How to survive the holidays with your in-laws
Your mother-in-law just called to say they’ll be arriving at your house the day before Thanksgiving and leaving sometime in early January. Gah! Don’t panic – our survival guide will get you to 2019.
Do you naively envision a perfect Norman Rockwell Christmas scene as the holidays approach every year only to be smacked in the face with a National Lampoon-style comedy of errors dominated by family tension and conflict? We feel your pain.
Even if you get along famously with your in-laws, you’ll probably want to ship them back home in a giant Christmas parcel by the end of day three. Don’t feel bad – it isn’t easy to have anyone in your house for extended periods of time. These eight practical tips will help you make it through the holidays with your sanity intact.
- Do your part to create a harmonious environment
You can’t stop your MIL from asking intrusive questions, but you can try to temper your reactions to them. Plan a few terse but polite answers to her most commonly asked queries and take a deep breath before delivering them with a smile. Do your best not to be reactive or confrontational. But if it does happen, don’t beat yourself up – you’re only human and you can try again tomorrow.
You can also try to improve the quality of your relationship with your in-laws by showing a genuine interest in them. Ask them questions about their daily lives, interests and hobbies. Unless they’re irredeemable Grinches, they should eventually warm to you.
- Involve them in your daily routine
Let Grandma take the kids to the park and put them to bed. Give Grandpa some time to read books and build block towers with them. If they wants to help you around the house, accept graciously and divide up the jobs! For example like chopping some vegetables or folding the laundry. You might find it hard to relinquish control over your household at first, but it’ll give them a sense of purpose and some quality bonding time with your children.
- Plan family outings
There’s nothing like sitting around the living room discussing politics for days on end to create a volcano of tension that’s bound to erupt in the middle of Christmas dinner. You MUST get out of the house.
Before your in-laws arrive, make a list of activities that will entertain the whole family, such as sightseeing, ice skating, going to the movies and looking at the Christmas lights on the best decorated streets in your area. Every night after dinner, pull out your list and suggest an activity for the next day. You don’t have to go on a major outing every day, but try to plan a few of them throughout their visit to defuse tension and create some meaningful memories.
- Take some time out on your own
Go the gym, catch up with a friend for coffee, run some errands… whatever it takes to get away for a couple of hours. Plan regular mini-escapes during their stay and have a secret code with your partner for emergency sanity breaks. “I forgot to buy stocking stuffers for the kids” actually means “Your parents are driving me cray and I’m outta here for an hour.”
- Suggest a daily walk
Babies aren’t the only ones who get cranky during the “witching hour” – that cursed period before dinner when everyone is restless, hungry and irritable. Suggest going out for a short walk every day at 5pm so that everyone gets some fresh air and endorphins. Those who don’t feel like going can stay behind and help to prepare dinner. When you get back, the mood in the household is guaranteed to be brighter.
- Buy them tickets to a show
Surprise your in-laws with tickets to a show or a local sightseeing tour… without you. They’ll appreciate the effort you’ve made and everyone will get some breathing room for a few hours.
- Go to bed early
After dinner, thank your in-laws for a wonderful day and retire to your bedroom. Do it on the very first night they stay to establish that this will be your evening routine. You’ve spent the whole day entertaining them, so it isn’t rude to skip your father-in-law’s Home Improvement marathons. You can read, watch your own TV shows or drink wine in bed – this is your time, baby.
- Laugh it off
Humor can go a long way when it comes to defusing tension. I’m not suggesting that you binge-watch Amy Schumer stand-ups to try to keep the family in stitches all day, but a well-placed joke can make everyone laugh when they were about to erupt. If your husband’s face is going red because his dad just asked him when he’ll get a real job for the 476thtime, say, “Oh my gosh, Bob, if Joe’s job isn’t real, then I’ve been spending all his fake money! Do you know anything about tax evasion because I think we’ll need some help?!”
If all else fails, take deep breaths and just try to remember that this is an important opportunity for your kids to spend quality time with their grandparents AKA free babysitting! Have another cup of eggnog and it’ll all be over before you can say, “Next Christmas, we’re going to Bora Bora!”