I am learning about being a mother-in-law. Since our daughter, son-in-law and grand baby live about seven hours away, our kids don't have to deal with us being daily "drop-by" in-laws. You know what I'm talking about don't you? Parents who "just happened to be in the neighborhood" and thought they'd "drop-by" for a few minutes, right in the middle of piano practice, homework, or predictable afternoon "meltdowns."
Instead, we are the "move-in" in-laws. We move into the extra bedroom of their house for a few days at a time, and although, we try to be very sensitive and helpful, it causes some disruption and necessitates adjustments on both of our parts. For instance, the guest bed usually serves our daughter as the swaddling platform for wrapping the baby before nap time. The guest bed is ideal because its closest to the baby's room, it's more elevated, and is usually free of unfolded laundry or crumpled bed linens. I noticed on our last visit, that my daughter headed straight for our bedroom with the baby, only to discover sweatshirts and some of our other clothing strewn across the bed. She made no comment, but asked sweetly if I'd spread out the swaddling blanket on her bed so she could wrap our little punkin' for her morning nap. Our daughter, Kellie was not the least bit annoyed by this inconvenience, but I knew she was having to adjust her routine.
I privately went to my husband, Don and told him that we needed to make every effort to keep the bed "free" from clutter, which I knew my daughter appreciated. I knew this was not a "deal-breaker"--but, I also knew this constituted only one of several adjustments they were making so mom and dad could spend more time with them.
I began to think about the mistakes that "we" as in-laws often make. We look at the situation very one-sided. We look at all that WE are doing to ease our kids' loads like: helping with bath time, changing diapers, tidying up the house, helping with homework, taking out the garbage, or doing the laundry. But, even though that is genuinely thoughtful and appreciated, it still alters their home life routine.
Now, don't get me wrong. Most of the time our kids wouldn't want it any other way, but, I wonder if you've ever considered what its like for them? Have you ever asked your adult children what is most helpful to them? Have you cultivated a relationship where they can truly be honest with you or do you get your feelings hurt easily? If your son or daughter were to ask you to do something differently, would you comply outwardly but resent their ingratitude inwardly? Have you spent any time looking at what you did or didn't receive from your own parents when you first became a parent? Believe it or not, your history with your parents or your spouse's parents as in-laws can make a profound impact on how you act as an "in-law."
This is the first in a series of "by-laws for in-laws." If you dare, sit down and think about what it was like for you when you first married. Write down some of your early observations and feelings about the role your parents and your spouse's parents played in your life. Did it change when you had children? As you look back on it now, do you see it differently? What would you want to do differently than was done? What do you hope to provide your adult children that was not provided for you? Are you sure that what you want for them is what they want from you? If you're brave, why not ask them?
Stay tuned for the next in this series...send me any thoughts, questions or concerns. I'd love to hear from you!