With limited housing available in this small city of ours, living with parents or in-laws after marriage is very common in Singapore. As a result, conflicts and hostility often arise… So how can you make it work? This mama shares her top tips
Scroll through any parenting group on Facebook and you’ll find a myriad of discussions and questions like baby recommendations, best maternity hospitals, kids’ rash queries and… living with in-laws. Some first-hand descriptions of the various parents-in-law situations seem to get really ugly, and aren’t we all familiar with the trope of the ‘monster-in-law’?
So while we acknowledge that not everyone’s circumstances are the same, there are ways to keep the peace at home… just ask Yvon Bock, founder of leading baby bottle brand Hegen (a Sassy Mama fave!), who’s had experience living in a multi-generational household with her in-laws for a decade! As part of Families for Life’s Alliance for Action (AFAM) to Strengthen Marriages and Family Relationships, super mama of four Yvon answers some common questions and shares her top tips on managing relationships with our in-laws while staying committed to our partners and kids.
“I’m about to move in with my partner and in-laws and I feel like it could be a big transition. How should I prepare?”
I moved in to stay with my in-laws after having my first child and I stayed with them for 10 years. Prior to moving in, I had conversations with Leon (my husband) and talked about what life would be like. We come from different family upbringing, so naturally, values will differ. We talked about balancing challenging circumstances and differing opinions, setting boundaries and creating guidelines about space and privacy with my in-laws. For example, as a young couple, we need our own couple time, even at home. So when we close our doors, we ask that we be given our privacy. Another thing we both agreed on was to respect each another’s values, not to confront but aim to resolve peacefully. I depended on my husband who’s the son and intermediary, to hold the fort and to be able to successfully mediate any disagreements in the household. It also requires both parties to recognise that the son is the mediator. I believe that a healthy and happy relationship with in-laws is important for a strong marriage.
“Is there anything I should know about living together, before I move in with my partner?”
Make the effort to keep the romance alive and remember to keep dating your partner throughout your marriage! Leon and I put in effort to have weekly Friday Date Nights or themed dinners at home which involve our kids to help with the cooking. Secondly, treating each other with kindness and respect is especially important when managing disagreement and solving problems when living together. Open communication is key. Don’t assume the other party can read your mind. Avoid saying things like, “never mind”, “forget it” and “I don’t care”.
Keep your relationship healthy through consistently showing care and concern for one another while living together. It doesn’t mean that when you’re physically living together, you don’t need to work on your love. Love that lasts is always going to require work. Most good things do.
Lastly, being committed to staying together, even when you feel the relationship is rocky, is important. It’s choosing to give up other choices and choosing to remain invested in this relationship because you believe in the path you are choosing. There could be times where we’ll say things in the heat of the moment that are difficult to retract, so try your best to not be hurtful. Commitment comes in many forms. For example, you develop a strong identity as a couple: a good balance of you, me and “we” in the relationship, and you’re willing to make healthy sacrifices for each other. For me and Leon, we include our children so that we can do some activities as a family. This helps us stay committed to each other, not just as partners, but as parents.
“How should I fix any conflicts with my in-laws?”
I believe that conflicts should be resolved as harmoniously as possible. It’s important to remember that both parties, the couple and the in-laws, come from different schools of thought. But most importantly, you should always maintain respect for each other and make it a point not to address conflict in front of the children.
My in-laws and my family come from two different schools of thought. My in-laws value independence and enjoy individual activities. On the other hand, my parents raised me in an environment that believes strongly in togetherness and being exposed to the arts, different cultures and learnings. Naturally, when I started living with my in-laws, I was not used to the different approach towards family life and upbringing.
One example: I emphasise a lot on having dinners together as a family with everyone present at the table, whereas my in-laws never practiced that and it was ok for everyone to eat at their own preferred time. How did I tackle that? I had a conversation with my husband and shared my thoughts on the importance of having dinner together as a family. We agreed as a couple to instil this practice in our family with our kids, but we did not insist that my in-laws must join us. Together, we had a chat with my in-laws and shared with them our plan and intentions. We allowed them to continue to be themselves, but we informed them that this is our preference and they are welcome to join in this practice whenever they’d like to.
Similarly, when it came to raising my kids, I believe in allowing my kids to grow in an environment where they are allowed to explore different cultures and interests. While my in-laws are more conservative and traditional in choices, I encourage and support my children to try different things. When my kids are not around, Leon and I had a conversation with my in-laws and let them know that while we respect their opinions, we hope they will also respect our preference and not make it challenging for our children to have curious minds and eventually they can decide what they’d like to pursue.
I believe living together with in-laws is not about taking conflicts head-on or forcing anyone to change to suit and fit your own practices or beliefs. It’s important as a couple to discuss and agree on a decision before informing the in-laws. Together, take a non-confrontational approach, have a sit down to chat and inform each other about the preferences. We had challenges, but with empathy and finding the right time to clarify, we managed to live harmoniously together for a decade.
“My in-laws often indulge my children in things I wouldn’t normally give into, like giving them sweets and allowing them extended amounts of screen time. How can I communicate certain dos and don’ts with regards to my children?”
Advice on raising children often changes from one generation to the next, so there will be differences in ideas between in-laws and modern day parents. I suggest being committed to giving clear and consistent communication with in-laws when it comes to certain dos and don’ts with regards to children, even if it hasn’t yielded the desired results just yet.
When my kids were younger, I was strict about not introducing sugar at such an early stage. My in-laws love chocolates, and to share their love for chocolates, they would hide chocolates in the bookshelves so my kids had easy access. I noticed on a few occasions some chocolate stains on my kids’ lips. When I asked them if they had chocolate, they would deny it. In the beginning, I was upset not because they were eating chocolate, but that my kids had to lie for themselves and their grandparents.
When I communicated to my in-laws about this, I approached it from a position that as parents and grandparents, we want to cultivate honesty and the right values in the kids. By sneaking in chocolates to the kids as a form of affection and love has resulted in them having to lie and be dishonest. I suggested that if they must give chocolates, to do so occasionally during the day rather than at night to avoid the kids getting too sugar high before bedtime. I believe that by demonstrating positive examples of respectful communication and compromise with a parent or parent-in-law will, we are modelling the appropriate behaviours to communicate with the seniors in the family.
“I often hear my in-laws making passing remarks towards my children, such as, “If you’re naughty I won’t love you,” and “Aiyo look, your stomach now so fat!” How can I let them know that we shouldn’t use such language around the kids?”
It’s important to find the right time and use the right tone to explain the detrimental effects certain language may have on children over a long period of time. Ultimately we all want the best for the kids. Rather than putting such incidences to heart, I recommend agreeing on words or phrases to avoid saying at home, and offer suggestions or alternative ways of saying things.
For example, when we hear things like, “I HATE garlic in my food,” we’ll lighten the mood and respond with some humour by saying, “What did the garlic do?” or “I’m sure the garlic won’t feel as bad.” Of course, if the same language is still consistently used, then I would find the right time to talk to my in-laws and let them know the impact such things may have on our children and how we as grown-ups, should try our best to ensure we set a good example to the children.
“I feel that my in-laws can be unreasonable at times and put me down, but my husband always puts the blame on me and stays on their side. How can I make him see that I’ve been hurt?”
Blame is one of the most common miscommunications in relationships and it can have very negative consequences to a relationship. I believe in having open, honest communication and letting your spouse know how you are feeling. Use phrases like, “I’ve been feeling blamed recently and I don’t feel good about it.” This may sound hard to do, but it’s only by expressing, communicating and listening to both sides of the story that miscommunication can be worked out. If the blame continues and becomes excessive and crosses into emotional abuse, then I’d suggest seeking professional help.
“My in-laws are trying to make changes to my house and consulting my spouse without involving me. How do I stand firm that this is my matrimonial home and they should consult us both before making decisions on it?”
I’d suggest ensuring your spouse and you are on a united front that this is your matrimonial home and decisions are made together between both of you and not third parties. As a couple, thank your in-laws for their good intentions and opinions on changes, but be clear that this is your space, and you will make decisions as a couple. You can consider using phrases like “ We’ll think about it. Thank you for your input but we prefer it this way” or “this works out better for us”.
Thank you Yvon for your invaluable wisdom! You can read more tips on how to effectively resolve conflicts through Families for Life!