In-Laws Are Bad Influence Are you trying to make a case for keeping your kids away from your spouse’s parents? BY FRANCINE KIZNER
You can't pick your family and you can't pick the family of your spouse either.
You know that expression, you can’t pick your family? Well, you can’t pick your spouse’s family either. And when your beliefs don’t quite gel with theirs, you know there’s going to be conflict. Lori* remarried four years ago, when her son was four. She knew right away she didn’t want to let her son visit his stepdad’s family. "I’m very particular about what I expose my son to as far as violence, language and behavior," she says. "And unfortunately, my husband's family is very rough, with four-letter words flying constantly."
Lori says her husband understands how she feels about his family and doesn't push the issue. "He understood when we got married how committed I am to good parenting and that I define good parenting in a more conservative way than some people," Lori says. "He agrees with my decision, though he does think I'm a bit overprotective."
Though Lori won’t bring her son around her in-laws, she will visit them with her husband—while her son is at his dad’s. She says she tried to discuss the language issue with her in-laws, but they never followed through on their promises to watch what they say.
While Lori’s situation is working for her right now—and her husband is taking her lead as the biological parent—it’s an issue that could potentially blow up in their or any other couples face. When you tell your spouse you don’t want your child around their family, it can be heard as saying that the way you were raised was better than the way they were raised.
If you go about it wrong, it's pretty easy for your discussion about cutting out your annual trip to grandma’s to feel like a personal attack. Kristin Cavins, a licensed psychotherapist associated with kasamba.com, an online destination for live, one-on-one expert advice, says, "You need to explain why you feel the way you do and make the discussion not about the family, but about values. Say, 'If anyone—like a friend, for example'—would do this sort of thing in front of your child, you’d have the same reaction."
And even if your spouse agrees with you on the outside, Cavins says not to assume they’re 100 percent okay with the situation. She suggests trying to dig a little deeper, and discuss how your spouse really feels. "You need to approach this together," she says. "If you’re not allowing your spouse to be part of the decision making, it can create resentment." And if that resentment is left unchecked, Cavins warns it can snowball into bigger issues in your marriage.
There are some situations, like abuse, drugs or other dangers to children that are clear-cut reasons to keep the kids far, far away, but Lori’s situation is one that’s really up for discussion. It’s more of a value judgment than a decision based on keeping the child safe. Cavins says, "I can’t dictate on things like swearing. The couple just has to communicate their deal breakers. There are black and white situations, and then there’s a lot of gray."
*Last name has been omitted by requested for anonymity