It’s Christmas and your in-laws are coming to your place for the holidays or you’re travelling to shags (rural area). You’re starting to have a meltdown even though no one has said or done anything to you.

If you’re lucky, you have in-laws who love, respect and appreciate you. They’ve welcomed you into their home and treat you like their daughter or even better. This is what my mother did to my sisters-in-law and she did it so well that we, her daughters, sometimes feel left out.

If you’re like a lot of other women, your in-laws consider you to be someone who ‘…took the money away from the homestead…’ when you captured their son’s attention.

You get a lot of criticism from them. Nothing you say or do is good enough for them. They think you can’t cook or take care of their son or brother. You definitely can’t cook ‘real food’ for him. Maybe they also think you’re not taking good care of your children.

And, when it comes to working after hours…you hear whispers like, “What kind of woman comes home after dark and lets her househelp cook for her!?”

No one considers the fact that:

  • You work and help provide for the family financially.
  • Traffic jams do exist – Nairobians know what I mean.
  • You spent the day battling in the office and you really need to put your feet up and relax in the evening.
  • You may have to work late in the night even when you’re home to complete the work that you carried home.
  • You’re not Superwoman!

Well, sometimes you’re lucky and you’re the host during holidays. So you’re in your home environment and have some measure of control.

If you’re travelling to shags, that’s a totally different dimension altogether unless you have your own modern home with all the amenities you have in your town home.

Many women who are juggling a home and career or business have horror stories to tell when it comes to dealing with in-laws during holidays.


Some things to consider before outlawing your in-laws

Here are 10 things to consider before you label your in-laws as outlaws and totally outlaw them from your life.

1. They’re probably just as uncomfortable with the situation as you are

Some people act mean or in negative ways simply because they feel inferior. They could also be scared of you, intimidated by your success, or they simply don’t know how to act around you.

It’s also possible for people to attack or try to demean you because that’s the only way they can feel superior to you.

If this is the case, note that being with your in-laws is not the time to show off. It’s a time to connect and create memorable times together. Try to tone things down and meet them at a level that’s comfortable for both sides.

2. His mother was his first love

Boys (and men) share a very special bond with their mothers. She gave birth to him and nurtured him. Most likely, she had control over his life and a lot of his decisions until you came along.

It doesn’t matter whether he acted on her wishes or not, but he listened to her to some extent. That is not an easy bond to break as many men adore their mothers even though they don’t say it.

Even if he generally takes your side, there will be instances when he will be pulled back by the bond to his mum. This is more so when he goes back home for a visit and becomes his mum’s ‘baby’.

3. Blood is thicker than water

Many men find it hard to take sides when they finally have to choose. This is especially hard if the in-law from hell is his mother.

If he sides with his family, then he’s in the dog-house with you when you get back home or after they’ve left. If he sides with you, then he’s essentially snubbing the people who nurtured him…his kin. It’s a difficult place for any man to be especially if he stands to lose face among peers and people he respects.

Never ask him to choose sides between you and his mother. If he chooses you, you still have a high chance of ending up the loser in the long-term. Also, don’t bad-mouth him to his family as you will lose ground when they tell him about it.

4. 1+1≠2

When you married him, you got him plus all his extras, including his relatives. They are a package deal that you have to accept and live with. However, the two of you did make vows to put each other first. This is a vow that he needs to uphold when it comes to the way his family treats you.

If the visit has been a particularly bad one, wait until the dust has settled and you’re back home or the relatives have left, and then broach the subject with him. If possible, seek to create a plan that you’ll both use next time you’re hosting or being hosted by in-laws.

5. Get him to help you

Ask your husband about his relatives (especially his mum) and what you can do to make them comfortable during the visit or when you go to shags.

For example, I’d wear longs skirts most of the time and tie up my hair when visiting my mum-in-law because she loved that. It didn’t cost me anything to do so and it made her more receptive.

It also didn’t matter that my sisters-in-law wore jeans and had sophisticated hairstyles. When I got to know that she preferred, I did it and it warmed her up considerably.

Small acts of respect to the older generation and to their opinions will win you points with them and with your hubby.

6. Choose your battles wisely

Sometimes the things that will upset you are things you can let go of.

For example, your in-laws visit and they want to re-arrange a few things or one of them takes over your favourite seat. They’re also requesting for special meals made the traditional way.

For the few days when they’re there, accommodate them as much as you can without letting them take over your life. Don’t give in to everything, but remember to choose wisely so that you’re able to pull rank when you need to.

If your husband sees you agreeing with his mum or favourite relatives on little things, it will be easier for you to get him on your side for the big things.

Finally, remember that the first person to complain loses the war. This is a rule that I learnt the hard way.

My former in-laws didn’t accept me and they made life hell for me in the first few years. I never complained until things got so bad that I had to file a report with the police to stop harassment from my sisters-in-law.

When this happened, my husband immediately put his foot down and drew strong boundaries for his family. However, that didn’t stop them from being mean to me in small and snide ways when he wasn’t around. This made visits to shags a challenge for many years.

When I learnt to choose my battles wisely, I was able to swallow my pride and ignore some of their words or actions. Things got easier with time to the extent that we got on well and they started looking out for me!

7. Don’t allow them to disrespect you

Treating them with respect doesn’t mean allowing them to disrespect you. Start by creating your boundaries together with your husband before the visit and stick to the boundaries.

When you got married, you both chose to leave your families and create a new one. So your nuclear family is the first priority for you and your husband.

This is especially important if you have children because they don’t deserve to be put in the middle of the fights. Also, your in-laws should not treat you with disrespect in front of your children.

When asking your husband to help create boundaries, don’t make it an attack on him and his family or give ultimatums. Just state the problem, tell him how you feel when his family disrespect you, make your request and ask for his help.

8. Fake it until you make it

When you’ve tried all the above and nothing is working, paste a smile on your face and tell yourself that you will enjoy this time together no matter what.

Remember that they don’t have to like you for you to be a good wife and a great mother. Of course life is easier if they do, but when someone or some people choose not to like you because of reasons not known to you, it’s their loss not yours.

Treat everyone like a respected visitor in your home or be a respectable visitor if you’ve travelled and leave it at that.

Be kind to them no matter how many times you want to tell them off. Remember that if you rise to their bait, you’ll only be confirming their ideas about you!

9. Know that this time together is just for a short duration

Holidays are a time of cheer and not a time for creating negative memories for you and your children. If your relationship with them is too strained, minimize the time you spend with them especially during holidays.

Eventually, your in-laws will go home or you will go home. You can blow up later in privacy when you’re no longer with them. You can also choose to look on the bright side and have a story to laugh about for the next few weeks.

If the visits are particularly bad, schedule time off work after the holiday to relax and detox from the negative experience. Your self-care is very important especially at the beginning of the year.

10. Forgive and forget

Women tend to hold grudges for a long time. If you’ve had running battles with your in-laws and have been regurgitating these battles in your mind all the time, it’s now time to forgive and forget.

Treat each holiday as a new time together and erase any hurts that may occur during this time. When you do this, you’ll find your time together more tolerable.

It’s also important to note that sometimes the things we react to have nothing to do with the other person. Examine your personal beliefs and identify the ones that are not serving you well. If need be, work with a counsellor or life coach to create a happier and more fulfilled life.

What if it’s your side of in-laws that are the problem?

It’s easy to blame the other side and not look in our own backyard. Sometimes, your side of the family could be the ones disrespecting your husband.

If you’re hosting or being hosted by your family, take a step back and objectively look at the way they treat your husband. Listen to the comments they make about him when he’s not there. Take note of the people who show outright disrespect and be the one to call them out.

This is critical if your family has not accepted your husband 100% because family gatherings are a good time to sideline people. Put yourself in your husband’s shoes and go through the 10 points above from the other side of the fence.

Going beyond these tips

Turning around in-laws who have been making your life hell is never an easy task. Beyond these 10 tips, you and your husband need to improve your communication and prioritize your marriage and nuclear family above all else.

Communication doesn’t happen in an instant. If yours is strained, make a goal to improve the communication link between you and your husband in the New Year.

Oftentimes, when a husband and wife are in sync and can communicate well, he will notice that you are being disrespected and will take action to defuse the situation.

Once the holidays are over, do a postmortem of the visit together. Evaluate what worked well and what didn’t. Share lessons learnt and decide how to handle holidays in future.

And, above all else, seek to enjoy the holiday and set an intention that you will have fun no matter what.

Have a Merry Christmas and an outlaw-free holiday season!

Let’s hear from you…

How do you handle the holiday season with in-laws from either side of the family? Share your experience and the strategies that have worked for you in the Comments below.

(Images courtesy of Free Digital Photos and Unsplash)


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    2 replies to "In-Laws or Outlaws?"

    • Eunice Claire

      “The first person to complain loses the war!” Wow….Word!!! I had to do a double-take when I read that you reached a point where you filed a harassment report against your sisters-in-law. WTF. So glad that you came out of that situation and that you are able to share your experiences with us now.

      • Caroline Gikonyo

        Yes, it reached a point of bringing in cops…and that was a very scary space to be in! The intricacies of in-law relationships can be tough to navigate, but the lessons are real gems. Thanks for sharing your feedback on the post Eunice.

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