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Show Your Mother (and Mother-in-Law) Some Love

Best-selling author Gretchen Rubin gives advice that could bring you decades of happiness

5. Try to ease contention over children
Samuel Johnson wrote, "All severity that does not tend to increase good, or prevent evil, is idle." In keeping with this philosophy, I decided, If it's not actually harmful, I'll let others take care of my daughters in their own way. A friend of mine mdash; an educational-and-wooden-toys-only, no-TV type of parent — was furious when her mother-in-law bought her daughter a My Little Pony pony. They had a huge fight about it. Do you really want that? Some arguments are worth having, and other issues are worth letting slide.

6. Remember — and respect — grandparent privilege
When my sister and I were young, my grandmother would buy us any junk food we wanted and let us stay up until midnight watching TV. We loved it. Did these questionable practices do us any lasting harm? No. And we didn't expect junk food or midnight TV at home, either. Grandparents get to be indulgent. Or to be super-strict, or to have weird rules. That's grandparent privilege.

7. Think about your spouse or your child
You're in a relationship with this difficult in-law because of someone you love. What's best for that person? Do you need to try to break the tension? Change the subject? Bite your tongue? Endure excruciating boredom? Sometimes you can behave nicely for the sake of someone else's happiness, even if, left to your own devices, you'd be very happy to pitch a fit.

8. Focus on the positive
Reflecting on reasons to feel grateful toward your in-laws — or your parents, if that relationship is strained — instead of reasons to be angry or annoyed will help you change your view. Remember happy shared experiences; recalling good times will help warm your feelings. At the very least, your in-law is the parent of your spouse, or the beloved of your child. Look for the good. Appreciate what the person does. Try to make jokes. It could probably be worse!

Wait, you might be thinking, these strategies don't tell me how to deal with my difficult in-laws — they only tell me how to behave myself. Very true! While it's tempting to think about how much happier you'd be if other people would just behave properly, the fact is, you can't change other people; you can only change yourself.

Originally published on April 11, 2011

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