Understanding Your In-Laws | Goop


Geoffrey Greif

Even if you love your wife dearly, dealing with your dreams can be another story. Maybe things aren’t that difficult — maybe you’ve formed strong foundations or you’ve established effective boundaries. Yet, navigating through a myriad of emotions that come with in-law dynamics is something that deserves more awareness, attention, and recognition, says Geoffrey Greif, PhD, professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work.

Greif is a co-author of In-Law Relationships: Mothers, Daughters, Fathers and Sons, for which he and co-author Michael Wooley, PhD, MSW, DCSW, have interviewed more than 1,500 mothers-in-law to share how these relationships, while sometimes complicated, can also be rewarding and comforting. While popular culture and social narratives would lead us to believe that in-law relationships require a lot of work to maintain and can be disorderly (which has to be said). The Cancellation?), what Greif found is more hopeful: He sees that a majority of in-law relationships tend to be good and that most of the families he interviewed were comfortable and satisfied with their relationships despite some of them. the problems they have expressed. Even if a relationship is distant, Greif explains, he knows that things can change, that struggles will happen from time to time, and that most in-laws strive to make the relationship work from each of their perspectives. So rest assured knowing that your mother-in-law is probably not trying to sabotage you.

A Q&A with Geoffrey Greif, PhD

Q

What factors can be done to succeed in-law relationships?

A

One of the things everyone should think about is to what extent are families open to new members? From a historical point of view, do families still entertain many people in their home? People grew up in families where having new people always came and having fun and exciting, or people grew up in a house where maybe it was more insular, where they tried to keep to themselves. What is the boundary around the nuclear family? How much is the extended family involved? And specifically, what is the family’s history with marriage and the bringing of new people?

All of these factors could lead to how a father-in-law is accepted into a new family and also how that father-in-law might feel entering a new family. There are two processes here: Is my family open to admitting a new father-in-law, and is that father-in-law open to being part of a new family? Those factors may frame this discussion.


Q

The first part of your book explores the relationship between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law. What did you find interesting about this dynamic?

A

Specifically around women, we find that mothers-in-law value the relationship from their perspective as better than daughters. It is a fairly positive aspect ratio based on the responses obtained from the mother-in-law’s perspective. It’s a little more tempting from a cloud perspective. They are not as impressed with the relationship as the mothers-in-law.

Now, it may be that the mothers-in-law make a desirable thought and want it to be so. Or maybe it’s that partners are trying to maintain a boundary around the relationship with their spouse. Is there a third generation – grandchildren – involved, and is the daughter-in-law excited about the mother-in-law’s involvement, or is she a little hesitant? We know from our interviews that if parental philosophies are not aligned either from the perspective of the sister or from the perspective of the daughter-in-law, this can make it more difficult for them to build a satisfying relationship.


Q

How do parents ’expectations of these relationships differ from parents’ expectations?

A

This is the big question. A lot of people don’t give up their expectations in these very thoughtful relationships. A sovereign is more likely to reflect. For example, in heterosexual couples, mothers-in-law want to have a close and great relationship with their daughter-in-law. They want it for two reasons: It gives them greater access to their child – it strengthens the relationship with their child. And it gives them greater access to any potential grandchildren. So it is vitally important for the mother-in-law to be on good terms with the daughter-in-law and maintain a good relationship with her.

We heard about several mothers-in-law. Some of them said that they did not have a good relationship with their mother-in-law and wanted to make sure that they had a good relationship with their daughter-in-law, that they did not want to treat their daughter-in-law as they felt being treated by their mother-in-law. So there will be some people who will enter into a relationship from a negative historical point of view. Well there are those who say, “I had a great relationship with my mother-in-law, and I want to make sure I’m also that kind of wonderful person for my daughter-in-law.” So in general, it’s the expectation from parents who have more years under their belt, more wisdom.

For parents, there are not many expectations because at this point, most of them are that they love a person and have decided to get married. The wiser ones may have thought of the family getting married, but there are also people who get married without really knowing the parents in advance. Maybe they live on the West Coast and in-laws live in the middle of the country or on the East Coast. These are relationships that tend to struggle a little more than when there was good knowledge about each other, but there is also a range here. Obviously, some couples have very long conversations when they leave and before they get engaged. They talk about their parents, what life was like growing up, and what they can expect from their parents and how they plan to be like grandparents, if they decide to have children, and so on.


Q

Is it important to have good in-law relationships for your own marriage to succeed?

A

If you think you have to set tight boundaries because there’s a level of interference that doesn’t suit you from every part of the family and you can, as a team, maintain those boundaries, then that’s great. But relationships in law can also be incredibly important because you convey a message to your children. If you maintain good relationships with your dreams, your grandparents, you are creating a legacy about the importance of caring for parents as they grow older.

One of the reasons why you want your child to marry someone good and loved is that you want your child and their spouse to be there for you and possibly take care of you when you are old and sick. Parents also want to help with the care of the children or help the children financially if they need it, so there are huge advantages to having all hands on the bridge. Everyone in the family works together to address the issues surrounding the pandemic or issues that come as a normal part of life as we age.


Q

What is the impact of the pandemic on in-law relationships? Have relationships become more strained or do people get closer?

A

In many cases now, there are nurseries that include nannies that are necessary for the care of children. These can help build and cement the relationship. But if there are obstacles in the relationship and it is difficult to get together safely, you may find that the distance grows, especially if there is a sense that another set of grandparents or partners is more intimately involved. If you’ve been feeling jealous or angry or not included and there’s jealousy about the lack of good relationships and you see other fathers having more access to your grandchildren, you may have a hard time with that. It can work to crystallize some of the weakest relationships. It’s also an opportunity, if everyone is working together on a pod, for example, or they were doing well before the pandemic, to further improve their relationship.


Q

Did you find it important for both parent groups to have some sort of relationship so that all the dynamics work?

A

It is not necessary for them to have a meaningful relationship. Many times there is a set of nannies or partners who are on a different coast, and that’s how it is. If one set of parents-in-law lives in the same city and in the vicinity of their children and another set of laws is not included, then it will be more of a problem. Then it is really up to the children and mothers-in-law to understand how to understand how they can be and balance the needs of their parents and dreams.

It is up to the spouses to understand how to involve their parents and how they support each other to do so with their parents and vice versa. It is also part of the boundary problem. When parents ’struggles bleed into the couple’s marriage, there are more problems and more eggshells to walk through.


Q

If your relationship with a father-in-law is strained, how can you do better?

A

Try to understand how to get on the same page with your parenting philosophy. Many of these problems become bad for spouses when they have children. For example, no matter how close I felt to my gender when I got married, I could understand how to ignore them if something happened that I didn’t like. When I had children, however, it became much more difficult to navigate the nannies if I didn’t approve of how or what they were teaching my children. So try to figure out how to balance that.

Another thing we find important is to work on finding things you both enjoy doing and showing respect for what your parents enjoy doing. I wouldn’t expect one to become a master chess player if they had never played chess before, but at least they took an interest.

The third thing to think about is whether friction has anything to do with jealousy. Be careful if there is a certain distance between you and your dreams and try to reduce jealousy.

The fourth point is to understand with your husband what role they are playing in this. Sons and daughters play a key role in the in-law dynamic, so be aware of that.


Q

What did you find in your research particularly interesting or surprising?

A

What was interesting was that some of these roles that we traditionally think the roles of men and women always tend to be roles of men and women. For example, women tend to be more engaged in caring for children and interested in the emotional life of the family than men. Second, the crowds around the mothers-in-law are unfair. It is important to reformulate mothers-in-law and recognize that what is often seen as interference is instead love and concern and a reflection of the role women play in the family. Third, and connected to the first, we found that men were not as involved in family life as women. We want men to be more engaged, more engaged — not to push their mother-in-law but to play more of an equal role. These ideas about how we socialize are always there. There have been fantastic changes in the roles of men and women for all intents and purposes, but we still have some distance to go.


Geoffrey Greif is Professor of Clinical Social Work at the University of Maryland School of Social Work, where he was a Fellow Associate from 1996 to 2007. He received his MSW from the University of Pennsylvania and his doctorate from Columbia University School of Social Work. He has written more than 135 journal articles and book chapters and has written fourteen books on parenting issues, adult friendships, adult siblings, and relationships in law.


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