This week’s etiquette dilemma comes from a reader named Jessica Bloom, who wrote, “My in-laws rarely call or invite us and our kids over to events, but when they do, our kids never want to go and get very upset if we end up going. What is a polite way to not accept their invites?”
The trickiest part of trying to solve other people’s etiquette dilemmas is what you don’t know about a particular situation. While some things are universal—in-laws, for example, come with the wedding—every in-law is different. Why do Jessica’s in-laws rarely call or invite her family over? Have they been rebuffed in the past? Or do they have health problems that interfere? Or…are they just not that into their grandchildren?
1. Some day you are going to be an in-law. And you will want your (grown) children to believe it is important to spend time with you and to encourage your grandchildren to feel the same way. Lay the groundwork for tomorrow by setting an example today.
2. For your kids’ sakes. In the long run, it will benefit them to feel connected to their grandparents. They share genes. And ancestors. Years from now, after your in-laws are dead, all your adult children will have left is memories. Ideally, they’ll be pleasant.
OK, so how exactly do you transform these dreaded get-togethers into something all the generations in your family enjoy? By turning your in-laws into people who are interesting to your children. And vice versa. Suggest a family history project. Tell the children and the in-laws it’s time to make a scrapbook—or a family Facebook page, or a documentary video (have the kids choose whatever medium they most enjoy).
Next, lay out ground rules. Children will ask lots of questions. Grandparents will answer by telling stories. The questions will focus on the old days—what was it like growing up without television, and is it true your mother was born on a ship that was crossing an ocean to get to America, and how did you and grandpa meet?
This is valuable information. Your in-laws are probably the only people who know it. That makes them important. And it makes them feel important to be asked. One question will lead to another. Once the two generations start talking, they may even discover they like each other.
Any other suggestions? Do you have to encourage your children and your in-laws to like each other? If so, what are your strategies?
(image courtesy of Realsimple.com)