So how many of you are getting ready to take off on your last summer trip, or else coming back from one? And how many of those involve extended family?
Yup. I feel your pain.
No matter how great your in-laws are, it’s never easy, now is it?
Why is that?
Now, here’s the thing: I have really great in-laws. Seriously. They’re kind, accepting and they basically leave us alone. So why was I psyching myself out when we were getting ready to go see Ken’s extended family last week?
Ruth Nemzoff, author of Don’t Roll Your Eyes: Making In-Laws into Family,* believes that “in-law relationships are particularly difficult because they have the obligations and expectations of family without the benefit of intimacy, comfort, and support (19).” To further complicate the issue, chances are that we’re probably coming from a completely different cultural and/or social background from our spouse (and his/her family).
And with those different backgrounds comes a completely different set of assumptions (or expectations). Meaning that what was cool in my family might not be so cool in Ken’s (and vice versa). Which pretty much explains why Ken’s reserved, stoic Japanese roots so often clash with my vocal, in-your-face Serbian ones.
But even if you and your spouse grew up down the block from each other, chances are that your families still operated under different sets of rules and expectations. Maybe your family argued their way through dinner while your hubby’s family ate in silence. Potential conflict? You betcha.
And that’s just the tip of the ice berg–because those are the expectations that we’re aware of. But there’s a whole other set of assumptions floating below the water, making things get even trickier. According to Nemzoff, “in-laws blame one another when expectations they don’t even know they have are not met (23).”
Yikes! You mean it’s not bad enough that you’re scrambling over all the mistakes you know you’re making, but now you have to worry about all the stuff that you don’t even realize you’re fucking up?
If that’s not messed up enough, consider that most of us don’t even realize what our unspoken expectations are, at least not until someone crosses them (22).
No wonder it’s so tempting to start tossing back the cocktails.
So what do we do?
Well, for starters, we dial back the expectations. Which for me meant I had to stop expecting Ken’s family to be more like mine. I realized I was expecting them to be more talkative–and maybe even to open up more about the things that were important to them. Except that they don’t function that way.
So I dialed back my expectations, and decided that I was going to do things differently this time around. I was going to just try and be content with hanging out in the background (otherwise known as letting things be).
And you know what? It worked. Now that I was no longer cornering my in-laws with a zillion questions, they were free to start whatever conversations they wanted.
Now, it might not be much, but it’s definitely a first step. And, hell, it was a successful one.
So whaddya think? Wanna join me?
Ditch the expectations and stop the madness.
*Product Placement Alert: I received a review copy of Nemzoff’s book a few months ago, but didn’t crack the damn thing until recently. However, the book was sent to me for free, so don’t let yourselves be fooled by any endorsements or hidden messages I might have inadvertently placed between sentences. Whatever you do, do not play this post backwards.