“But what’s the harm in taking some advice?” my sister says to me after reading this. We share a look and she bursts out laughing. “They don’t give advice. They are just highly and inappropriately over the top indulging.” Overstepping in-laws aren’t something people want when getting married, but it sure is something we all know about. And while were raised to be adjusting in our marriage, setting boundaries with in-laws should actually be the first step to take if you do not want to adjust and crib your entire life.
If boundaries were meant to be broken, your controlling in-laws would know something about it.
When you marry a person, it’s a known saying (read: a universal truth) that you marry your spouse’s entire family. But if your newly-wedded self likes to live in denial and does not notice what a headache interfering in-laws can be? Then it’s time for you to set some boundaries.
From being an overbearing mother-in-law to being an engulfing sister-in-law, from offering advice on what to eat and how to set the living room, setting boundaries with the in-laws not only gives you mental peace but also doesn’t make you throw the spatula at them and giving the saas a mild stroke.
And anyone who has ever been in a family of disrespectful, controlling in-laws and relatives will know how much peaceful it is to give them a piece of your mind.
That being said, a healthy marriage means communication. You might be a polite person and will be ready to put a pallu over your head when you visit them. But you are an independent child of your parents and their controlling nature stops at your doorstep.
Boundaries And In-laws
But family is family; your in-laws are your family.
Of course, wedding brings families together and you have another extended family. But speaking from experience, we do not tolerate our own blood relatives sometimes. So naturally, while getting to know the extended in-laws, we dive in with a hint of negativity that you are going to hate them.
Psychology says it’s a negative approach to it, but what do you do when your father-in-law wants your spouse to quit his superb job in Kochi to move in with them in Chandigarh? Nonetheless, they need you to cut down on the meat because apparently going vegan is the new talk of the town. All the more, they want to raise the grandkids (not even conceived yet) in a private boarding school.
Family is family; but mustn’t there be some regulations as to how much control they are going to have on your life and how much will you have on your household?
Setting boundaries with in-laws need to be done right in the beginning. Suddenly asking the grandma to stop giving money as gift to your 6-year-old son will raise tension and animosity. Being accommodating of a controlling and manipulative in-law can only be done until you find reasons to fake poop three times a day because your head can only take so much nagging and advice from the in-laws.
Set boundaries for independently taking over your household. Set boundaries about who should have a say in raising your kid – you and your spouse. Healthy relationship boundaries make life easy. Set boundaries and communicate with them in the most gentle way possible. And most importantly, talk to your spouse about it.
Related reading: Living with the in-laws: What works, what doesn’t
8 No-Fail Tips While Setting Boundaries With Your In-Laws
Caution: You have to judge for yourself if your in-laws will be over controlling family you need to deal with. If boundaries are something you want to create, do it from the very beginning. Don’t spring up with, “First call, then visit” rule after spending 7 years with them, after you cannot take it anymore.
Now, let’s get down to it. Get to how to go about setting boundaries with in-laws
1. Remember it’s all about spending time together
Family you have gained along the way won’t let you go easy. That means a whole lot of picnics together, family dinners once a month, spending a few days together during the garmi ki chutti. If spending a hot summer afternoon with your sister-in-law and her adolescent tweens is not something you want to do, compromise and plan an outing instead. Invite your family as well – that way the tension gets divided and you have people to fall back on.
2. Tune your perspective
A lot of people get married knowing that their in-laws are going to be difficult. Well, that’s not always true. Sometimes, our own insecurities or mindset make us think things that really isn’t the case. Like on your first anniversary, if you MIL tells you about setting a savings account for your future grandkids, it does not necessarily mean she thinks you are ill-equipped to deal with your children financially. It only means she is trying to help, just in case something goes wrong.
It’s harmful to the marriage if you keep finding inner meanings in everything your in-laws say just because you had a preconceived notion of a behemoth overbearing mother-in-law.
3. Don’t be competitive
Parents can be protective of their children; even if your husband isn’t a mama’s boy. They are old parents wanting the best for their child. What you need to know is that romantic love that your spouse has for you and the parental love he bears for his parents are two entirely different things.
Fighting over who your spouse gives more attention to might be a thing your father-in-law might do, but you are Generation Y – you must know competition with your in-laws is going to end badly. Also, it would be putting your spouse in a rickety situation.
So, avoid that. The in-laws have a lower shelf life than you anyway.
Related reading: Why I became happier when I stopped trying to please my in-laws
4. Don’t direct your anger at your spouse
Something your sister in-law said to you over making chapatis is getting on your nerve? But your SIL is pregnant and you don’t want to upset her? That’s fine. Just don’t let the anger sit and lash out at your spouse. Your spouse won’t be at fault here. He wasn’t even in the kitchen when hell went down. Instead, communicate what verbal discussion got you so mad. Rant if you must. But don’t be passive aggressive towards your spouse because you do not like your in-laws. At the end of the day, the in-laws will be a tiny part of your life but your marriage is more important.
5. Stick to a schedule of spending time together
If you mentioned on the phone earlier that Diwali is the time everyone comes together at your house, stick to it. If you had planned to go for mehendi for your spouse’s second cousin, stick to it. The plan is to spend time with them in a social event so you don’t have to spend time alone. As horrible as it might sound, this actually works.
Also, explicitly but politely mention that unannounced visits aren’t something you or your spouse like. Don’t wait years when you are fed up with the visits to tell them. Springing the truth on them after years will make them think you don’t like them anymore.
6. Get to know them
Like really get to know them. If they have a favorite movie that makes them cry, or if they did wild stuff when they were young – stuff like that. Though they might not be as handy as knowing the gajar ka halwa recipe that your MIL clearly doesn’t want you to know, getting to know them well will bring you guys closer together. It is a sweet gesture of thoughtfulness and compassion and you will probably have a laugh about it. Bond with your MIL over a cup of coffee sometime. That’s bonding; without any hostility, or passive-aggressiveness.
7. Don’t try to control the children in front of them
If you have children, your in-laws are going to shower them with love. And by love, we mean occasional gifts, chocolates, a little allowance or extra TV time. As much as you would like to keep the kids under a tight schedule and not give too much of anything, they love their grandma and grandma and they only come for a few days. Controlling your kids when the in-laws are present might backfire. You might receive pushback not only from the in-laws but from the kids as well. So, if grandpa wants to take them to the amusement park and the movies four days in a row, let him. The kids will grow fonder of the in-laws and why shouldn’t they? Grandparents are the best people in the world for them and you don’t want to seem like the bad guy who doesn’t let them have fun, do you?
8. Don’t take it personally
If your in-laws are condoning a behavior of your kids or your spouse, don’t take it personally. It is hard not to do so, especially when your mother-in-law has already remarked about your daughter’s small nose that she got from her mother (i.e. you), but try and keep an impersonal spin on things said and things done.
Know it’s only temporary. Also, in Indian culture, respecting adults means not speaking rudely with them. Know that every struggle you are going through is only temporary and that you do not need to live your life according to their wishes. It’s temporary. You just need to get through the afternoon, the weekend, or just a month.
Not all in-laws will have a Trojan Saas-bahu relationship so widely popularized by the media. If you give them a chance, they might not be as overstepping as you think. If not, make boundaries for a healthy relationship with them.