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B090: How to deal with the in-laws during the holidays

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Headed to see your in-laws soon for the holidays? If so, Lord knows, we need to cover this topic… and quick! The truth is, no matter what your relationship is like currently with your parents or in-laws, you always have the power to choose. Even when you think you don’t.

Earlier this week, I spoke with Kathi Lipp all about how to have a clutter-free Christmas and one of the funniest things she said was this: “traditions equal peer pressure from dead people.” It made me totally laugh! And boy howdy, isn’t that true!!?! The stories, the obligations, the guilt and the nonsense that we pass down generation to generation… what a mess. 

So, let’s vow to do the holidays differently this year, my friend. With these five simple tips, here is a better way to deal with the in-laws during the holidays:

  • expect less
  • do less
  • deflect like a superhero
  • know your threshold
  • be a ‘kindness punk’

Let’s simplify that…

Here’s how to deal with the in-laws during the holidays – 5 simple steps:

1. Expect less – 

Kathi mentioned this as well… it’s all about lowering your expectations on what the other people in your family are going to do or say through the holidays. If you’re expecting praise, warmth, offerings of help, babysitting, and/or approval from your partner’s family and they aren’t ones to normally give it naturally, then don’t expect it. It’s like beating your head upside a wall and expecting the outcome to be any different than a total headache. If they haven’t gotten the clue by now, they certainly aren’t going to during the busy holiday season. 

Instead, fill your love tank by spending quality time with your closest friends or carving out time for you to replenish your spirit on your own. That way, when you are around your in-laws and they are doing and saying the same (nonsense) things that totally triggered you in the past, this time, it’ll be different. You’re gonna shake it off because you simply expect less from them. How? By accepting who they are, as is, right now.

2. Do less – 

This year, you’re going to ask for help. Let your father-in-law build a fire in the fireplace. Let your mother-in-law bake cookies with the kids at her house. Let your mom go overboard with the presents. Let your dad choose the first film for movie night. People like to feel like they’ve got a job and are doing something useful. Let them contribute. And if they say NO, that’s okay, too. But keep asking. This load of tasks and responsibilities that are defaulting to your shoulders because your entire family thinks, “well, SHE’S got it together… surely she can handle all of this.” Nuh-uh. Not anymore. There is no golden sticker chart for Christmas, my friend. Let it go, spread the load, do less.

3. Deflect like a superhero – 

If you’ve been listening to this podcast for any period of time, you know one of the superpowers I’ve been cultivating lately is deflection when people say things that totally trigger me. The response I give is this, “hmm, thanks for the feedback.” You could also try this one, too: “hmm, you think so?” So, if the conversation starts to lean towards super triggering topics like politics, parenting, or any of the 80 billion ways they think “you’re totally doing it wrong,” I want you to smile, make eye contact, and deflect the F outta that negativity. If what they say to you really hurts, I want you to excuse yourself from the room, take a breather, make a note of the situation and how you feel right in the moment by jotting down your thoughts in the notes app on your phone, and park it there. And then, if it’s still bothering you in January, circle back with them then. But for now, deflect like a hero knowing that nothing will get past your bullet-proof super suit.

4. Know your threshold – 

Let’s be clear… I love my parents. But I’ve also realized over the last 42 years that we have about a 3-day threshold together before everyone gets a bit twitchy. If we are staying with them, I know that by day 3, they are ready to reclaim their private space for a little peace and quiet. Don’t forget, you’re encroaching on their regular routine as much as they are on yours.So, it’s at that point where I take the kids out on long day trips and adventures. Or I ask if they want to host a PJ movie night with the kids so you can blow off some steam on your own, one evening. (Hello foot spa therapist, where have you been all my life!??) Ask for what you need, whether it’s a long walk after a big meal for a little peace and serenity or a chance to read a book by yourself for a hot second. Your needs are valid and no one can read your mind. Say it with your outside voice and then go #dothething.

5. Be a ‘kindness punk’ – 

I loved when Lady GaGa defined herself as a ‘kindness punk’ on a recent episode of Oprah’s podcast. In a world of people super self-absorbed, she chooses to rebel by injecting kindness wherever she goes and with whomever she encounters. And I love this. So, go a bit GaGa this holiday season. 

Instead of getting triggered by the same old nonsense and getting swept up in the same old dance when dealing with your in-laws, approach all things with kindness. So if you’re not really looking forward to the small talk time with your in-laws this holiday season, offer to do a task at their home that’ll help them, like raking the leaves or mowing the back lawn. Pop in your earbuds, flip on your favorite podcast or tunes and get outdoors. They can’t help but be appreciative of you ticking something off their to-do list and you win by getting some fresh air.

One final whisper

In-laws are weird. There, I said it. They are old, crotchety, and set in their ways. The holiday season can turn from magical to total frenzy in a blink of an eye when you’re invading their space or worse, they are invading yours.

But remember, they are just imperfect humans doing their imperfect human things… just like the rest of us.

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

~Maya Angelou

I have to zoom out of my Hot Mess every now and again for a bit of perspective.

It’s likely your parents and in-laws have been in your exact shoes about 40 years ago, dealing with their own elders who know exactly what buttons to push to trigger them, too. They were doing the best with what tools they had equipped themselves, in order to deal with their own in-laws.

And some people might turn to wine or chocolate or a cheese ball the size of their head as a coping mechanism. That’s fine, to a certain degree. But this year, I encourage you dig deeper. Set a 7-minute timer and journal out what really restores you and fills your love tank… and doesn’t leave you with a nasty hangover or a bloated tummy this Christmas. Maybe it’s fresh air or getting to the gym or sitting in a sauna or just carving out the space and time for a bit of breathing room.

You weren’t made to juggle it all. 

So this holiday season, don’t. 

I want you to… 

  • expect less without sacrificing your core needs and values
  • do less by asking for more help
  • deflect like a superhero because honey, there is NO better way to set a boundary to the nonsense
  • define your threshold and make a plan with your immediate family on how to honor it
  • go a bit GaGa with people as a ‘kindness punk,’ rebelling against the stuff that used to drive you crazy. And instead, channel that energy towards kindness to them, but especially towards yourself

You can do this, I believe in you.

It’s time to SIMPLIFY.

If this thought of the day inspired you…

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Thank you!

Show credits: Suzen Marie, our Podcast Editor. Jeffrey Lynn, our Video Editor. Lyden Yardley, our Show Notes Editor, Kristin Castillo, our resident Superhero, and Manminder Athwal, our Blogger. Aubri Nowowiejski, Chris Justice and George Mills, our advisory board. And I’m your host, Mary Baird-Wilcock. Thank you so much for joining us.

As always friends, keep things simple.

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