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I have been blessed to have some incredible in-laws. My wife’s parents are great, and they love me well. I haven’t had to deal with some of the horror stories that I’ve heard throughout the years. My father-in-law is encouraging and genuinely cares about my thoughts and words. My mother-in-law is caring and supportive of me and my wife.  However, I realize that this is not always the case for many families.

The holidays can be especially difficult if there is tension between you and your in-laws.

I have learned some tips over the years from my friends who are not blessed to be close with their in-laws. Here are five tips to keep in mind as you spend time with your in-laws during the holiday season.  

1. Your spouse is number one. 

At the end of the day your spouse is your spouse and also number one. When it comes to your own parents and your in-laws, keep in mind that you are going home with only one person. Before you jump into a conversation, think about your spouse first. Before you react or respond to a situation, think about your spouse first. In short, defend and support them first. Good eye contact and secret hand signals can go a long way to make sure you both return home with little conflict.  

2. Not every conversation needs your voice. 

If you are talking about politics at Thanksgiving and something is said that makes your skin crawl, keep in mind that your voice is not needed in every conversation. A smile or nod can cause less damage than making your opinion know and felt. However, there are times and places in which you can use your voice to help family members know that they shouldn’t talk about things like (fill in the blank) around you.  

3. Plan your exit.  

This one seems silly, but on your way to spend time with family, have an open conversation with your spouse about the exit plan. This isn’t about ducking out of spending family time together; its about how you plan to get out of conversations or situations that may cause friction.  

4. Family traditions are important even if you don’t get them.

Unless the tradition is unethical, try your best to be a part of it. Family traditions are important, so even though you may not understand a particular tradition, it’s vital to the whole family for you play a part in it. For example, one year I had to play Santa for the little kids, and I hated it. I did it because it’s a tradition that is part of the holiday celebration. I could have said NO and crossed my arms, but it wouldn’t have helped anyone, including me.  

5. Commit to zero negativity in front of the kids.  

If you are frustrated with something, keep it to yourself. When you talk negative about a family member in front of your kids, they may take it to a deeper level than you intended it to be. A snide comment can completely change your child’s perspective of that person. If you need to talk with your spouse about someone, make sure your kids are not around to hear. Finally, if you are not looking forward to going and spending time with family and you communicate that with your kids, they will mirror your attitude. So don’t suppress your feelings, just keep the negativity away from your kids.  

Bobby Cooley
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