A daughter-in-law recently shared, “I have wonderful in-laws and my husband and I also work in the family business. We are around his family five, sometimes six, long days a week. Then we attend the same church service on Sunday morning and my mother-in-law gets upset if the whole family doesn’t go to her house for Sunday family dinner. I’m wondering when enough is enough?”
In my role as a family business consultant, I receive oodles of complaints about in-laws….especially from mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law. Many times the complaint is nestled in the disrespect of physical boundaries or that those involved don’t even realize the boundaries have changed! The assumption is, “Gosh we still live nearby and that hasn’t changed, so what’s the problem? Oh, she’s new. She’s the problem.” And the making of discontent between a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law begins.
Therefore, I have this recommendation. I believe the best wedding gift parents can give their adult children when they marry is a “No Trespassing Sign” for the newlyweds to put in their yard. This means mom and dad will not just “drop in” for a visit but will call first. They will not “come in” without a knock or doorbell first being acknowledged.(Emergencies exempt.) Now, if family members are outside, all may wave or stop to say hello. And understand that if there are grandchildren, the grandparents may be calling a bit more often!
Also remember that boundary changes go both ways – older respecting younger and younger respecting older. A mother recently shared with me that her married children and spouses frequently just walk into her house, open the refrigerator, help themselves to whatever they want, sit down in front of the TV and turn the channel from what she was watching. She asked, “Why should I respect their need for privacy and boundaries when they don’t respect mine?” These are clearly old habits not recognizing a change in boundaries.
It seems like common sense, doesn’t it? After all, we’ve all heard “good fences make good neighbors.” Recognizing the boundaries of new family relations sure makes for happier families – but the expectations must be communicated with a respectful mind and caring heart.
So take a moment and invite the in-laws over to your home. Let them know that you sure don’t want to be like some families that have problems because they don’t know how (or they assume they know how) each other wants to be treated when it comes to space and time together. Then ask, “What works best for you?” and “Please let me know if I fall back into old habits and overstep the line.” This way each can share and all can be respected.