and blow small things out of proportion. Be graceful and understand that you may have differing opinions and that’s okay. Stay elegant and assume that they care for you and your partner.