How To Survive Your In-Laws This Summer
I have been spending the summer at my husband’s family cottage, in Northern Ontario, for the past 11 years. I didn’t grow up with a cottage, so the first few years were all about learning the ins and outs of cohabiting with another family and embracing the unique traditions and habits that a cottage brings. Three and a half years ago we had our first child, followed shortly by a second. Translation: lots of chaos and tons of stuff. Gone were the days of showing up with only a small overnight bag.
Since having kids, as the weather starts getting warmer and my girls are pleading to wear sundresses, I know cottage season is upon us and I experience a strange mix of emotions. On the one hand, utter delight in knowing my girls will soon be spending lots of time in one of their favorite places. They’ll be able to go on boat rides, swim in the lake and walk barefoot pretty much everywhere. There is nothing better than that.
On the other hand, space, privacy and boundaries between my family – and my husband’s family – for those two months pretty much go out the window. Everyone is in everyone else’s business, there is another set of rules that now need to be taken into account and I have to start treading very lightly on what is really a political minefield, fraught with potential conflict and aggravation.
These are some of my unofficial rules for staying sane.
1. Learn the art of scarcity. We found a destination for our family that provides a reprieve. We cross the lake at least once every weekend to go for breakfast at one of the local restaurants. It is great for the kids to have a destination to go to but it is really more for me. Not because the food is necessarily amazing but because it gives me the head space I need to just be our own family without the external rules, without the politics and without navigating personalities.
2. Choose your battles carefully. I have been very clear in my head about what I will fall on the sword over and where there is some give. And I would say there is definitely more give on my end but I justify that with the knowledge that as much as my in-laws are in my space, we have inserted ourselves into their home – and they have been generous enough to share it.
3. Don’t leave breadcrumbs or footprints. Especially with little kids, I always hold a huge straw tote where I carry everything I might need. I don’t leave anything just sitting around waiting to be picked up by someone. I happen to live with two in-laws who might have a mild case of OCD but nonetheless, I don’t want to leave traces of us, nor do I want to be held up to the scrutiny.
4. Too many cooks spoil the kitchen. The kitchen is one place in the house that is fraught with politics and personalities. There are two very strong cooks at the helm who have their very own ways of doing things. Instead of constantly trying to do it ‘their way,’ I contribute in my own way. With little kids I can’t help as much as I used to at mealtime anyway so I make stuff during the week and bring it with me and help with cleanup, which is always more innocuous.
5. Loosen up. In order for me to enjoy the summer, I need to loosen the reins on the kid’s schedule. It is way easier on me because I am not constantly looking at my watch and the kids know that it’s the summer and recognize that it is special circumstances. I believe that it is this last rule that is definitely the hardest one for me to follow. Loosening up, in general, living under someone else’s roof with their rules, is a hard pill for me to swallow. But when I see the girls’ sun-kissed faces after a very full day of being outside swimming and playing, there really is nowhere I’d rather be.