When Pope Francis visited North America on a pontifical visit three years ago, doubting pundits speculated whether he would broach hot-button topics related to contraception, divorce or even child abuse. But at a World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, he chose to take a jocular swipe at a leftfield topic: Mothers-in-law.
“Families quarrel… sometimes plates can fly, and children give headaches. I won't speak about mothers-in-law”, said Pope Francis, a statesman and an interlocutor, often uses humour to drive home instructions about serious topics. In this case: In-laws.
My wife and I got married in 2014. The jokes around coping with in-laws were bandied right through our courtship and in the days leading up to our wedding. As a newly married couple, you’d likely find – as we did – the intervention of in-laws is minimal. It’s after you have a child, as we did the following year, where in-laws swing into action in a couple’s lives.
We live in the Middle-East while my in-laws are in India. When they visit, they seamlessly flit into childcare mode and begin helping out with their grandchild – my wife and I, of course, enjoy the welcome break of eating our meals undisturbed or having the grandparents take over the night shift.
The flip side to having your in-laws visit, or your parents for that matter, is that your child and you are always on a schedule – try as you may, it is difficult to lie-in on a Saturday morning while the in-laws are putting together breakfast.
The obvious conflict when it comes to parenting is that their methods, could at times be dramatically different to yours.
While I might use a stern voice to get my son to finish his dinner, my mother-in-law would create a story and characters out of the rice on his plate and get him to finish his meal. There is my way and there is their way. Yet, both ways do get our son to finish what’s on his plate.
If at any point, you do find that they are contradicting your parenting style, have a frank conversation with them and explain your position. In-laws aren’t the enemy, they’re just different.
Not having a parent or in-law in the same city or even country means that in the short bursts of illness that all children are prone to, or when your energy levels are depleted, and you really need some help, they aren’t at hand.
Having in-laws accessible on the other hand, where multiple visits to your home are on the cards, could also mean a flurry of unsolicited advice. The instruction manual on how to bring up children can be thrust upon you in more detail than you care. There’s wisdom to what they’re saying, although my advice is to skim the information you receive and decide what works best for your child and family.
If they do live close enough, don’t outsource the care of your child to them at your convenience – they’re not an on-call babysitting service. Also, teach your children to thank their grandparents for what they’re doing for them. A little gratitude can go a long way!
Keeping with the theme of in-laws, Pope Francis addressed a Valentine’s Day celebration in Rome in 2014, saying, “We all know the perfect family does not exist. The perfect husband does not exist and the perfect wife does not exist. Let’s not even talk about perfect mother-in-law.”
I have to agree with him. In-laws, like most of us, aren’t perfect. But you did marry the person they raised, so you’ll have to agree, they did something right when it came to parenting. And what they didn’t, well, you’ve got a lifetime to fix and not let history repeat itself when it comes to bringing up your own children.