Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Welcoming to the Family

Jokes, complaints, and stereotypes about “in-laws” seem to be timeless. Although weddings are occasion for joy and celebration, the transition and adjustment to adding a new spouse to the family is an adjustment for everybody—parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins alike.

However, there are several examples in the scriptures that teach that in-law relationships can be powerful and fulfilling throughout our lives. Obviously the plan is for extended families to support and love each other.

Consider Moses. When he fled Egypt, he was received by his in-laws with welcome arms. For a long time they were his only family. Obviously they were supportive enough and allowed him to grow spiritually enough for him to change from a pagan Egyptian to being called as a prophet. Later, as Moses was leading the Israelites out of Egypt and into the wilderness, Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, gave him (and Moses received) needed and helpful advice about managing his calling and responsibilities (see Exodus 18).

We have a great example of a mother/daughter-in-law relationship in Ruth and Naomi. Ruth loved her mother-in-law so much that she stayed with her even when given the chance to return to her own family. Another great example is Emma and Lucy Mack Smith. Emma and Joseph eloped because Emma’s family did not approve of Joseph, but Emma was welcomed into the Smith family and they helped each other through many trials.

When I think of my relationship with my in-laws, it is easy for me to see that first impressions made a big difference. Family members that reached out to me when I was first engaged made a real difference in making me feel welcome in the family and starting the in-law relationships off on the right foot.

With the weddings and family changes in your family this summer, rather than looking on the newbie in the family as a cause for awkwardness, here are three ways to embrace a family member’s new spouse and make the transition a lot easier for everyone that move a little beyond learning their name and their likes and dislikes: (1) show enthusiasm, (2) make room, and (3) nurture.

1. Show Enthusiasm
Make sure the fiancé(e) or new spouse knows how genuinely excited you are about the wedding—the ceremony and celebration itself, what it means for your son/daughter/niece/nephew, etc., and about having a new person in the family. “We’re so glad your joining the family,” or “We’re so glad he/she chose you,” are great words of encouragement to a nervous new in-law.

2. Make Room
In order to really feel a part of a family, we each need responsibilities and roles. We each need to feel like we have something to give and a vital part to play in the family. Encourage the new in-law by nudging them towards a place or role in the family. Maybe they’re the new spouse of an older cousin: “My kids just look up to you two so much. Thanks for being such a great example to them.” Think also of the talents they have and can contribute to the family: “You know so much about this, can you teach me?” Sharing and receiving will bond the new in-law right into the family, if everyone just works to make them a little room.

3. Nurture
Relationships require giving and receiving. Give the new in-law an opportunity to receive other members of the family as well. This might be as simple as sharing a recipe, a jar of jelly, or helping with something at the wedding. Be sure to invite the newlyweds to accept you help but not to force assistance on them. Genuine acts of love will help a new in-law feel comfortable asking for real help from their new family.

 Memories of my husband’s family members reaching out to me when I joined the family are thoughts that I treasure. I remember his grandfather calling me his new granddaughter the first time I met him. I remember my husband’s aunts pooling all their favorite recipes into a book as a wedding gift. I remember my husband’s mother respecting my ideas and asking my advice about some of her personal projects. All of these small acts of service and outreach really helped me feel welcome and a part of the family.

Remember that relationships are built on quality time, service, and appreciation. It doesn’t take much—usually just a little time and conversation—to foster these qualities in your interaction with a new in-law. As your family changes and grows over the years, enjoy the phenomenon that you can always make room for someone else to love and welcome to the family.

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