Community is a huge thing in the Asian culture and we usually hear stories or watch movies of the evil mother-in-law who seeks to control everything, especially the son that she loves dearly. I find that this stereotype is really quite damaging, even though the truth is, it is sometimes very difficult to navigate your marriage if you have a bad relationship with your in-laws.

If you are newly married and have chosen to live with your parents or in-laws, you will need to adapt to a new ‘normal’. You are, after all, trying to establish a new household now that you are married and building a new marriage culture for yourself. It’s hard enough for two people, but add in other members of the family into the mix, and you’ll find that you will have to learn how to deal with boundaries and control even more.

If your spouse has a controlling mother that dictates his every move, she might not change her ways overnight, just because he got married. This is not really your issue to change her, but it is definitely something to discuss with your spouse. Sometimes, the problem arises when you have a child, and your mother-in-law has a different way of bringing up your children as compared to what you want to do.

As much as we need to honour our parents, you are now adults in charge of a new family unit, capable of making your own decisions for your family. Your partner might find it difficult to state his opinion for fear of offending the family, but as the man of the house, he needs to realise that he is now the head of your household (You + him) and that he needs to stand up for your choices and reason out with his mother on behalf of the both of you.

There are ways to bring up issues without attacking someone’s character or by fighting your way through. Here’s some suggestions on how to handle difficult situations with the extended family:

  1. Talk about your feelings instead of attacking.
    If you dislike how your parents or in-laws keep giving candy to your children, try to explain how you feel instead of attacking them with accusatory words. For example, saying words like “You are always spoiling the child!” will make them feel bad or upset. You could draw the focus to yourself by saying, “Mum, I know you really care for our kids and want to pamper them because you love them. However, I feel upset when I see them coming home with candy everyday. Could you please limit the candy to once a week?”

  2. Write a letter
    If you find it hard to express yourself through words, sometimes, writing a letter helps. We can process our thoughts and write it down exactly as how we want to communicate without getting into an argument. At least your parents or in-law’s would have read the entire letter before rebutting.

  3. Offer alternatives
    If you have differing opinions from your in-laws or parents, perhaps you might be able to offer a different solution to the problem by suggesting alternatives. For example, if you are against your child having excessive screen time while your family babysits them, you could bring additional activities or games for them to participate together as an alternative solution.

  4. Train your kids to say no
    While this might be easier said than done, there’s no better time to start training an inner compass of right and wrong than now. Your children will face many situations where they will be tempted to do things that are not part of your family value system. If they understand and internalise your values as their own, eventually, they will learn how to make a stand and learn how to say no when the situation calls for it.

This is not an easy journey but keep in mind that you are on a marathon and not a sprint. Sometimes, it’s hard to confront situations because we just want to keep the peace. But remember, there is a difference between a peacekeeper and a peacemaker. It does take wisdom to know when to push through and when to hold our tongue. When the going gets tough, remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Cover Image Credits: Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

I am grateful I have wonderful in-laws who are so involved in our children’s everyday lives. Always be thankful for the little things.

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