I’m still pretty much a newlywed. {I wonder when I will stop thinking of myself as a newlywed? Thoughts?} While I feel like I’m learning the wife thing with some success, there are days when I don’t feel like I’m doing so well at being an in-law.

You see…I had two things going against me when stepping into this role.

1. I thought that I would just be adored and I would adore them (after all, those are the people the person you love belongs to) and that would be that. For some reason, I didn’t think of getting to know your in-laws the same way it is getting to know a colleague or a church member you serve with. I thought it would honestly just be instant family. In some ways it is and in some ways it isn’t. There are things that I would say or do around my own family when things get heated, tense, etc..that I would not and should not say to my in-laws. It just doesn’t work that way.

2. Growing up my mom and dad got along with one another’s families perfectly. I didn’t really know of any real drama. My dad’s sister (my aunt Taunya) went on vacations with my mom, my brother, and me–my dad wasn’t even there. This happened a lot of times growing up. My grandparents on both sides were friends and we often had them in the same room together and my grandmas and grandpas would talk to each other. My mom talked on the phone regularly with my grandma and my aunts. It was just natural. I assumed that it would just be the same exact way for me.

In some ways it has been and in some ways it  has not been.  It’s been a good dose of humility for me. Here’s what I havelearned:

*Family history is not my history. At first it was hard for me trying to figure out who was right or wrong or whose side I should take. {Every family has sides…whether it’s an opinion on the crazy aunt, a religious stance, a lifestyle stance, etc…every family does, this I do know}. Then I realized, I don’t have to take sides. I am new here. I get to start fresh and figure things out for myself. Just because someone else has a bad/difficult history doesn’t mean that I have to adopt that. Some people might like you to, but it’s not your history it belongs to them and it needs to be left with them. Moreover, it’s not fair for anyone to ask you to hold a grudge that never belonged to you in the first place or adopt take a side if you choose to be neutral. **This is probably the best thing I’ve learned and it’s liberated me immensely.**

*Leave it alone. Whether or not you agree on the history or political stance or great-aunt Mary’s lifestyle…leave it alone.

*Make space as needed. Whether you need to distance yourself long-term from the situation or you simply need to take a breather and go for a walk, distance is healthy when you’re feeling the pressures of a situation. It will bring the clarity and peace you need to diffuse a situation. (also, I highly recommend praying).

*Take cues from the family. If I’ve learned anything from Zach’s family it’s not to hold a grudge. Zach and his sister can get into a heated argument one minute and then they are planning a camping trip the next…literally. While I’m stuck there still horribly upset at the way the whole argument went down (as in literally in tears about to scream at someone), they’ve totally moved on.  And that’s how they are all the time. His family doesn’t hold grudges, they just don’t. (As my mom’s told you–I can and I can forgive but you have to admit you’ve done something wrong) well, what doesn’t happen with Zach’s family and I’m not really in a position to demand an apology the same way I’d demand one from my brother or my dad. So I have to play by their rules and let it roll off my back. It’s probably good for me anyway.

*Don’t compare families. Focus on the positives in both families. For example, I love how much fun Zach’s family has. Every single one of his siblings has a gorgeous smile and a contagious laugh. We play a lot of games and laugh a lot when we get together. My family doesn’t do that, but we laugh differently. We know each other differently. Most of the time my brother and I laugh due to our history, not that the jokes are old, but just that we are so incredibly close. The way we laugh together is equally (if not more) satisfying to me. It comes from a different place.  It’s not fair to hold my family to Zach’s family’s standards of fun or compare the closeness of my family to the closeness of Zach’s…though sometimes I do–it’s not fair or right. Each family has its strengths and weaknesses and what an awesome learning experience being a part of two different families can be!

*Don’t make your spouse choose. I set this rule for myself at the beginning of our marriage. As I had already known that being an in-law was going to be challenging for me in some ways before we’d been married. I tell Zach where I stand on matters and he is supportive. I don’t require him to take breaks with me. I don’t require him to choose me or his family. I do know that my husband loves every member of his family, I also know he adores the heck out of me…I don’t need him to prove it by making himself or anyone else miserable with drama. (I started to feel like I did, but I prayed and when you pray…miracles happen). There was a time where I even expected Zach to choose when it came to my family. I have my own history with some family members and I expected Zach to dislike them to the same extent if not more than me and I held it against him at first when he didn’t. I’ve since grown up a little and realized that his history isn’t my history and it’s not fair to expect him to act like it is.

*Love them. They are a part of your spouse whether you like it or not. They had some part in raising him. I love my husband and he’s got a part of every single person in his family in him…and I’m so grateful for so many different/diverse influences. Its’ made him who he is. So even if you need the space, even if you need to pray, remember to love them.

*Have fun! Enjoy the positives about each family member…Whether it’s bantering with  Grandpa or laughing at your sister-in-law’s jokes…enjoy it and be glad that you get to be a part of someone else’s family.

I’m determined that for most of us, becoming one with the family doesn’t happen overnight. (Although it sure seemed to for my mom and for Zach with my family). If you just keep loving and enjoying and you don’t take people too seriously, then happiness abounds whenever family time is made available. The more happy family times, the closer you’ll get. !
What about you? Have family dynamics been difficult or easy to deal with? Do you have any advice to add or any comments on the advice I gave? I’d sure love to hear it.
***Though it may seem that way, this post was not about my sisters-in-law just in case you’re reading Hallie or Kass–you just happened to be neutral targets. Love you!