"There is no more lovely, friendly and charming relationship, communion or company than a good marriage."
--Martin Luther

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

On Being an In-Law

Lately, I've been thinking about in-laws, not only the in-laws that I now have, but also the in-law that I've become. “Awful in-laws” are one of the most commonly stereotyped aspects of married life. Sitcoms have produced a miriad of jokes about the prying mother-in-law. It's easy to think about the in-laws you're getting when you marry... but sometimes you forget that you're also becoming an in-law at the same time.

I've actually been an in-law for nearly nine years, since my step-sister's 2004 wedding, but this reality hit closest to home when my little brother got married last fall. My mom and I were very conscious that of our responsibility to welcome his bride into our family (although we'd already considered her family for years). I hosted a shower and tried to stick it out into the wee hours of the night for her full-day bachelorette festivities.

While I do think I'm a pretty good sister-in-law to my siblings' spouses, I don't feel the same about my performance as a daughter-in-law. In some senses, I've lucked out: My in-laws are in Asia and Australia, so there is no reasonable way for them to expect frequent visits or our attendance at Christmas dinner. They don't come by and critique our housekeeping because they've never been to our house. You could say that I have it super-easy, but on the other hand, it is so difficult to feel close to them. I only met my mother- and brother-in-law three days before our wedding, and I've never met (or even spoken to) my husband's dad and older sister. Even keeping in phone contact with Gil's mom is difficult as there is a signicant time difference and she is one busy woman!

All of this makes me feel discouraged. My husband's mother is a lovely woman and she does make an effort. This past fall she sent me a gorgeous jade bracelet, and recently she sent an envelope of photos from Gil's childhood. (Oh, how I wish I could post some here... but I'm pretty sure he'd be livid!) I'm often at a loss over what to do to show that I do care for them, and how to feel like they're part of my family. Write letters? Send maple syrup? (Yes, I'm kidding about the last one.)

On top of not knowing what to do, I struggle with feeling connected to people I barely know. Obviously, I love my husband, but he's not a person to reminisce about his childhood or discuss his family a lot, which makes them seem a bit like voices at the end of the phone or names on a greeting card. I'm assuming/hoping this distanced feeling is normal when you first marry into a family. It would be odd for me to feel as close to them as I do to my own family members, most of whom I've known my entire life. Still, it's difficult. I want to come to love these people, but it just takes time.

What do you think? I'd love to hear your suggestions! If you're married, how long did it take before you felt close to your in-laws? What kinds of things did you do to help you feel like part of the family? Just be aware that Gil's mom is not so into technology, so Skype is not an option for us.


  1. I love this post. I've never given much thought to the fact that I became an in-law too and what you wrote inspired me to so some reflecting on what kind of a daughter-in-law I am ... unfortunately I think I've been a pretty terrible one! My mother-in-law speaks no English and I speak no Mandarin so communication is hard. I think I've used that as an excuse to be absent and not try to engage with her or establish any kind of real relationship with her. Shame on me! That's definitely something I need to work on. Wish I could share wisdom with you but I'm just learning too.

  2. Hi Stephanie. Wow, that's a pretty difficult situation you're in. My MIL had the opportunity to go to university in the UK, so her English is great. Are your in-laws in Canada or abroad? I'm working on a follow-up post about the additional issues that come from having in-laws of a different culture.

    It's really just been recently, a year after marriage, that I realized that I am a daughter-in-law. I'm still in the learning process of what that actually means!

  3. My in-laws live in Taiwan. Luckily my father-in-law is able to speak some English but my mother-in-law doesn't ... she's also pretty shy, so we hardly "talk" at all. I'm really looking forward to your follow-up post.