Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Just Ask Joyce

Q: My husband and I have been married for 13 years, and the dynamics in the family are great until my sister-in-law comes to town. She lives 150 miles away and has two kids; we have three children and live about five miles from my in-laws. As much as I love being around my mother-in-law, I find it difficult to be in the home when her daughter comes to visit.

She is, obviously, jealous of not only my relationship with her mom but also very jealous of any attention my children get from her mom. Her demeanor is borderline hateful. My husband makes excuses for her and has refused to intervene and talk to his sister or his mom.

We have monthly family gatherings, and it gets increasingly insufferable. How can I get my husband to understand I need his help in reining in his sister’s attitude? It puts his mother in a difficult position, as well, and I don’t want to begin resenting her or my husband. Can you give any advice on how to stop this behavior?

Joyce: Join the ranks of the “that’s-my-mom-and-you-can’t-have-her” syndrome of this in-law scene. Women are extremely territorial, but not just with our men. Whether there’s a good relationship in place or not, one tends to be possessive of Mom’s attention. Pair that with someone who is out of town and having to share Mama with not only other grandchildren but a brother’s wife, and it can make family dynamics a bit more challenging. Add a dose of insecurity in the mix, and things can become quite messy on the home front.

Allow me to offer a few suggestions to help you deal with this “irritant” in your family life:
  • Be kind, even when it hurts. Showing your sister-in-law a kind and gentle spirit is the best way to melt her insecure heart. Melanie in Gone with the Wind is the perfect example. Scarlet, though beautiful, was terribly insecure. She also shared an affinity for Ashley, Melanie’s husband. With a gracious and kind spirit, Melanie put Scarlet in her place when necessary, but one couldn’t help but love Melanie’s kind, tender qualities.

  • Understand that you are in a place where your sister-in-law would like to be. I never imagined I would be separated from one of my daughters by distance. We are fortunate not to have these kinds of dynamics, but I can certainly understand how easily they could sneak up on one’s heart. Try to give them some latitude when she’s in town, with lots of special time together. It’s important that you not give her any reason to feel like she has to compete.

  • As for the grandchildren, give the long-distance kids a chance to smother Grandmom with hugs and loves, and vice-versa. Not to say Grandmom isn’t capable of spreading the love equally, but it’s harder to divide your time with five in the room as opposed to two. She wants to be a fair grandmother, and kids can’t piece together, let alone handle, those kinds of family dynamics. And, quite frankly, they shouldn’t have to.

  • Men typically don’t enjoy involvement in family conflicts. They view it as petty; it’s more of a cut-and-dry issue with them, and although they are extremely capable, they prefer not to dive into the emotional side of things. If you can make a few adjustments, it may not be necessary for him to intervene. However, should sister’s tongue get a bit too sharp around his wife and children, he should step in and say something like, “Ouch, Sis, let’s watch how we say things; hearts are fragile,” and then step in more strongly if necessary. Women often view this defense as a test of love and devotion from men. We view it as two-way loyalty, whereas they don’t like being put in the position of in-law conflicts.

  • It’s important you keep in mind this one fact: blood is thicker than water. You and your mother-in-law have a great relationship, and you want to keep it that way. However, don’t ever think you could come between a mother and a daughter’s love for one another. You and your husband should slip on those futuristic shoes with your two children. Someday they will choose a spouse, and you will become the in-laws. It happens all too quickly, and rest assured what goes around comes around. So, you model the kindness and encourage Dad to step up to defend his home camp when necessary. Our kids learn by example, and their parents can help them understand how best to maintain peaceful family unity. 
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