Ruth Nemzoff is a wise woman whose writing truly resonates with me. I reviewed her first book Don’t Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships With Your Adult Children and refer to it often.
Now she has a second book: Don’t Roll Your Eyes: Making In-laws into Family. In this book she offers advice on what to do when perfect strangers—or people you wish were strangers—become your family, namely in-laws.
Nemzoff is an expert at navigating family dynamics and grasps all the different perspectives of intergenerational relationships. She examines the forces that make in-law relationships troublesome as well as how multiple generations can benefit from them.
She writes from experience and says that of all her careers—teacher, administrator, state legislator, and professor—mothering has been the most rewarding. She has four adult children, four in-law children, and seven grandchildren, with whom she has very satisfying relationships. It’s easy to understand why, given her insight and communication skills.
Here’s an example of how she nails a basic problem: The generations often blame each other when expectations they don’t even know they have are not met. We find ourselves angry, for example, when no gift arrives and we realize we expected one. We feel our emotions before we realize what we actually want. We often hang onto nostalgic expectations of family roles when roles are changing.
The ease or difficulty of these relationships depends a lot on the willingness of all parties to make things work, says Nemzoff. Both generations want to be appreciated and acknowledged for their efforts and not taken for granted or judged.
Don’t Roll Your Eyes focuses on specific issues that can cause tension among the generations. Nemzoff explains that because of popular in-law jokes we can be wary of one another before we even meet. Or we can have different ideas about how much closeness we want. Another problem can be competition between sets of parental in-laws who may vie for priority. Intermarriage and blending cultures can also contribute to disappointments that come when grandchildren are brought up with a different belief system from their parents.
In the final three chapters, Nemzoff addresses the big issues of money and death and encourages families to discuss these difficult topics before it’s too late. She ends the book with ten wise suggestions for improving relationships in her chapter “Do Unto Your In-laws.” She makes an important statement about how to begin:
We need to see ourselves truthfully and then change our behaviors and attitudes to achieve better results. We all can benefit from self-awareness so that we do not accuse others of causing our displeasure, when the dissatisfaction lies within ourselves.
Wise words that take practice, practice, practice.