They Don’t Have to Be Your Out-laws

Maybe my situation is rare, but I doubt it is: I get along with my in-laws.

They’re kind people with generous hearts, always calling or texting to see how my wife and I are doing, and constantly are doing favors for us. And we see them all of the time. I don’t buy into the Hollywood version of being an in-law. From the beginning, I was accepted into the family, and never felt like I had to make in-law jokes.

But don’t get me wrong. Like all families, there is a black sheep or two, and a handful of “gray” sheep.

Almost all families have:

1. the drug addict
2. the heavy drinker
3. the extremely loud talker
4. the condescending one
5. the religious fanatic
6. the food snob
7. The couch hog
8. the one who gets knocked up often
9. the one that’s allergic to everything
10. the one that has years-long grudges
11. the one that is always unemployed or homeless
12. and the one that is absent because of imprisonment

But even the black and the gray sheep should be tolerable for one day, even if they seem like they’re trying to ruin the family gathering. Nothing in life is perfect, so one shouldn’t always expect that a holiday gathering be any different.

For me, as I had married into the family, I know that a lot of things just aren’t my place to comment on. Live and let live, I say.

While a few I see monthly or even weekly, many of the ones that show up to the dinner are only those you will see once all year. Why make a scene? And if there is a scene, stay out of it.

The feuding cousins, the silent pious one, the complainer, the one that stops in to stuff their face and then abruptly leave—it’s not your battle as a former outsider.

Myself, I’m very opinionated, but I try to be discerning. I have strong views on human rights, civil liberties, and truths found in science. But I know that these views aren’t exactly shared by some of the attendees. Additionally, while some may agree with the basic ideas of my political or secular worldview, they might differ in the details. Do you really want that uncle you’re almost getting along with to detest you because you brought up a touchy subject?

I’ve found that even in situations where a majority are bashing that one aunt, cousin or in-law (not you) that keeps “ruining everything,” I try not to get involved. Better to appear silent and wise, than to speak and remove all doubt. Remember that there are sides to every story, and often as the in-law, you don’t always have access to that inside scoop or the others’ defenses.

If you have one day to represent yourself to the crowd, why not make it a good one? Or an uneventful one? Give them little dirt on you to walk away from the gathering.

Who knows? You could even utilize the event to turn over a new leaf and start a new reputation. Apologize for something that happened ages ago. Show interest in a family member’s new job. Trade your kids’ pictures. Compliment not just the whole meal, but each dish that others brought.

This is not just the one day that you see them all year, but it’s also the one day that they’ll see you.

– Originally published at


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