Extending Grace to Extended Family

Thanksgiving 2010
by tinaxduzgen

With the Thanksgiving holiday just next week, my mind has wandered toward the many “extended family” messes that often erupt this time of year. I have to say that I’m so grateful to have in-laws who have blessed me and not tested me when the holidays have rolled around.

Unfortunately, I do remember how my parents had trouble with this one.

Invariably when the whole family got together there was usually some kind of tension between my mother and my grandmother—her MIL (mother in law). I didn’t completely understand it as a child, but it usually made for a very tense and awkward holiday dinner for everyone.

What about you?

What do you dread about your extended family or in-laws coming to visit?

What can you do now that would help you to deal with not just that turkey roasting in the oven, but the “turkey” that comes to visit?

Do you need to get better organized?

Do you need to learn to set some boundaries in a way that won’t offend your Aunt Bertha or your MIL Millie?

Do you need to adjust your expectations—accepting that things may not go as planned?

Do you need to “prepare your heart” and not just the dressing for this T-Day dinner?

Let me know your thoughts on these questions. Feel free to problem solve or confess in the comment section—whatever you need most!

And before you get away … check out my sister, Faith’s Sweet Potato Casserole recipe here. Yum! It’s one of my personal faves at our family gatherings! Enjoy!

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” Colossian 3:15 (NIV)

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Linking up with NOBH, Imperfect ProseWomen Living Well, and New Life Steward

  • Becky Kopitzke

    I read a great article in Thriving Family a while back that compared mother-in-law struggles to a game of tug-of-war. It encouraged us to “let go of the rope.” Basically, don’t tug back. I find that analogy applies to many relationships and conflicts. Sometimes, it’s just better to let it go and maybe even – if we’re brave – return the insult with a blessing. Imagine what extended family dinners would look like if we all did that! Thanks for another thoughtful post, Beth!

  • Great encouragement before we enter into this holiday season…I have the most wonderful mother-in-love…she model well how to treat a DiL…now that I am a MIL…i am very conscience of my DIL… my desire for her to feel loved and cherished…all else can fall by the wayside. blessings to you~

  • messymarriage

    Yes, that tug-of-war is a common dynamic in many relationships. I love the advice to just “let go” because the other party often flops down in surrender the moment we do! I can imagine, Becky, that this would bring many a Thanksgiving squabble to an end in no time. It takes courage, but we have One who has ample supplies of that at our disposal. Thanks for these wise words, my friend!

  • messymarriage

    I’m sure being on the giving end of this dynamic as a MIL to a DIL would bring great perspective, Ro. I’m not there yet, but I hope I do as great a job with it as you seem to be doing with your beautiful clan! Thanks for coming by and encouraging!

  • Claire Bear

    Thank you, Beth. Thinking about it ahead of time is helpful. Seeing us all gathered around the table with Jesus sitting right next to me. “Please pass the grace and peace, Lord.” Now may all grace abound at your table, too!

  • messymarriage

    Awww, thank you so much, Claire, for coming by. And I will definitely be in prayer for your time with extended family this T-Day. I know you’ll be passing the grace to those you love, even if you don’t always like them. Hugs to you!

  • Emily Wierenga

    i am blessed with incredible in-laws. but i know many who struggle. thank you for always helping others through your posts, friend. xo

  • Isn’t it amazing how quickly we can lapse into the roles we played oh so many years ago? These are super wisdom-questions as we head into the dynamics of these sometimes crazymaking family ‘celebrations’!

  • oh, a timely reminder. i have struggled with my MIL and SIL in the past, but time and maturity have helped rub off some of the sharp edges.
    always a good guideline for me is to seek to understand more than i seek to be understood. and remember to draw out the best in others . . . b/c it IS there — somewhere. 🙂
    thanks for this post, beth.

  • Lisa

    This is just what has been on my mind. The Christmas season fills me with dread every year. It is my own mother that I have the tension with. I feel nauseous for 5-6 weeks before hand and the visit( we always go there) is always full of tense moments. We will not be going this year so now the dread is telling the family. They don’t see how Mom is to me, and she doesn’t seem to notice that she is a very unwelcoming host. She will cry and carry on at Christmas because we are not there, but if we were there she would be treating us like garbage. Needless to say, I need a lot of prayer!

  • messymarriage

    Yes, I’m blessed too, Emily but even in the past couple of days I hear people around me bringing up their anxiety regarding the family gatherings and they don’t know that I wrote about it. I think it’s on a lot of people’s minds. Thanks so much for coming by. I always love seeing your sweet face in this place. 🙂

  • messymarriage

    Yes, that’s true, Linda. I’m not sure everyone “sees” that lapse occurring either. I’m just hopeful that thinking about it ahead of time will get people to engage with this issues before the heat is on. Thanks so much for your sweet support!

  • messymarriage

    Yes, that’s a great guideline for all situations of life. We’d certainly avoid so many messes if we’d just take that moment to breathe and listen more carefully instead of jumping to conclusions. Great thoughts and thanks so much for your encouragement, sweet friend!

  • messymarriage

    I certainly get your “dread,” Lisa … especially since you’re having to say “no” to this year’s gathering. Setting boundaries can be tough with a boundary-buster. And it truly is frustrating when others around us are oblivious to the unfair or hurtful treatment we’re receiving.

    I’ll be praying for you, that declining the invitation this time around won’t upset them and, if it does, that you will sense God’s peace guarding your heart in spite of the fall-out! Hugs to you, Lisa!

  • Lisa Maria

    Hi Beth

    We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in my country, but these tips would work just as well for Christmas and I’m very glad for the inspiration. Thank you!

    I wanted to let you know that I’ve nominated you for the Leibster Award. If you choose to accept it, please visit the link for the details:

    http://shinebrightlyforjesus.blogspot.com/2012/11/more-than-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about.html

    God bless!

  • rboerner

    We enjoy this “battle” so much that we decided to invite mine and Chris’ side of the family to the same event AT OUR HOUSE! Actually we have small families locally so we decided 10 years ago to do Thanksgiving at our house and anyone was welcome to come but we were not going to be traveling all over the place visiting a bunch of different families. (this was actually a boundary for us – my home, my rules :)) The same group spends Christmas together. And yes, it has had it’s ups and MANY downs! We probably adjust our expectations more than anything along with just using the whole “kill’em with kindness” theory that my mother raised us on. We’ve used boundaries also with those “late arrivals” with no phone call. (I personally don’t like cold food) We tell them what time we will eat and if they don’t show up we just started eating. The first year we did this there was a little anger but the next year, they were there on time. I’m sure I could go on with many stories as others could too but I won’t. Happy Thanksgiving!!!

  • GailBP

    t’s truly sad that holidays bring these type of situations, isn’t it? I grew up without this kind of tension at family gatherings. My mom was always the hostess and got along well with everyone, even the prickly personalities. Unfortunately, after marriage, I spent years dreading my in-laws, thinking they were the problem only to have God show me, as I matured in Christ, that I could get along well with them if I gave them a chance, overlooked lots of little things, and gave them grace for some big things. So that relationship is good. But other new ones have arisen which bring me sadness, and I’m learning that no matter how hard you try, if the other person isn’t trying, it won’t work. For me, the boundaries I think God wants me to have are those that continue to offer grace and love but refuse to allow these people to break my heart. And I’m not very good at that. I think my bottom line is to remember that I answer to God, not my loved ones.

  • messymarriage

    Thanks for the nomination, Lisa Maria, but I’m going to pass. I really am strapped for time with what I’ve already committed myself to, so I don’t want to add more to my plate. Thanks so much for thinking of me, though. I really appreciate it! And thanks so much for your comment too. 🙂

  • messymarriage

    Sounds as if you’ve found some really great “rules of thumb” and learned to find a healthy balance in your expectations too, Becky. I really appreciate you sharing these nuggets of wisdom with all of us too. You’ve given us more than just some turkey or pumpkin pie to nibble on this Thanksgiving! 🙂 I truly appreciate your encouragement too. *Hugs*

  • messymarriage

    Yes, life is full of many curve balls–just when you think you’ve got it down, Gail. 🙂 And as far as boundaries are concerned, I agree that it is a balancing act between the boundary and God’s grace. I’ve struggled with striking this balance myself, but God always teaches me new things as I go along. And I’m with you on the fact that the One we need to answer to is God alone. He’s who matters this Thanksgiving holiday! Thanks so much for coming by and weighing in!