Monster-in-law No More: How to Build Respectful Relationships with Inlaws and Grandparents

Mom smiling at mother-in-law

One of the most rewarding parts of having one's family nearby is the relationships you can forge between your own children and their grandparents. Your own parents, as well as your in-laws, want to be a major part of your child's life, and that can cause tension when there are only so many holidays or hours of babysitting to go around.

There are a few different relationships to manage when working to avoid any kind of "monster-in-law" stereotypes, and if you are attentive to each individual relationship, you can build a foundation of trust and respect that helps to keep the air clear and the grandparents happy.

Dad, grandpa, and grandson sitting on a bridge

You and Your In-Laws

Being respectful and supportive is the name of the game in the in-law business; of all the relationships you forge, this one can be hardest because you were not raised by this group of people. Nevertheless, they may feel the freedom to impose restrictions or expectations on you as if you really were "part of the family." This gets tough! Acknowledge that you are frustrated when it happens; preferably, take a girlfriend out for a drink or a pedicure and talk it out then. When possible, avoid venting your in-law frustration with your own spouse. For one thing, he or she is probably sympathetic to their way of thinking simply because they grew up in your in-laws' care, and for another, it puts a spouse in a weird middle spot between two sets of people they are loyal to: their spouse and their parents.

Once you have vented a little, focus on positive solutions: how can you maximize your respect and positive interaction with your in-laws while avoiding times and activities that cause friction? If you cannot stand the yearly family bowling tournament because everyone is ultra competitive, offer to watch all the family's kids that night, or politely excuse yourself to work on preparations for a holiday meal or party. Focus on proactively creating bonding time that works for you both: if you and your in-laws are happiest while in the throes of assembling a jigsaw puzzle, make sure that no gathering is without one.

Mom, daughter, and grandma cooking in a kitchen

Your Parents and Your In-Laws

While not everyone's parents and in-laws end up getting to know each other well, if you are in a situation where both sets of grandparents want to spend time with you and with your children, there may be a relationship or influence between these two sets. Help your in-laws and your parents accept that each set of grandparents sees parenting and family time differently. It can be helpful not to directly compare the experiences at each grandparents' home, though children may do that for you anyway.

Do what you can to achieve "parity" between the grandparents. If they complain that they don't see their grandchild as much, get them to really unpack that complaint, especially if they are getting plenty of time with the child. If they cannot see reason, you can politely ask them not to complain about it: if they've made a specific request for more face-time with your kids, you have the right to do what you need to do, either accepting or rejecting that request. Just bellyaching about things that cannot change, like living very far apart, is an irritation that strains both in-law relationships and your relationships with your own parents.

Your Child and Your In-Laws

One of the relationships you want to treasure and build up is the relationship between your child or children and your in-laws. No matter whether you find your in-laws to be a dream or a difficulty in your life, avoid saying anything negative about them to your child. Having grandparents in a child's life is a blessing and a benefit that not everyone has, so do everything you can to nurture a comfortable relationship with them.

When it comes to parenting differences, try to separate harmless differences of opinion from any truly worrying choices they make. When your child stays over for a weekend, for instance, you can mention any truly frustrating choices they tend to make, but try to reserve it to one or two things. After all, the in-laws are doing you a favor by watching the children and being excited to grow close to them. A lot of parents end up disagreeing with their own parents' approaches to parenting, but one of the best ways to keep a peaceful experience is to let some differences go, accepting that the children will run into many different kinds of people in their lives.

By working to nurture relationships between yourself, your own parents, your in-laws, and your children, you and your spouse can keep from letting any hurt feelings grow or fester. If a tension does arise, try to address it as soon as possible, reminding everyone involved that they are loved and respected in their own right.