While their position in your life is special, in-laws are people. And like people, they each come with their own set of pros, cons, and frustrating quirks. Your relationship with your in-laws is an important one, as they are your partner’s parents and your child’s grandparents. But for every rosy cheeked, kind grandma or grandpa who makes a mean apple pie and respects boundaries, there’s one that’s wildly passive aggressive, moody, or downright mean. We all want to have a great relationship with our in-laws. But, well, that’s not always possible.
So, for dads who think their in-laws are, well, not-so-great, we wanted to know: how do you deal with them? That is, what tactics do they employ to keep them at arm’s length or just from infecting your family with their constant comments or toxic views? We spoke to ten men who have not-so-great relationships with their in-laws about how they persevere. Here’s what they said.
1. I get high.
“That’s pretty much the only way I can deal with my mother-in-law. She’s a cliché in every sense of the word. Nothing is ever good enough. I’m not taking care of her little girl. My wife — her daughter — has plenty of issues with her, too, so it’s rare that we’re actually graced by her presence. But, when we are, I usually know about it ahead of time and sneak in a quick joint before she shows up. She doesn’t pay much attention to me unless she’s criticizing me for something, so I can get away with being stoned and ‘inattentive’, or whatever. My poor wife has to wait until after she leaves.” – Jared, 37, Pennsylvania
2. I gaslight them.
“My in-laws and I don’t see eye-to-eye about much. Politics, obviously. But even things like sports and movies — really trivial stuff — just turns into disagreement after disagreement. They’re very petty people, but they’re in our lives for better or worse. So, at least I can have some fun with them if they decide something’s worth arguing about. I don’t go out of my way to pick fights, but I also don’t hesitate to egg them on when they contradict themselves, talk about ‘studies’ they read on Facebook, or just talk out of their assholes. It’s childish, yes. But, hey, no one’s perfect.” – Michael, 34, Connecticut
3. I stand up to them.
“Standing up to my in-laws before they were my in-laws was kind of what sealed the deal for my wife and I as a happy couple. They’re very opinionated. They’re also very affluent and influential in my wife’s hometown. So, not many people stand up to them. When I first met them, I definitely had my tail tucked. But, as my wife and I continued dating, and I had to interact with them more and more, I realized just how full of bullshit they are. So I started respectfully disagreeing. Not ‘just because.’ But if there was a situation in which I felt attacked or uncomfortable, I let them know. My wife and I have been married for almost three years, and you’d think they’d have lightened up by now. But, nope. At least standing up for myself makes me feel better about having to deal with them.” – Dan, 37, Oregon
4. I try to keep it amicable.
“I’m at the age where arguments — most arguments — are just a waste of time. You could tell me 2 + 2 = 17 and I’d say, ‘That’s awesome. Have a great day.’ If it’s something trivial like that, I just smile and nod. My in-laws are right all the time. They’re never wrong. At least, they don’t think so. I learned a long time ago that arguing with them about anything was futile because they’re so stubborn, and just refuse to admit when they’re wrong. So, eventually, instead of pushing back, I just went with the flow, plastered on a fake smile, and let everything they said go in one ear and out the other. It’s a much more peaceful way to co-exist, and I don’t go home feeling exhausted or angry. My wife calls it ‘monk mode’ because I just zone out until it’s over.” – Brian, 42, Ohio
5. I fake a migraine.
“If my mother-in-law is over, there’s a good chance I’ll have a legitimate headache within a few minutes of her arrival. If things get really obnoxious, though, I escalate my symptoms and say I have to go lie down. I grab an ice pack out of the freezer, dramatically put it on my face, and bid her farewell for the evening. It’s not that she’s terrible, it’s just that she doesn’t have boundaries. She’ll come over late at night, unannounced, and just make herself at home. My wife is great at diffusing the situation and getting rid of her with minimal drama, but I’m not that skilled. I go to our room and eagerly listen for the front door to close and her car to start before I watch her back out of the driveway.” – Nick, 36, Florida
6. I set visiting hours.
“Yes, like a prison or a hospital, my wife and I have assigned specific times during which her parents (and my parents) are allowed to visit. It’s not as mean as it sounds, it’s just a way to keep some semblance of order in place while we both work full-time and raise the kids. We need the schedule. Part of it is to prevent unexpected ‘pop-ins’, and part of it is so we can brace ourselves. Our parents are all handfuls, so we’ve made it clear that certain times are for visiting, and others are not. At first, there was a lot of shock and awe from the in-laws. They thought we were being unfair and selfish and all that. But, I think even they would admit that the system has worked pretty well so far. Very begrudgingly, of course.” – Kyle, 39, Texas
7. I feed the birds.
“My mother-in-law is afraid of birds. And guess what our back deck is full of? Bird feeders. It’s the one place I know she won’t follow anyone. So, whenever things get tense, or she starts to talk about how we’re raising our kids wrong…in front of the kids… I ask them if they want to go bird-watching with Daddy. Not only do they love it, but I’ve grown to enjoy it as well. It’s quite relaxing.” – Marc, 35, Michigan
8. I pretend the baby pooped.
“Our son is less than a year old, so usually I don’t have to pretend. But, if he’s having a dry spell during a visit from our in-laws, I’ll swear I smell something and run off to change him. They’re very intrusive, and they think we should just adapt to their presence whenever they’re around. Not necessarily waiting on them hand-and-foot, but making them the center of attention whenever possible. So, I’ll pretend to take a whiff and grab him, then we just go into the nursery and play for like 15 minutes. It’s the perfect time out from their neediness. Then I come back with the theatrics. ‘Wow! That may have been the stinkiest one yet! Next time, you guys are going to have to change him!’ Works every time.” — Omar, 38, Florida
9. I fake work emergencies.
“I’ve definitely sent texts from my personal cell phone to my work cell phone to escape having to deal with my in-laws. Everyone hears the PING! Then pretend to be bothered, and act sad that I have to leave and take care of business. ‘Sorry guys, I gotta deal with this. Hopefully it won’t take long!’ I get a glare from my wife almost every time, because she knows the scam, which is why I have to use it sparingly. But, if my mother-in-law starts with her drama, or my father-in-law starts on a political rant, the consequences are worth it. I just go into my office and listen through the door. Once the dust has settled, I re-emerge having saved the day at work and being terribly sorry I missed most of the conversation.” – Justin, 38, North Carolina
10. I doodle.
“I find myself doodling a lot when my in-laws come over. I sort of set myself on autopilot while conversing, and find an envelope or a napkin to draw on while they’re talking about how much harder parenting was for them than it is for us. ‘You don’t know how easy you have it, and you’re complaining that you’re tired?’ says my mother-in-law. ‘Yeah, I can’t even imagine how you did it back in the day,” I say, as I’m drawing the ‘Cool S’ on a piece of junk mail. I think they just want the affirmation, even if it’s very obviously superficial. So, rather than rocking the boat, I just draw it instead.” – Evan, 37, Connecticut