ETW: Holidays with the in-laws


Joe Baraty takes a look at surviving the the “wild” experience of holidays with a big family.

By Joe Barty

Enter the Wild

It was back in June that the idea of this column called “Enter the Wild” was first discussed. My hopes were to have my readers experience a variety of wild adventures without having to travel out of Franklin County. We’ve covered many different venues since then, some informative, some humorous.

Now as the end of the calendar year comes upon us, I have been challenged by my editor to take us to another level. She has asked me to take the readership on a truly “Wild” excursion. Something thrilling, something exhilarating, something dangerous, something unforgettable.

So strap yourselves in and hold on tight as we go on the wildest of wild adventures. Together let’s discover the physical and mental challenges of surviving a holiday visit with the in-laws.

It doesn’t get any wilder than that!

Unfortunately our adventure will take us out of Franklin County. Not that we desire to leave mind you, but it seems that in-laws love to reside somewhere that forces you to drive on I-81 to get there. My guess is they do that intentionally. A nice “peaceful” drive down I-81 gets you in the proper holiday mood to deal with just about anything. Traversing I-81 was truly a festive experience — lots of holiday horn honking and hand gestures out windows.

Now that I think about it, one of those 18-wheelers may have been delivering the holiday meal to my in-laws’ house. It surely would take a truck that size to do so.

You see, my mother-in-law insists on having at least one different dish for each person attending, guaranteeing everyone gets at least one thing that they like. Then, just to be safe, she makes sure that each dish is enough to feed double the number of people there, just in case there is a run on that item.

So for our family of 24 there would be about 30 different food dishes each containing enough to feed about 50 people. Not to mention the fact that each of the 24 individuals will bring a couple desserts to share. Bottom line was we were not just visiting the town of Ironto; we could actually feed the entire town of Ironto.

Holiday visits with the in-laws aren’t just about eating. There is also the requirement that some degree of interaction takes place. This can pose quite a challenge and enter us into a truly wild environment. So let’s look at three helpful tips to get us through this delicate situation:

Tip No. 1: Know the proper greetings to use. If it’s your first visit with the in-laws, you will unfortunately not have had the experience that teaches you this critical skill. If that’s the case, be conservative and play it safe. But after a number of visits, you will be expected to know the different particular greetings desired by each family member.

My mother-in-law, for example, prefers a semi-warm hug — not too strong — and a simple kiss to the cheek. It’s the first thing you must do upon entering the house. If you pass her by without this traditional greeting, you risk being in the “interaction doghouse” for the remainder of your visit.

It all takes some intuitive practice. But you don’t want to give a bro-hug to the brother-in-law who just likes a cold handshake. And God forbid you ever kiss your germophobic niece. Big mistake!

Tip No. 2: Know and practice acceptable conversation topics. So as not to overexert yourself, I have found that it’s best to limit the scope of your conversations to no more than five safe and simple topics. My standards are the weather, food, pets, shopping and football. Stick with your script and do not get enticed into any slippery topic areas. And never allow the word Trump to leave your lips. Unless of course it’s the Fourth of July visit and fireworks are in order.

Tip No. 3: Have a graceful exit pre-planned. The trick here is to pre-announce to the family matriarch exactly how long you will be able to stay along with a valid reason for your departure. A valid acceptable reason is critical.

It’s helpful to learn the idiosyncrasies or “hot-buttons” of the mother-in-law and design your departure reason to match up. In other words, if she is a fanatic about her pets, then leaving for the purpose of walking and feeding your own furbabies would be acceptable.

Always stay an hour longer than your pre-announced departure time. That gives the impression of you having a great time and not wanting to leave.

Here is one extra tip, and it may be the most important. Protect your spouse during your visit. If the family gangs up on your spouse for any reason, you best intervene. The only thing worse than being in the “doghouse” at your in-laws’ house, is to go home and be in the “doghouse” with your spouse.

Seems we all survived Thanksgiving. We only have Christmas and New Year’s left to go. As we’ve said many times before, go “Enter the Wild,” but always be safe and smart. Happy holidays to you all.

(1) comment


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