With the in-laws coming to live in Canada, advice on how three generations can live in harmony has been free flowing. Friends, neighbours and colleagues have unreservedly shared their own experiences or that of those they know. Most have poured out their woes and I couldn’t help but notice that only two said how nice it might be. One is a lady whose mother immigrated recently and the other lived with her in-laws for a brief period of time.
I am uncomfortable with the prophecies of gloom and doom as I was looking forward to the family reunification. While I am aware there will be challenges as we all adjust to the new situation, I wasn’t prepared for the all the negativity. Yet forewarned is forearmed, so here’s my survival guide.
Avoid the power struggle
In many instances there seems to be a power struggle between the mother and the wife. Mom still wants to be in control. She sees the daughter-in-law as a usurper and doesn’t miss an opportunity to show her who’s boss. If the son is the main or only breadwinner, his wife can expect to be frequently put in her place. The daughter-in-law in turn resents that her husband kowtows to his mother. This can create marital discord. The situation worsens when the man picks a side as he will incur the wrath of one of them. Things can also quickly come to a head when both women are strong personalities and a battle for one-upmanship ensues.
Families that have survived this battle for supremacy are those where there is acceptance. The mother acknowledges the daughter-in-law is the new matriarch and befriends her. The daughter-in-law in turn accepts and respects the special bond between her husband and his mother but also knows how to tactfully draw the line. I look forward to recreating this perfect world in my home.
A lady I interviewed recently gave me some valuable advice— communicate directly. Much is lost in translation and misunderstood when a third party or go-between is involved, she said. Mother-in-law and daughter-in-law or grandparents and their grandchildren should be able to respectfully communicate with one another. We don’t need a counsellor to tell us that successful relationships are based on dialogue. However this often means fighting your own battles which is more difficult than having someone else do the dirty work for you. Passing remarks in the company of others or complaining to extended family and friends about issues also seems easier (and more fun) than confronting the problem head on. But this only escalates feelings of resentment and mistrust. I have decided to walk the straight and narrow line and keep my fingers crossed that I will not have to call on the troops for help.
Bridge the generation gap
I always admired the close bond many grandparents and grandchildren share. Perhaps it is because I missed having my own grandparents around and always wished my children would experience that special connection. Now that they have grown up in a different hemisphere the bonds if any have loosened considerably. Cultural and generational differences are also likely to create some friction. It is important that both agree to disagree. Nevertheless I expect my kids to respect and be sensitive to their grandparents. I believe it will teach them patience and to look outside themselves. A valuable life lesson!
Spend time as a couple
Many a marriage feels the strain of having extend family around. With additional responsibilities and company the time a couple spends together almost vanishes. In some cases couples drift so far apart that they begin to lead virtually separate lives. The realization only comes when the distractions are taken away and it becomes apparent that there is nothing to keep them together. More than one couple has advised us to make a conscious effort and set aside some time just for us. This is one bit of advice I intend to take to heart.
Make them feel at home
Seniors who immigrate to live with their children face an uphill task. They must now adjust to living in a different home (not really their own) and vastly different country. Life as they knew it has virtually come to an end, how they well they adapt and enjoy their new one depends as much on them as well as their support structure. I hope we can make their transition as easy and comfortable as possible. Let’s not forget that we might be making the same lifestyle decisions one day.
Armed with my survival guide and a truckload of positivity, I hope to navigate all the challenges and sentiments with patience and wisdom. Who knows, I might have only positive stories to tell!