One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the story of Ruth. It is a beautiful story of love and extended family. In a moment of tragedy, a daughter-in-law turns to her now deceased husband’s mother and pleads to stay with her as part of her family.
I think we all know a version of in-laws quite different than this. Whether this is our own story or the story of a friend. Marrying into a new family can be challenging. Each family has its own set of values, standards and traditions. Adapting to these differences can take time.
Holidays tend to be the most difficult to sort out with extended family, especially when newly married and the new couple’s traditions have yet to be established.
Who’s family do we celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas with? Do we even dare stay home Christmas morning to watch just our children open presents? Who’s feelings will we hurt if we want to have our own holiday?
Focus on the Family gave some great hints to dealing with holidays and inlaws:
- It may be a lot easier for you and your spouse to change what you want for the holidays than for parents to adjust what’s been important to them for many years. Share openly with them some of your ideas and hopes for holiday times, letting them know that you value being with them.
- Develop realistic expectations of how the holidays should be spent. Wishful thinking generally leads to hurt feelings and disappointments. Personality differences, physical limitations, and philosophical disagreements don’t disappear just because a particular date on the calendar has arrived. On the contrary, these factors often become more pronounced under stress—and most holidays provide plenty of that.
- Holiday gift-giving can be a source of conflict and hurt. While it’s better to give than receive (Acts 20:35), most people seem to prefer a balance of the two. Exchanging presents can easily get out of hand, creating hardship for family members who can’t afford the expense. Try creative options. For example, you might give Christmas or birthday gifts to immediate family members, exchange names for other relatives, or give single gifts to family units. (focusonthefamily.com)
There more to extended families than holiday differences and family quirks. Still, some manners and rules help make the transitions with married children.
Consider this advice from http://www.lds.org’s Random Sampler:
“As our children married and left home, my wife and I became increasingly aware that, to a surprising degree, we helped determine the quality of the relationship that developed between us and our children’s new families. To the extent that we are generally supportive and respectful of their new family units, we are received warmly in return. Here are some ideas that help foster good relationships between family members and their in-laws” (Hanson, 1997).
- Be cheerful visitors
- Respect privacy
- Talk to both spouses
- Extend invitations unconditionally
- Discipline grandchildren with great care
While the scriptures teach us that a man should “leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife” (Genesis 2:24), this does not mean that extended family relationships do not have value.
An Ensign article in October 1986 shared these important scriptural teachings on family relationships:
The scriptures abound with insight into the value of maintaining good extended family relationships. Abraham, for instance, left Ur of Chaldees and took with him his brother’s son Lot to follow the Lord in a new land. (See Gen. 11:31.) During a time of famine, Joseph of Egypt saved the lives of his father, brothers, sister, and their families. (See Gen. 42–47.) Moses and his father-in-law, Jethro, discussed their welfare on at least one occasion: “Moses hearkened to the voice of his father in law, and did all that he said.” (Ex. 18:24.) Though he was a prophet, Moses honored his father-in-law and respected his counsel.
We are taught in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that we all belong to the family of God. For us, this means generations of extended family all belonging to a large family — God’s family. Thus making each family member an important part of the whole.
“Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.” (Eph. 2:19.)
When we love and accept our extended families and build upon these eternal family units, we are creating the societies that we will associate with in the world to come.
The Doctrine and Covenants 130:2 “And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy.”
Families can be challenging at times. There may even be differing beliefs and opinions. No matter what divisions there may be — love and charity can bridge the differences.
Cleave unto your spouse — and leave room to love, accept and celebrate with extended family. They are the societies you will enjoy in the eternities.
In the words of Ruth, “for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God (Ruth 1:16)