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Avoid a relative holiday disaster
By Lauren Beckham Falcone
Sunday, December 26, 2004

Admit it. Right now you're reading this paper to avoid the post-holiday inevitable: breakfast with your in-laws. Worse? You're probably a little hungover because you had to self-medicate to survive the schlepping and eye-rolling of yesterday.
     'Tis the season to be merry and bright, but it's also the time of year you're force-fed the caveat of serious relationships - his or her family.
     Of course, you could take everyone to see ``Meet the Fockers'' - this weekend's hit movie about dealing with your S.O.'s P.U.s (parental units) - but we doubt toilet humor is going to help.
     So what will?
     A little advice from the experts, maybe. Dr. Susan Newman, social psychologist and author of ``Nobody's Baby Now: Reinventing Your Adult Relationship With Your Mother and Father'' (Walker & Co., $24), said one way to make for a smooth visit is to do a little homework.
     ``Have your partner talk to his parents about when and for how long they can visit,'' she said. ``It's important that the adult child do this, because he hopefully knows how to approach them, knows what statements will upset them, and frequently, if plans come from the son or daughter-in-law, some parents feel they are overstepping their boundaries.''
     So, Little Miss-In-Law, if you made the plans, you're on the you-know-what-list. Sweating yet? No matter. Newman said you can make your visit a little more pleasant by doing a few things: giving them time alone with their adult child and getting the heck outta Dodge.
     ``Really, parents want time alone with their adult child,'' she said. ``It's a wonderful excuse to leave. You can return gifts, go visit friends in the area, go for a jog or walk, whatever. It gives the parents what they want and also time to discuss things they may not feel comfortable talking about in front of you.''
      Perhaps how much they don't like you?
     That was 50-something Bonnie's problem.
     ``My in-laws were so horrible that only recently would I date someone whose parents were still alive,'' said Bonnie, who was married for four years and divorced in 1990. ``They weren't intrusive, they were invasive. Literally. Refusing to even knock on our door. They simply turned the knob and walked in. I tried the obvious solution: locks. But they even got around that.''
     Only when her in-laws promised her husband a new house if they divorced was she finally free.
     ``Now that I (date people whose parents are alive), my only other requirement is they live out of state,'' she said.
     Stress-management specialist Debbie Mandel said another way to survive the holidays with your in-laws is to channel the entertainment industry - literally.
     ``Pretend your life is a sitcom,'' she said. ``Which means objectify it. We laugh at Marie from `Everyone Loves Raymond.' Don't take every remark to heart.''
     Also, affirm what the in-laws do right to ``retrain'' them.
     ``Everyone loves compliments,'' Mandel said. ``When you meet, be ready with a distraction. Listen to the barbs for two minutes without rolling your eyes and then whip out their favorite magazine or photos and say, `Look what I brought you.' ''

     If this seems like more work than paying all your post-Christmas bills, that's because it is.
     ``The holidays are difficult,'' Newman said. ``The pressure to visit and be with both sides is enormous. Plus, you might have different family traditions, which create more conflict and disturbance.''
     Ah, well. There's always the leftover eggnog.
     

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