Scenario: “We don’t understand our daughter-in-law,” said Katherine. “She has told us that she doesn’t want us to visit our grandchildren without calling and making sure it is convenient for her. What kind of relationship is that?” Katherine had grown up in a home in which her grandparents stopped by almost every day. It was one of the highlights of her childhood. Katherine likes her daughter-in-law, Megan, but now that Megan has children, she seems to have changed. Katherine is left wondering, “Why does she act all prickly when we drop by to visit?”
What to Say:
Katherine: I’m afraid I upset you when I came by your house yesterday.
Megan: Well, we do love to see you and the kids are so excited when you play with them. I do have a request though: Will you please make sure you call before coming over and make sure it’s a convenient time for us?
Katherine: Oh, I see. I’m learning that things aren’t like they used to be when I was growing up. I want to apologize for the times I’ve come by unannounced. I realize that has put unnecessary pressure on you and Alan and the children. That is certainly not my desire.
Megan: I know it’s not.
Katherine: You have a job and all the children’s activities. I certainly want to respect that and I will call ahead to see if it is convenient. And if it’s not, I won’t take it personally. I want to be an asset and not a liability. So will you forgive me for having intruded into your private time?
Megan: Yes, of course.
Why This Works:
Katherine was getting strange vibes from Megan. Many people, myself included, avoid conflict and won’t address “weird vibes” at the outset. However, Katherine did Megan a favor by asking what was going on. She learned that she was, in fact, getting on Megan’s nerves. Katherine got things back on track by apologizing and offering to change.
Most troubled in-law relationships could be mended if someone were willing to apologize. The same is true with every other family relationship: grandparents and grandchildren, aunts and uncles and cousins, and certainly within stepfamilies. But whether you’re part of a large, close-knit clan all living in the same town, or your extended family is spread around the country or around the world and you keep in touch by Skype and Instagram, learning to give and receive apologies will go a long way toward healing your family relationships.
What Doesn’t Work:
Tiptoeing around the problem is not a good idea. Frustration will grow on both sides until there is an explosion. If your words or actions seem to annoy your family, try asking them if there is something they would like for you to say or do differently. You may or may not choose to act on their advice but at least you will have gotten the concern out in the open. We cannot fix what we don’t understand.
Try This Activity:
If you are a brave soul, tell those who are closest to you that you are undertaking a self-improvement project. Ask them to do this for you when they are ready:
- Name 3 things they would never ever want to see you change
- Name 3 things you could change in order to be more “user friendly” for them.
Whether or not you like what you hear, be sure to say “thank you for your feedback.”
Share Your Thoughts Here:
What do you think?
What family situations require apologies?
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