Guest Post by Lydia who blogs at On the Other Hand
In-laws can be an ongoing source of tension in extended families that haven’t established or don’t respect appropriate boundaries. The good news is that this doesn’t have to be the case. With a few adjustments religious differences do not have to be the focal point of your get-togethers.
Make Sure You’re on the Same Page as Your Spouse.
Each spouse should be responsible for communicating potentially tricky messages to their own family of origin so that the person who married into the family isn’t seen as an interloper. You two are a team and nothing should separate you under these circumstances.
Also consider picking code words or non-verbal signals ahead of time that will let your spouse know that:
– You’re ready to leave.
– You’re ok.
– They need to step in.
Visit on Neutral Territory.
By that I mean spend time at a park or restaurant instead of at your extended family member’s house whenever possible. It helps to eliminate the this is my home and you’ll do things my way syndrome. Plus, spending time in public spaces reduces the likelihood that they will push the conversation into religious topics.
Keep Visits Short and Sweet.
My Fundamentalist extended family members are usually ok for a couple of hours. Any longer than that and they tend to slip back into bad habits.When in doubt it’s better to leave a little prematurely than stay too long and risk ending the visit on a sour note. You can always come back later.
Have an Itinerary.
Pose for professional family photos. Go for a walk in the park. Play a game. Show them that cute thing your kid or pet learned how to do. Eat out. Do anything other than sit quietly and stare at one another.
Visit Less Often Than They’d Like.
People who miss you are less likely to bring up potentially divisive topics (especially if they know that you’re only visiting for a few hours today and that they won’t see you again for X number of weeks/months/years).
Make a List of “Safe” Topics
…and stick to them.
I imagine that I’m actually speaking to, say, a stranger I just met on public transportation. In those cases am I going to talk about God, politics, or my sex life? Hell no!
I’m going to talk about neutral stuff like the weather or ridiculously cute animal videos on YouTube.
Choose Your Battles.
Sometimes sticking to neutral topics doesn’t work, though.
“The Bible says…”
“Come to church with me this weekend.”
“I want to teach your kids about God.”
“You’re going to hell!”
There’s nothing wrong with ignoring statements like these if your in-laws do bring them up. Not every thread in a conversation needs to be tugged on.
Remember the acronym J.A.D.E. If you don’t want to talk about something, never Justify, Argue, Defend or Explain yourself. Someone who refuses to let a topic die will never be satisfied by any reason you give for not wanting to do, say, or believe X.
It’s also a good idea to decide ahead of time what your hill to die on is and how you will respond if the in-laws go there.
Topics I haven’t covered because I don’t have kids and don’t like to debate :
How do you argue politely with Fundamentalist in-laws?
How do you raise non-religious kids when their grandparents want to convert all of you?
Readers, what would you recommend?