In the military community, it seems that in-laws can be a divisive topic. Either spouses absolutely LOVE their in-laws (and I’ve read some pretty amazing stories!) or they hate their in-laws with a fiery passion (and I’ve ready some pretty crazy stories on that end too). The stress of being far away from home and the needs of the military create a lot of tension and frustration that pulls at both parties.
So I wanted to write about that. I asked the Jo, My Gosh! community to respond on Facebook or via email and tell me about the best and/or most frustrating things their in-laws have done when it comes to military life. The responses broke down among seven different ideas.
If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you’re looking for help with navigating your relationship with your in-laws or because you’re the in-laws looking to navigate a relationship with your child’s spouse (hey!). The relationship between a spouse and his or her in-laws can be rocky, non-existent, or fragile. It can be wonderful and fantastic. Or it can be somewhere in the middle. My guess is, though, if you’re reading this, you want your relationship–whether you’re a spouse or an in-law– to bend toward the wonderful and fantastic side.
Please remember, these are just suggestions. Everyone has a unique situation.
1. Check in
Sometimes, spouses can feel secondary in their relationship to their in-laws, especially if they’re new to the family. Keeping lines of communication open–and just calling to say hi– can make such a difference in strengthening that relationship, and can make a military spouse really feel like they’re part of the family, rather than someone who is just attached to their husband or wife. Mandy, a military spouse, says about her mother-in-law, “She calls or texts to make sure I don’t need anything while my husband is deployed.”
2. Talk about things other than your child
If you choose to check-in, make sure that you’re talking about things that also concern the spouse–not only asking about the welfare of your spouse. Of course asking about and talking about your deployed child is normal and good to talk about but… time and time again, spouses who responded noted that when their in-laws called or texted, it was solely to ask about their child. “My future mother-in-law would text me weekly to see if I had heard from him and that was it. She never asked how I was doing or anything like that, she just wanted information,” Taylor says.
3. Be thoughtful
Time and time again, military spouses noted that some of the best things their in-laws have done to support them comes down to just showing that they’re thinking about them. Out of sight is definitely not out of mind when it comes to being supportive of military spouses. “Since I’m pregnant, [my mother-in-law] suggested that she’d attend the ultrasound with me and we made a day of it with lunch and everything. It’s really nice to feel included in their lives especially since my own mother lives 6 hours away from me,” Mandy says. Military spouse Kara says, “My inlaws always give our children wonderful storybooks and inscribe them so they were a treasure and remain a treasure for our children.”
4. Be forgiving
Military life can be overwhelming on its own… then add a deployment or PCS (military move) and it can be really rough. Spouses noted that they were grateful for in-laws who overlooked their mistakes and flaws. “One year I missed sending birthday cards or calling on birthdays because deployment was really hard,” says Kelsey. “When I realized what I had done, I called my MIL and FIL to apologize. They just laughed and brushed it off because they knew I was going through a hard time. Their reaction made me feel like I hadn’t screwed up our relationship and they understood how hard life is sometimes.”
5. Be willing to be flexible
Holidays can be hard for any family–after all, who gets Christmas and Thanksgiving? What about birthday parties?– but they can be especially difficult for military families who are far from home. Be willing to be flexible when it comes to family traditions, holidays, and “the way it’s always been.” “They decided that since we couldn’t come to them, they would come to us last Christmas,” Jenean says. “They checked with us first, then booked flights and a hotel.” And if you can’t be flexible, don’t guilt trip them. Chances are, they’re not exactly happy with the military taking first priority all of the time, either.
6. Understand military culture
Military spouses in the Jo, My Gosh! community cited their largest frustration as their in-laws unfamiliarity with military culture. “I get frustrated when hubby’s dad constantly asks about when his contract is up. He misses him. That’s understandable. Just say that!” says Melissa. There are resources out there to help you navigate being the parent of a service member. Be Safe, Love Mom is a great place to start– it’s written by the mother of four service members for parents of service members. Don’t be afraid to ask, either– just make sure you listen. “[My mother-in-law] doesn’t understand how things works sometimes even though she says she does,” says Sabrina. (Don’t understand deployment? Here’s my guide to what in-laws should know.)
7. Don’t blame them
When it comes to military life, the needs of the military always come first. Service members can sometimes–sometimes–have limited direction or determination in a particular order or where they move next. Military spouses have no power in decisions when it comes to the military. You might be frustrated that the kids won’t be coming home for Thanksgiving for the fourth year in a row… but just remember it’s not their fault.