Through the years I have increasingly realized the value of having a teachable heart. Esther 2:15 beautifully summarizes the blessings of that to me: "When the time came for Esther to go to the king, she asked for nothing other than what Hegai, the king's eunuch who was in charge of the harem, suggested. And Esther won the favor of everyone who saw her." Because Esther was willing to receive and heed council, she not only won favor, but became a queen who God used to save His people.
If you are married, chances are you have them...In laws. I'm sure that every person who reads this post could tell a story or two about this topic without much hesitation. I believe that second to finances, most marital discord surrounding the holidays has to do with extended family in some way. I do have a few friends who actually say they prefer their in laws to spending time with their own families; but it is very few indeed.
My own in laws are wonderful, God loving, generous individuals who I love and am very appreciative for; but that doesn't mean we haven't had some communication or relational issues along this ten year path of marriage.
My father was a factory worker and foreman. He liked set schedules and we had a lot of order and structure to most things that we did in our household. My husband's father is an Interior Designer full of creativity, ideas, and change is what he does for a living. I am a planner, I like structure and love adventure. My husband has grown to enjoy schedules (in small doses) but is much more prone to fly by the seat of his pants - especially when on vacation. And vacation normally involves his parents...there were some adjustments to be made on both sides...especially after we had children.
Most families have some kind of in law related issues. However, as I have given this more thought, I am seeing that most of our own "issues" are compounded by outside factors:
*We are normally traveling to spend time with extended family or they are traveling to spend time with us.
*It is normally centered around a holiday, birthday, or other large event (recitals,performances, etc.)
*Both sides have usually put a lot of time and energy into work/volunteer activities in order to take time off to be able to get together so we enter the time frame worn and tired.
*There is a level of stress to get things all "set up" for people to travel or prepare for house guests regardless of how excited you might be to get together.
Now I know that you may live in the same town with one or both sides of the family so these issues may not look exactly the same as my own, but I encourage you to take a look at the stresses that tend to compound these relationships. Do what you can to reduce the stressful factors involved and offer grace for those that you cannot.
Some things that I have learned along the way...for both sides of the in law relationship:
1. Expect more noise than you are used to. Some Examples may be: a family member listening to the TV loudly late at night, putting dishes away or cooking/cleaning at all hours, vacuuming while you are still asleep, excited children who have had more candy and cookies than normal, crying because they haven't slept well, or all out pitching a fit.
Why, Why, Why do they do that??? You might be asking? Again, because the circumstances are unusual. There are more people in the house to clean up after and cook for; the children have had sensory overload with lights, sounds, and smells of Christmas while being instructed to be on their best behavior (for days!) If noise is an issue, see what you can do to help in advance. Offer to vacuum, help with dishes or meal preparation (while you or your kids are awake). A friend of mine brings a white noise machine with her every time they travel - she says it helps no matter the noise.
2. Communicate Expectations& Needs BEFORE issues arise: *At the first possible moment after all of the initial greetings and getting settled, TALK to your family members about what they are hoping to experience and do while you/they are there. (Going to look at lights, family portrait, making cookies with the kids, seeing a movie, Christmas Eve Church Service,etc.) If you know that they are going to need some time to think about it; tell them that you are going to ask them at dinner what they might be hoping to accomplish while you are with them. You could even ask them to tell you a specific number of things (tell us TWO things you are hoping to do...) If you can work together to meet goals and expectations, things will be much more peaceful.
*Surrender (to the Lord) and communicate (with your spouse) your own expectations. To read a previous post on expectations, click here.
*Communicate about sleeping arrangements BEFORE you arrive so there are not surprises in this area. We purchased some awesome inflatable sleeping bags for our kids when they were about 2yrs old. (from Walmart I believe) They LOVED to sleep in them and it eliminated a lot of hassle at hotels and when we spent the night away from home. We just put sheets or blankets underneath of them and the kids were set.
Here are a few verses to encourage you this Christmas Season: Romans 12:18 "If possible, so far as it depends on you; live peaceably with all men." NAS
John 14:27 "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you..." KJV
I Peter 3:9 "Not returning evil for evil, or insult for insult, but give a blessing instead; for you were called for this very purpose that you might inherit a blessing. NAS
Matthew 5:9 "Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God." KJV
Pastor Rich at our church just did an AWESOME message on dealing with difficult people. It is perfect for this time of year. A couple of his quotes from the message: "Avoid the reindeer game of arguing!" "A mark of maturity is controlled reaction." You can hear the whole message here: Choose "Traditions - Avoiding Strife."
I am going to open up this conversation to you - click on the comment section below and share your tips!
Lives near Washington D.C. with her wonderful husband of 15 years and their three precious children. She is the Co-Founder of Bloom! (a ministry for 4th/5th Grade Girls,)and she enjoys speaking at ladies events. Shanda is a Proverbs 31 Ministries "She Speaks" Graduate and can be contacted at email@example.com