Sisters. The very word is an oxymoron wrapped in itself. Warm, fuzzy feeling plus an irritated feeling. With both my sisters living a thousand miles away I would give the world to share a cup of tea and a heart-to-heart with either one. And it’s also a shit-she-finished-my-whole-bottle-of-deo/conditioner or a shit-she-wore-my-favorite-shawl-to-college reminder of the days gone by. It’s a ‘I can kill for her’ coupled with an ‘I will kill her’. She is the only one who will zoom into your Eid pictures and have a close look at your feet to tell you you should’ve gotten a pedicure. You won’t communicate for weeks but she is the one sharing salad recipes with you to make sure are slightly more in shape for the wedding season. She is the one who will maybe love your kids as much as you do yourself. You know she will definitely be there for you no matter what. The intensity of the word LOVE and HATE can be justified when she is in context.
Then there is the word ‘in-laws’ which gives the fuzzies to a select few, very lucky ones. Be it the social, cultural or whatever predispositions, be it conditioning, I think it’s more or less a universal sentiment Please excuse the sweeping assumption but it’s true. It’s your by-default family because of that spouse of yours, the one you have professed eternal love to. Remember? So for his or her sake, they are your family too. It may be a welcome scenario, and it may not be, but it is what it is.
Ok now you think of the feeling either word conjures up and pair it together- SISTER-IN-LAW. There you have it. Gather all your notions for either word and pair it together. Make it a cumulative. “But she is my sister!” Yes she is! But IN-LAW. Love? Hate? Exasperation? Confusion? Your personal experience coupled with a whole lot of social, cultural, environmental baggage will define that.
Why am I on this rant? Here goes:
My brother is the youngest in four siblings and he’s getting married early next year. Actually, that makes it sound really far away but it’s just a couple of months away. I’m excited for him, and nervous too. And happy. Marriage is a whole lot of amazing things but it also requires a great deal of understanding, compassion, flexibility and most of all, maturity. I hope and pray all goes as smoothly as possible for them, all the way. That my baby brother proves to be a good, caring husband and is successful in maintaining a balance.
For the first time I’m going to be someone’s in laws. Albeit I have sisters-in-law (my husband’s sister and my husband’s brother’s wife). The very idea of being the same to someone fills me with a sense of responsibility. She is going to leave her family and home and life as she knows it, and come and live with our family. That’s a huge deal. It sounds simple enough and ‘everyone does it’. But honestly it’s no mean feat. (I did it, I know.) It’s our job to make the transition as seamless as possible and to ensure her comfort for the remainder of their life together. It fills me with ambition to do my level best, to put my BEST foot forward. But you see, that’s exactly where we are wrong.
It’s not my job to put my best foot forward, but my most REAL foot forward. I think what happens is that potential in laws get super excited and present their very best version to the bride-to-be or the new bride, who in turn imagines that this ‘super nice’ version is the real deal. That artificially nice sister-in-law will one day show her real streak. I’m not saying we are all ogres waiting to attack the next person, but that we are human. Don’t be your super-awesome self if you can’t see it through. You can be Ms. Sweet Cheeks for how long? four months, five? Maybe half a year. But one day you will have a bad day. Or successive bad days. And she may inadvertently fall into the line of fire. You don’t want her to be shocked to meet this new you.
So a few things are crucial:
- Be real from the beginning. Don’t give her a false impression of who you are, knowingly or otherwise.
- Set Boundaries. Give her her space, her privacy. It sounds like a hell of a cliché but practically may not be so easy to execute. At times we infringe on another’s personal space without realizing it. There is overstepping in very minor ways that are not obvious. Let me illustrate with an average example: Your sister-in-law is dressed up and about to step out. She’s in a hurry and mutters a ‘bye’. You tell her she’s looking nice and because it’s a particularly boring afternoon you ask her where she’s headed. There. Right there is overstepping. It’s none of your business! She may not want to tell you where she is off to, and may not know how to skirt the question in a manner that isn’t rude. If you had posed the same question to your sister she may ask you to shut up and bugger off. But your sister-in-law may be obliged to say what, where, when in reply to any number of intrusive questions. Questions that are blurted out without thinking. So be careful. Boundaries enable mutual love and respect.
- Be fair. All couples argue, at least all the normal ones do. It’s inevitable that your brother and his wife will, as well. If it’s loud enough for you to hear, pretend you didn’t. Stay detached, stay OUT OF IT. If asked to mediate or play judge- DECLINE and run for the hills. If asked to mediate despite that, be fair. Imagine the couple is not related to you in any way.
Real life plays out very different to how you imagine it would. There are many situations which will present themselves that cannot be anticipated. In which case the golden principle would be to put yourself if the other’s shoes and ask yourself how you would wish to be treated. Again, sounds trite and relatively simple but isn’t. So let’s set some personal reminders for ourselves as I have here. As I said, I’m about to enter the realm of the ‘in-laws’ for the first time. Wish me luck!