The Mother-in-Law Guide to Spending the Holidays With In-Laws

Stop trying to read her mind, and read our guide instead!

Updated 11/14/18

Stocksy

Much like a wedding, the holidays are a time to look forward to—but do still come with their share of challenges. And if you had the happy fortune of getting hitched some time in the last 11 months, one of those might be navigating your very first Thanksgiving and/or Christmas with a shiny new set of in-laws. While we'd like to assume everyone will get along smashingly while bonding over claymation films and sweet potato soufflé, we also acknowledge that your mother-in-law could be a huge—erm—grinch, so to speak.

Or is she? Maybe she's just been misunderstood all of this time! No worries if you've given up trying to figure out exactly what that woman wants from you—we took the liberty of asking for you. We polled 10 mothers-in-law (including my own future MIL!), and asked them exactly what they think newly appointed daughters-in-law everywhere should know about "winning" the holidays with their in-laws.

Study up on these pointers below so you can get to impressing, and you may just notice your MIL's heart grows three sizes that day.

What TO Do When at Your In-Laws for the Holidays:

"Be sweet and communicative."
—DB, from Portland, OR, MIL for 23 years

"Make sure no one eats the turkey before they should and help with dishes every now and then."
—Shannon, from Easley, SC, first-year MIL

" 'When in Rome...' follow your new family's lead! If everyone goes through the house barefoot, kick off those heels!"
Cynthia, from Los Angeles, MIL for two years

"Tell your new in-laws what a great job they did in raising such a good kid."
Mar, from Columbus, OH, MIL for 27 years

"Join me in the kitchen, for talk-time if nothing else. If I’m doing something that doesn’t require any help, just sit at the table or bar and chat for a bit!"
—Rose, from Ringgold, GA, MIL for 4 years

"Be willing to lend a hand without being over-eager about it."
—Connie, from Corvallis, OR, MIL for 23 years

"Embrace new traditions and dishes, and then incorporate the parts of your holiday at your in-laws that you like best into what will become your and your spouse's family traditions."
—Leslie, from Athens, GA, MIL for 3 years

What NOT to Do When at Your In-Laws for the Holidays:

"Don't brag about being a better cook than me."
Mar

"Don't feel responsible for how the holidays turn out. The mix of people, traditions, feelings, and alcohol means there will be plenty of credit—and blame—to go around."
—Danielle, from Long Beach, CA, (who will be my mother-in-law in 10 days!)

"Unless asked, do not try to take over somebody else's kitchen, no matter how well-meaning you are. Even if you're a professional chef or caterer, don't suggest your own special little additions to Granny's traditional stuffing recipe."
—Connie

"Please don't arrive late from your own parents' house, or if you're going there next, don't check your watch every five minutes while looking at your spouse impatiently. And don't overshare about your own family's holidays like it's a competition. Make them sound pleasant but not the best thing that's ever happened. "
—Leslie

"Don't be overly sensitive and/or get offended easily."
—Susie, from North Tustin, CA, MIL for three years

"Don't expect perfection! And don't try to re-create your childhood memories. You're making new memories and traditions by combining, hopefully, the best of both sides."
—Gloria, from Overland Park, KS, MIL for 28 years

"Don't hijack the holidays and completely leave your spouse's family out of the plan-making. Blending families at the holidays is hard, but try to come up with a strategy that works for everyone."
—Rose

"Don't just cling to your hubby (or wifey), and have little or nothing to say to the host family and guests."
—Cynthia

How These MILs Feel About PDA

"Absolutely not! That's my baby boy/girl." = 11 percent

"A little hand-holding or light pecking is fine, but nothing more." = 55 percent

"Go wild! (Just keep it PG-13, please.)" = 23 percent

"I don't want to see you do anything you don't want to see me and my spouse do." = 11 percent

Is There a Perfect Gift You Can Bring?

"My son."
—Mar

"Your cheerful self—a nice candle or plant is good too."
—Susie

"Something showing your family's traditions."
—Danielle

"A side dish or two."
—Leslie

"Flowers."
—DB

"A good bottle of wine."
—Connie

"A grandchild! LOL. Or, something for the kitchen. I love aprons!"
—Rose

Any Advice for Your First Holiday With In-Laws?

"Everyone is different, so be sure to ask for specifics on how you can help and honor their wishes."
—Susie

"My MIL was a martyr whose currency consisted of guilt trips and audible sighs. I wish someone had told me not to get sucked into that dynamic (and then somehow helped me accomplish that!)"
—Connie

"You will never want to be at his/her family's house like you want to be at your childhood home. However, willingly and lovingly participating in his/her family's holiday is a gift to your spouse."
—Leslie

Feelings About Help in the Kitchen:

"Please!" = 78 percent

"Nope! I'm all set." = 21 percent

Write-in from Connie: "Yes, within reason. Take your cue from me. I appreciate help, but I want to be the one who assigns the jobs, or nicely says, 'No, thanks!' (If I say it, I mean it.)"

The Number 1 Thing Your MIL Wants You To Know:

"Have a sense of humor and understanding about things. My first holiday dinner with my German in-laws, I could not bring myself to eat the homemade liver meatballs, but I raved about the bread! My husband just said, 'American,' and we all laughed."
—Cynthia

"Don't be afraid to ask your MIL if you can call her 'Mom,' if you want to—and please encourage your husband/wife to call us more."
—Susie

"I gave my own adult children permission to enjoy their holidays, with or without family, with no sense of obligation or guilt. And when we do have the opportunity to gather as a family, I am trying really hard not to take those times for granted and to let them know how grateful I am that we get to be together."
—Connie

"If I get into trouble as an in-law, it’s because I failed to only offer advice when asked. My daughter-in-law asks my opinion very often, and sometimes I get complacent and offer it before I’m asked. I'm working on it."
—Rose

"Remember one day you will probably be a mother-in-law as well, and what goes around comes around. Try to treat your mother-in-law the way that you would like to be treated one day."
—Leslie

"Relax and be yourself. Let us see what brought the two of you together."
—Danielle

[Ed. note: **Breathes massive sigh of relief**]

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