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How to Suck Up To Your In-Laws

Playing the nice card will make those extended holiday visits (practically) painless.

Photo: Stephen Campbell

Even if you hit the in-law lottery and won a stellar set of parents-by-marriage, it’s hard to remain sane when you’re staying in their home for the weekend or -- yikes -- a week. But instead of rolling your eyes or constantly escaping to the bathroom for “me” time, try sucking up instead. It will make those 72-plus hours pass more smoothly, and you can always use your model behavior to blackmail your spouse for the next holiday season.

Bring a Special Dish

This 9-by-13-inch baking pan is your little token of gratitude. It shows you appreciate how much effort your in-laws put into hosting the holidays. Aren’t you a peach! The real truth is you’ve guaranteed there’s something digestible on the table, and you get to avoid the family specialty of “beef cups with pizza rice.” Bonus: Your flavorful winter squash gratin will limit the amount of time you’ll have to spend in the kitchen.

Embrace Their Quirky House Rules

Your in-laws may not post a “House Rules” sign on the front door, but you know that their thermostat never rises above 60 degrees, everyone eats dinner at 5:30 p.m., and the gang gathers around the tube whenever there’s a M*A*S*H marathon. Welcome to clannish behavior! Rather than recoiling, indulge in at least one family tradition. Remember: Your family’s way of doing things isn’t necessarily correct, so get over yourself and join in the fun.

Accept Gifts Strategically

No, you can’t immediately go on eBay and list the bald-eagle bookends your in-laws gave you because they’ll be on the lookout for them the next time they visit. Tell them you love them so much that you brought them to work. This response can be used with all decorative items. What are the chances your in-laws will see your office?

Throw the Family Pet a Bone

Nobody seems to mind that your in-laws’ dog isn’t house-trained and bites because “she doesn’t like strangers.” The way to their hearts is through their best friend. So bring along pet toys. You’ll be praised as a thoughtful daughter/son-in-law, and may even avoid getting tooth marks in your leg.
Once you do make nice with Fluffy or Thor, you’ll notice a shift: The dog won’t leave you alone. Which is why you’ll need to softly repeat these meditation chants to yourself:
- I accept that there will be dog hair on my brand-new Paul Smith shirt/Michael Kors sweater.
- I accept that their 100-pound, slobbering golden retriever will climb on my lap and not move, even when I need to get up to go to the bathroom.
- I accept that even after all this tender loving torture, the dog will probably forget who I am the next time I show up at this house.

Silence Your Inner Cruise Director

Practice saying: “I’ve never heard of The Da Vinci Code.” Recommending novels, movies or restaurants while visiting in-laws can be riskier than you may think. Sure, you brought the squash gratin, but you chance falling out of favor if your movie rental choice, The Good Shepherd, bores them to tears, or if the local seafood restaurant you select (the one with the rave reviews) gives everyone the Norwalk virus. Sometimes it’s best to be bland, boring and unopinionated -- for once. Really.

-- Dina Koutas Poch