How I Fought With My In-Laws (and Won)

tim chan —  June 13, 2013 — 10 Comments

[This is an excerpt of our book, “Then Came The Baby“, about the time I fought with my in-laws shortly after Allie was born.]

Before Allie was one week old, I had a big fight with Olive’s parents. They were so angry they wanted to cancel Christmas.

Well, technically no one could cancel Christmas. But they wanted to cancel Christmas with us by changing their plane tickets to fly back to Toronto early.

How I Fought With My In-Laws (and Won)It all started when Olive complained to me that she was tired of having our small apartment full of people all day long.

Ben and Bernadette had taken 4 weeks off and flown to Vancouver to help take care of their first grandchild, their only daughter Olive, and myself. They had been coming over every day to cook us lunch and dinner, and to help with Allie (including washing and folding the endless amount of baby laundry and doing all the dishes). But we lived in a small apartment. And Olive was highly introverted, which meant that being with people for long periods of time tired her out.

(Now don’t be mistaken that Olive does not love her parents dearly and enjoy their company thoroughly. She does, with every ounce in her heart. It was just that she was very very tired and needed some time to herself so she could rest and recover.)

So the super hero in me came out to protect my wife. While Olive was napping one afternoon, I pulled her parents aside and had a little chat with them.

I cut right to the chase, “We need more space. Can you come over less?”

“When we leave, you’re going to have to learn to take care of your family,” my father-in-law informed me.

“Don’t worry,” I replied slightly offended, “We have friends and family who can help us too.”

It seemed like they got the message because after dinner that night they quickly packed up and returned to the place they were renting. Olive and I sighed with relief, glad to have the apartment to ourselves for the evening.

I knew something was wrong when I received a text the next day from Olive’s mom:
“We’ll come this afternoon to cook for Olive and then leave.”

Ummm… cook for Olive? What about me?
And sure enough, they came and cooked food for only Olive. Then they promptly left.

We didn’t see them for the next two days, which was weird, because they had been coming over every day since Allie was born.

Then we received an email from Olive’s dad, saying that they felt like they weren’t needed and were going to fly home on December 21st, two weeks earlier than planned.

Olive and I were upset and confused. It felt like they were being unnecessarily petty. We needed their support now, and yet it felt like they were just adding to our stress. It took every ounce of self-discipline not to reply with a biting email and to ask if we could have a conversation together before they made their final decision to leave early.

Olive and I called our trusted friends to vent. We knew that we needed to feel heard and listened to. If we felt heard by our friends, when we talked with Olive’s parents, it would be okay if we didn’t feel heard by them. We could focus on listening and hearing them out.

The day we planned to have our talk, Allie thankfully went to sleep after dinner. We had a long talk. Our conversation was very civil and revealing, as each of us was able to explain how we felt. I was glad none of us were yellers.

What I said was that we needed more space.

What my in-laws heard was that we didn’t need their help.

They felt hurt, because they had been really looking forward to coming to help take care of Olive, Allie, and myself. What I said made them feel unwanted.

What they said was that I would have to learn to take care of Olive and Allie after they left.

What I heard was that they didn’t think I could take care of my family.

I felt hurt because I was trying very hard to be a good father and husband. What they said made me feel like a failure.

No wonder we were angry at each other.

It helped to hear their perspective and for them to hear ours. We apologized to each other and hugged. They decided to stay for Christmas after all. Everyone was relieved.

Allie was an angel and slept through our entire conversation. Right when we finished hugging, as if on cue, she woke up. It was like she knew that everything was okay and that we could all return to our main duty of caring for her.

When it comes to fighting with family, no one really “wins” if the conflict is not resolved. If I won the fight in the traditional sense (proving that I was right and they were wrong), it only hurts my relationship with them. I can only say that I “won” this fight because this experience (the fight and the resolution of it) ended up deepening my relationship with my in-laws. My in-laws also “won” the fight too. It was a win-win.

(Note: We have to thank Ben and Bernadette for allowing us to share this vulnerable story on our blog and in our book.)

photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar

  • Lisa Ting

    This story was one of my favorites in the book. Tim, you did such a good job of preserving the dignity of all parties involved. I don’t doubt this was really painful for all four of you as the misunderstanding was occurring. Props to all of you for entering into the awkwardness to resolve the issue in a timely manner. I am really glad that your in-laws’ visit, as well as your relationship with them, was salvaged and even improved from what it had been.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t even know how I got to this page but I can’t help to point out how rude Olive was to refer ro her parents as “all these people”. You both claim to be christian but don’t seem to refer to your parents in an honouring way. They did make the effort to fly to Vancouver so obviously they would like to spend as much time with their new granddaughter as possible.

    • olivechan

      Interesting perspective. Here’s how I see it: It pained me to accept that I needed some space at that time. So much so that it was difficult for me to say that it was my parents that I needed space from. So instead of explicitly saying that, I used the phrase “all these people” to say it indirectly.

      If you doubt my relationship with my parents, you can read this tribute I wrote to them on my 30th birthday: http://timandolive.com/dear-mom-and-dad/

  • Anonymous

    Sure, you can say Olive is an introvert, but her parents were the people who raised her and I feel its safe to assume she most of her life up until her marriage with them? So how could they possibly “tire her out”? Does this mean she felt “tired out” when she was living with them during her childhood/early adult years? Does she feel “tired out” living with you and the baby? It just doesn’t make sense to me. It would be a different story if it she had a problem with her in-laws

    • olivechan

      Hi John,
      As you can see, I’ve restored your comments. I think you raise some good questions. If I wasn’t the person living in the body that I have, I might have the same difficulty understanding how my parents could tire me out. But they do. It’s not a matter of loving them, respecting them or appreciating their efforts to fly all the way out to Vancouver for a whole month to take care of me and the baby. I honestly wish I didn’t need time by myself in silence to recharge. But that’s how I’m wired. And as mind-boggling as it might be to you, this is our reality. My parents know this about me and they are not offended by my needs.

      You might also be surprised to know that there are times when I get tired of living with Tim and our child. In an alternate life, I would be a hermit, really. But God has given me the gifts of a wonderful family and I am doing my best to love them and serve them while also being mindful of who I am as well.

      Hopefully this explanation helps. If not, then just be glad that you don’t get tired of the people you love most. There are people who live with different struggles than you do.

      Peace to you.

  • Anonymous

    Ok…so I see you delete comments that don’t agree with. What’s the point of this blog if you can’t take other people’s point of view?

    • Hi Anonymous, we have a commenting policy on our blog and request our readers to be respectful in their comments.

      In terms of leaving comments anonymously, please read Brene Brown’s interview with Oprah. Her thoughts on this subject resonate with us deeply http://www.oprah.com/spirit/Brene-Brown-Interviewed-by-Oprah-Daring-Greatly/2

      • John

        Why does matter if I use a name or not? It’s not like you will know who I am anyway if I call myself “John” or “Anonymous”. The deleted comments that I posted just reflect my thoughts as I was reading your blog post.

      • John

        Just because I don’t agree with your blog post doesn’t make my comments disrespectful. You might be surprised that perhaps many of your readers feel the same way as I do, but just havent taken the time to comment

  • Rachel

    I am also an introvert and this is how I would feel after a week with my parents. The main difference between introverts and extroverts is that introverts recharge or gain energy by being by themselves and therefore, even when they enjoy being with people (whether their friends or family) it exhausts them. Extroverts gain energy by being with people. Being by themselves makes them “stir-crazy” or restless or tired. Being with people recharges their batteries. They need to get out to feel like themselves again. There are, of course, people who aren’t as extreme either way but unless you are one extreme or you know someone who is, it can be hard to understand.