Five years ago I married into a family full of vibrant personalities and delightfully chaotic holidays. I married into a big family. As the middle of three girls and hippie parents, I grew up accustomed to a household of quiet, laid-back vibes. In contrast, my husband is the second-oldest of nine children and recalls a boisterous home where a quiet corner was hard to come by. I quickly found that integrating myself into big family life was going to take time.
The Beauty of a Big Family
There is certainly great beauty and great love in large families. Always someone to talk to, and never a dull dinner, these are the homes that spirit and spunk are made of. In big families self-advocacy is a survival tactic. Some of the most confident and giving people are products of these kinds of families.
The Beast of a Big Family
Just as to every ying there is a yang, large families can also be quite intimidating to an outsider. Even with all of the blessings, the nature of big families can breed intense confrontation, dramatic interactions, and at times, overstimulating gatherings. While these are certainly not damning qualities, as an in-law, navigating these types of families comes with a learning curve. And at this point in my marriage, I can confidently say that I’ve had my share of education.
So, to the newbie in-law of that big family, here’s what you should know…
Be the Joy You Want to See in the Family.
If there is one thing I’ve learned as an in-law to a big family, it’s this: you set your own energy. Regardless of what’s going down at the family brunch, you are in control of how you see it. If you want peace, be the calm presence you want to experience. If you want liveliness, bring the party. Setting your intention is a powerful tool in any large, social gathering. Your attitude is the only real factor in how your feelings manifest themselves.
Look for Beauty in Others.
Whether you get along with everybody or only jive with a couple of siblings, I cannot stress enough the importance of beauty searching. When you look for the goodness in others, you will find it. This may be particularly helpful if you struggle to connect with certain in-laws.
Don’t Take Anything Personally.
Big family functions are a breeding ground for a lot of talk. Depending on the nature of the gathering, this can turn to gushing or gossip real fast. If you find yourself the subject of the chatter, accept it with grace. As Miguel Ruiz wisely shares in his book, The Four Agreements, “nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality…” Good or bad, family will talk. How you internalize what is said is entirely up to you. Which leads me to my next tip…
Pick Your Battles.
Regardless of the family size, there will be times when you will need to dive into confrontation. This is an inevitable facet of any relationship. As an in-law, I recognize that not every battle is meant for me. It’s also important to ground yourself with your spouse and make sure that you’re on the same page before you tackle a delicate issue. Either way, there is great freedom in letting go and also knowing when to step in and speak up.
Celebrate Differences & Get Perspective.
No matter how different your family of origin is from your significant other’s, you can learn something from his clan. Probably, you can learn a lot. And your kids will too. Instead of focusing on your differences with disdain, take a step back and recognize how different family cultures bring spice and insights into the mix.
Contribute & Participate.
It’s really easy to morph into a wallflower when you’re an in-law to a big family. But trust me when I say that it’s way more fun to contribute and participate than it is to hang back. It may take a dose of gusto, but I think you’ll find that your relationships and spirit will improve when you do this.
Give Yourself Space.
When all else fails, give yourself space. There is nothing wrong with taking a moment to collect yourself when spending time with your big family. This is particularly helpful if you’re someone who came from a quiet home. Take it from me; don’t hide in the closet but don’t burn yourself out either. Everyone needs time (and space) to re-energize.
Sure, big families can be intimidating. But they’re also chock-full of blessings. You just have to be ready to open up your eyes (and heart) to see it.