By Vicki Little
I adore the relationship that my children have with my sister. My sister loves to take the kids to movies, and they always get ice cream whenever they visit her. (This is mainly because my sister is an ice-cream addict and loves any excuse to get some.) My daughter, in particular, has a special bond with her aunt. Likewise, my son feels a special bond with his grandpa (just as I did with mine), and he loves to make his grandpa proud. Extended family is so important for our children. Not only do they widen the circle of trusted adults who love and look out for our children, but these family members teach them about their family roots. They form a “network” of people children can turn to. Grandma might be great for long talks and for baking cookies. Grandpa has got anything car or construction-related down. Uncles are great for joking around with. And one day, Grandma may be the one who teaches them the family recipes. Maybe Grandpa tells them that, once upon a time, their mom also felt like no one understood her. Their uncle is the one they turn to when they face a problem they don’t know how to handle. Every one of them can show that family is where you find unconditional love, support, and encouragement.
When you got married, your in-laws became a part of that extended family. You may not necessarily appreciate your MIL’s recipes or advice, but it may be exactly what your daughter needs. Your father-in-law may annoy you with his incessant talk about baseball … but this love may evolve into a goal of visiting every baseball stadium with your son (or daughter!). What’s important is that your kids probably adore both sides of the family — and both sides adore them.
But, just as your marriage can be affected by your attitude towards and relationship with your in-laws, your children will be affected as well. Your spouse’s family members are not in-laws to your children, they are just family. And they want to love and accept them, but they can’t do that if they know you don’t approve. Further, those cute kids of yours may have their own children someday — and then you will be the in-law. The lessons you are teaching them now will shape what they teach their children in the future. Here are three things that your child can be learning from your relationship with your in-laws.
RESPECT FOR FAMILY. They play dress-up in your heels, pretend to work on your computer, and they even talk on their pretend phone the way you do. If you don’t think they are learning to roll their eyes or flip off other cars like you do, then you may be surprised. They are. Not only will your kids be inclined to the occasional slip-up when they are in the presence of your in-laws (like asking Grandpa why Mom thinks he drinks too much — after all Junior likes to drink “juice” and Mom doesn’t get mad at him), but your attitude will be reflected in them as well. If they observe you treating family kindly and talking respectfully to them, they will learn that no matter how old they are, they should treat ALL family with respect. And, if you do need to vent about particular situations or issues that are less-than-pleasing for you, do it when there is NO chance your child will overhear. Your opinions will impact how they feel toward someone, and they may even learn that it is okay to talk about people when they aren’t around. By accepting all family members, faults and all, we are teaching our children tolerance and love. And, in turn, they know that they will be accepted and loved unconditionally as well.
THE VALUE OF FAMILY. Family is a treasured gift. We want our children to trust in us and to believe that family members are people who will always be there and who will always love and support one another — no matter what. When we say “family is important, ” we want our children to believe in that and understand that means family comes first — always. By reaching out to family members and being there for them in different ways, such as visiting them in the hospital, sending birthday cards, making meals when they are sick, visiting them when they are hurt etc. — it teaches your children that it is important to support others (especially family). Also, encourage your children to reach out to others for help. You may not enjoy your father-in-law, but it is just possible that he and your son can build an award-winning Pinewood Derby car together and create fun memories while doing it.
THE PRIORITY OF FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS. I was talking with someone recently about how they take their kids to her parent’s house every Sunday for dinner, and I remembered how we often did that when I was a child as well. Even as teenagers, we knew that on Sundays at 5pm, the family goes to dinner at the grandparents. We adjusted our plans around it, and we knew better than to argue. And even when we were bummed that we would miss something, we loved the tradition. Good family relationships and traditions teach our children that family is more important than anything else. It also teaches them to be committed, and it shows them that others will be there for them consistently as well.
The biggest thing to remember is that your in-laws are not your children’s in-laws, they are their family and forever will be. Treat them the way you would want your son or daughter-in-law to treat you one day. You will be glad that you did.
Vicki Little is a work-at-home mom with two young kids. A Colorado native, she is the Publisher and Editor of Macaroni Kid Aurora and Downtown Denver. In her free time, she enjoys volunteering, reading, camping, or enjoying a bottle of wine with friends.
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