New Solutions for Managing the Most Troublesome In-Laws
A s far back as the Book of Genesis, when Jacob’s soon-to-be father-in-law tricked him into marrying the wrong daughter, in-laws have been universally acknowledged trip wires. Throughout the centuries, things haven’t gotten much better.
Remember: It was the prospect of having the vulgar Mrs. Bennett as a mother-in-law that almost kept Mr. Darcy from proposing to Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice; Harry Truman’s mother-in-law thought so little of her daughter’s husband that she voted for Dewey in 1948; and the villains of this summer’s movie smash Crazy Rich Asians weren’t Bond-style bad guys but the icy mother of an otherwise perfect boyfriend—and a judgmental grandmother to boot.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle look back at her mother, Doria Ragland, and his father and stepmother, Prince Charles and Camila, Duchess of Cornwall.
Even the most gushed-over union of our time, that of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, is overshadowed by questions about those newly acquired sets of parents-in-law: How will the down-to-earth American actress ever fit in with Britain’s royal family, and what would Harry do seated across the dinner table from Thomas Markle?
For a long time it was simple enough to marry into a family, embrace the members you liked, and endure the ones you didn’t. With today’s thorny set of social rules, however, managing your in-laws is more complicated than ever.
Take, for example, something that happened earlier this year, when Queen Letizia of Spain and her mother-in-law Queen Sofia were caught on camera in a tense face-off over a family photo shoot with the grandchildren after Easter Mass. In another time, perhaps it would have been forgotten—or at least stewed over in private—but when the clip went viral it prompted a Twitter rebuke from Marie-Chantal of Greece, who is married to Sofia’s nephew Crown Prince Pavlos. “No grandmother deserves that type of treatment!” she tweeted. “Wow, [Letizia has] shown her true colors.”
And who could forget Camilla Parker-Bowles’s long road to winning the approval of Queen Elizabeth, who reportedly once referred to her as “that wicked woman”? It was a decades-long mission, but it worked well enough that the monarch said at the wedding of Prince Charles to the now Duchess of Cornwall, in 2005, “They have come through, and I’m very proud and wish them well. My son is home and dry with the woman he loves.”
Managing public relationships with tricky family members isn’t an issue just for famous clans overseas. When supermodel Karlie Kloss agreed to marry tech entrepreneur Joshua Kushner, she was also saying yes to an extended family that includes his brother Jared and his wife Ivanka Trump—which could create sticky situations for Kloss and Kushner, who are reportedly Democrats. Joshua even attended the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, DC.
What has worked so far for this group is a complete media blackout. Kloss and Ivanka haven’t been seen together in public since the 2016 U.S. Open, and a friend of both women said to the Evening Standard, “You won’t see another photo like the one at the tennis tournament during this presidency, I guarantee.”
David Geffen shared this photo of the group, which includes Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Michael Hess, Geffen, Dasha Zhukova, Karlie Kloss, Wendi Deng, Leon Black, and Princess Eugenie of York.
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That isn’t to say that the women don’t get along or that the foursome won’t get together for a family birthday party or shabbat dinner. (Jared told Forbes that “anyone who was willing to change a friendship…because of who somebody supports in politics is not somebody who has a lot of character.”)
But it does indicate that they have decided to close ranks and keep all family business strictly in the family. (“I feel blessed to have you as a sister,” Ivanka commented on Kloss’s engagement announcement on Instagram; Kloss doesn’t currently follow Ivanka. Ivanka also shared Kloss and Kushner's wedding photo shortly after they got married on October 18.)
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That doesn’t mean it’s any easier for them to get along behind closed doors than any other group, though. Every clan has its fissures and no-fly zones, so, for family gatherings, experts recommend deflection. “When people get combative about politics, or anything else, it’s best to change the subject,” says psychotherapist Deanna Brann, author of Reluctantly Related: Secrets to Getting Along with Your Mother-in-Law or Daughter-in-Law. “And the best way is to focus as much as possible on the personal—people love to talk about themselves.”
Newlyweds Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank pose with their families. It was the first time Prince Philip and Sarah Ferguson, Duchess Of York had been photographed together in decades.
Another tactic is to avoid fraught situations entirely—at least in person. Social media does a fine job of creating virtual family togetherness, and it makes it easy to mark anniversaries, celebrate birthdays, and generally keep in-laws feeling close while at a safe physical remove.
“I have some family members I can avoid for months on end with the right combination of Instagram likes and birthday cards,” says a magazine editor friend who asked not to be identified by name, for obvious reasons.
Not every off-putting uncle or monster-in-law is so easily avoided, however. And when you can’t avoid face time, you can at least avoid confrontation. “Whenever my sister comes over, I hide all my Trump pictures, and I just don’t use the T-word,” says Suebelle Robbins, a fan of the president who divides her time between Palm Beach and New York. “But I find the current climate very depressing. I asked my husband if this is as bad as the Civil War, and he said, ‘It’s worse.’ ”
Whenever my sister comes over, I hide all my Trump pictures, and I just don’t use the T-word
For anyone locked in what feels like a war with in-laws, it’s wise to keep in mind the words of The Godfather’s Don Corleone, who said, “A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.” In other words: Get over it. Whether you and your in-laws disagree about politics or any other topic, there aren’t many sins that can’t be forgiven when it comes to family.
If you need proof, take Jay-Z, who was famously caught by a security camera in 2014 squabbling with his sister-in-law Solange Knowles in an elevator at a New York hotel. Footage of the altercation was leaked and seen worldwide, and it could have made for some very uncomfortable moments at the brood’s next Thanksgiving. But instead of holding grudges, the pair released a statement that said, “At the end of the day, families have problems, and we’re no different. We love each other, and above all we are family. We’ve put this behind us and hope everyone else will do the same."
This story appears in the November 2018 issue of Town & Country.
*This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com
*Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors