Often I hear horror stories from my clients about the problems and arguing that happens when in-laws do not respect boundaries of their adult child and his/her family. In fact, many couples claim that the biggest fights occur with or about the in-laws. Most of them wish that their in-laws understood the following:
1. The adult child has a family and a home that does not belong to the family of origin. When the child leaves and establishes his/her own home, the parents need to recognize that this is not merely an extension of their own property and show respect just as anyone else would. In-laws are not entitled to have a key to the house and are not the ones in charge when they are staying there.
2. Visits to the home are not a "right" and should occur only in response to an invitation by the adult child and his/her partner. It is not proper to state that you will be coming to visit and definitely not appropriate to bring other people with you, Going to stay with other people causes work and expense for them not to mention tension if the relationships are strained.
3. Everyone should make positive contributions during the visit. Helping with meal preparation, making beds and taking out the garbage are all helpful but it is important to ask what the hosts would like. Perhaps helping to purchase food or bringing an appropriate gift would be welcome.
4. Attitude is everything! Telling others how to do things because they think it is the only or right thing to do can cause significant tension. The idea is to be thankful and respectful to everyone in the house.
5. Respect the house and parenting rules. Routine is important for families and it is not appropriate to disrupt things or decide that, as a senior member of the family, you can change things. Respect children's bed times and let the hosts take the lead when it comes to setting the agenda and tone.
6. Leave the past behind. Bringing up past hurts and problems will dampen any mood and environment. Make sure that you do not get into arguments or "guilt trips" because of situations that occurred years ago.
7. Your hosts are not your therapists. If you are having problems with your own marriage, finances or health it is not up to your child and family to solve these things for you. And it is not appropriate to try to form alliances that will hurt other family members.
8. Visits should focus on building relationships. Your child is not running a hotel for your convenience. When you are staying there, make sure that you are not taking advantage of the situation to pursue your own selfish interests.
9. After three days both fish and company smell bad! Visits should be focussed on quality and not quantity. If the in-laws are a long distance from home, it might be best for them to plan an itinerary where they stay in a hotel or hotels while travelling around the region. There is little worse than wearing out your welcome.
But there are two sides to every story and, if you are the adult child or partner, it is very important that you demonstrate boundaries and respect for your parents. The above rules apply to your visits with them.
Oh, and by the way, it is not okay to expect your parents to honour your boundaries and then take advantage of them. Do not borrow money from them, ask for babysitting privileges when you are planning a holiday or ask for things that you would not expect from friends or neighbours. The door swings two ways!
If you want your parents or in-laws to respect your rules and boundaries then you need to apply the exact same rules and boundaries when you visit them!