How NOT to talk about your in-laws this Christmas

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A couple of weeks ago I was having a text conversation with my sister-in-law about some of the family arrangements for Christmas. At one point, I was about to type a reply saying, “Your family is ridiculous!”

Allow me to back-track and give some context. I get on really well with my in-laws, and have always felt part of the family. They’re an incredibly warm, generous and hospitable bunch, and from the moment I stepped foot in their home, nearly 18 years ago, the whole clan of parents/aunts/uncles/grandparents has made me feel so wanted and loved.

The matter that my sister-in-law and I were discussing was really nothing very serious at all, and we were both in agreement about the amusing lack of logic involved – as we saw it, anyway.

So the text I was planning to send was intended as a humorous bit of banter that we’d both appreciate – not as an insult. If I’d sent it, my sis-in-law would definitely have smirked and nodded her head in agreement, rather than taken offence.

And yet – something stopped me just in time.

Your family is ridiculous? My husband’s family???

I was stopped in my tracks. Over 16 years of marriage, and still I was referring to my in-laws as your family? His family??

When we got married, we went through a process of leaving our families to form our own, new family. But in that process, we also absorbed both families as our own. While there’s nothing in the marriage vows about taking on each other’s family, there’s certainly a Biblical precedent for doing so.

Remember Ruth? She said to her mother-in-law Naomi:

Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Your people will be my people”. (Ruth 1:16-17)

Ruth showed a loyalty to her in-laws which matched that which God asks us to show to the family that has raised us. Her husband wasn’t even alive anymore! But she still chose to stay faithful to Naomi, his mother.

They say you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family. In a similar vein, you can choose your marriage partner, but you can’t choose their family.

And yet I think that the call of marriage insists that, as far as is possible, we love and honour our parents-in-law as much as we do our parents. Marriage brings two people together as one, and therefore that ‘one’ being needs to honour ‘its’ parents: both sets.

Now I know this is incredibly tough in some cases – particularly if you hold different moral or religious beliefs to your in-laws, if they are controlling or manipulative, or if they are just plain nasty. In many cases we simply don’t want to identify ourselves with such a difficult family. We’d rather keep our distance.

I don’t think, though, that aligning ourselves with our spouse’s family means that we necessarily need to agree with them or their actions, or even like them all the time. But it means we adopt an attitude of ‘We’re in this together’.

Their foibles and struggles become ours: not that we adopt those negative character traits ourselves, but that we share the burden of them, perhaps ‘covering them with love’, or using wise communication to offset any offence that may be caused.

The process of sticking with our in-laws – even when they show unwise characteristics – acts like a mirror to our own selves, showing us where we sin and fall short within family relations. Rather than pointing the finger at others, we start to ask God to change us to be more like the loving, kind relative He wants us to be.

So, this Christmas, it may well be tempting to refer to your in-laws as if they are your spouse’s family, your spouse’s problem – even your spouse’s fault.

When you sense this temptation coming, don’t give in. God has given you your spouse to love, and He has given you your in-laws to love too. Whether this is an easy job, or one which requires you to delve deep into God’s resources of forgiveness and patience, the family you have married into is now your family, warts and all.

Have a very blessed time with your family this Christmas!

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