Family

Handling difficult in-laws

Author: Canadian Living

Family

Handling difficult in-laws

Q: My husband and I are currently expecting our first child. His mother is a heavy smoker who insists we visit her on a regular basis but continues to smoke around me. I am either forced to sit alone in another room or we leave, which causes her to become very upset. To top it all off, she blames me for her not seeing her son or me as often as she once did. She is constantly mentioning grandparents' rights to us because she realizes we will not allow our child in a home with smokers. She will not reason with my husband or me and it regularly turns into a large family fight where everyone is angry with me, believing that I am controlling and manipulating my husband into avoiding his family when in fact, it's his choice to stay home with me. Any suggestions?

A: An open letter to you and your husband:

Gently take each other by the hand and stand in front of a mirror. There you will see what is most important of all: a soon to be family of three. Like your child, your home is still vulnerable, still needing your strongest and best efforts to protect and nurture it. Other family and friends must naturally take a different place in your lives as you take on this awesome responsibility, which helps provide you and your children with a safe and healthy place to establish your lives and live them well. That's the primary job at this stage of your life.

How wonderful that your child already has a father who loves to spend time with her/his mom. And how wise it is that mom is trying her best to keep that child away from dangerous things such as second-hand smoke. Her fetal development depends on it.

Now, what to do about that second-hand angst that seems to fill the air whenever you visit with family? That one is mostly up to you to handle dad -- because it's your family. And mom, you can provide sensitive and loving support behind the scenes. Teamwork and a united front are what you'll need to handle the challenges of the many years that you have ahead of you.

Page 1 of 2 -- Find more expert advice on handling difficult situations with your in-laws on page 2

You will have firm expectations of anyone who would like to be invited into the circle of well-being you are creating to nurture and support your child. Grandparents would be natural fits in this circle but they will need to earn and retain that place through respect, goodwill and good behaviour, such as not smoking.

This isn't about harsh exclusion; it is about inviting the best out of them as people and as family. Ideally they would ask you to help them redefine their roles as parents in order to support you in the important work of raising a child. Failing that, I encourage you dad, to lovingly and firmly make your position clear. They would no doubt be proud to know that you hold such strong family values, which are helping you put your wife and child first.

No smoking, no bad mouthing your child's mother, no bouts of temper or intense conflict will be accepted around any of you. It's toxic and unhealthy for everyone. And of course you sincerely hope that your wishes will be respected in order that you and your family can enjoy their company and their support, now and through the years to come.

Say it as often as you need to until it is heard and accepted. The health and well-being of your marriage and home depend on it.

Now, go and find some fun and interesting things to do, just the two of you. Goodness knows, once this little one arrives you'll have a lot less time, energy and likely money to play together.




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Dr. Marion Goertz is a registered marriage and family therapist and a clinical member of the American and Ontario Associations for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT/OAMFT). Marion maintains a private marriage and family therapy practice in Toronto.

 

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Handling difficult in-laws

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