Think Marie Barone. If you want to know how to be perfect in-laws for the military, think of Marie Barone from Everybody Loves Raymond. And do the opposite of what she would do.
At our SpouseBuzz LIVE event in Ft. Campbell, KY, one group made a list of everything Marie Barone-like that made their in-laws difficult to handle. Yes, the Marie Barones of the world love their sons and daughters beyond belief. Yet the Marie Barones were also demanding, needy, judgmental, intrusive, compulsive, and treated the spouse like a child. (No wonder these in-laws do not get invited to visit.)
Another group of spouses got together and found that they all got lucky with really good in-laws. They made a list of the ways that their in-laws made them feel appreciated and valued--as if what they were doing at home for their soldier was worthwhile. Here is a list of some of the things we appreciate about you stellar in-laws during deployment:
1. Your positive attitude. Of course parents of servicemembers are worried about the safety of their offspring. When someone sends a son or daughter to war, it is natural to worry that they will be traumatized or injured or killed. Perfect In-Laws shared these kinds of worries with their own partners or close friends. They did not call the spouse at home to worry about these things aloud. Instead, their positive attitude sustained the spouse.
2. Your expressions of concern about the spouse, not just the servicemember. Some spouses have in-laws who never call, text or email during deployment--and that was OK. No one owes a spouse or partner anything during deployment. But these Perfect In-Laws called or emailed from time to time to see how the spouse was holding up. Some spouses even got "thinking of you" greeting cards. It's really nice to know someone cares!
3. Your invitations to do things together. Most military spouses live thousands of miles away from their extended families. Those Perfect In-Laws who lived close made a big difference by inviting spouses to go and do with them. Being included in family activities or coming to town to do something festive with the grandkids lends a feeling of normality to deployment.
4. Your compliments about the grandchildren. Every military spouse secretly thinks his or her kids are the cutest and the sweetest and the best. One of the things we miss about having our servicemember home is that half the audience for the kids' cuteness is gone. Spouses said that having someone who wanted to hear stories about something cute the baby said and having someone they could count on to "like" the picture of the Halloween costumes was a real pleasure that Perfect In-Laws provided so well.
5. Your visits. When a deployment lasts eight months or a year, family visits are few and far between. Some spouses expressed that they really didn't get along well enough with their in-laws to welcome a visit. Others said that Perfect In-Laws who came to visit them so that they did not have to travel alone with all the kids were a marvelous blessing.
5.The gift of “me” time. If you don't have kids, deployment is nothing but "me" time. Way too much "me" time. Once you have kids, deployment doesn't have any "me" time in it. In-laws who are able to provide a little babysitting during deployment are the holy grail of Perfect In-Laws. An hour of babysitting so that you can go to the dentist alone is a godsend. A Perfect In-Law who urges you to go to dinner or a movie or shopping with a friend is earning jewels for her crown in heaven.
6. Your willingness to help. Marie Barones are always willing to point out what spouses are doing wrong with the kids and the house and the car and their job. Perfect In-Laws step in and help out with the work that is there. We heard about Perfect In-Laws who do all the laundry during a visit. Perfect In-Laws who got up with babies in the middle of the night so a new mom could get some sleep. Perfect In-Laws who raked leaves, read to toddlers, drove middle schoolers to softball. The SpouseBuzz LIVE audience sighed with envy listening to this list.
7. Your ability to stay informed. Some in-laws expect the spouse or partner to keep them informed of everything the unit is doing. Perfect In-Laws proactively signed up for the FRG email list and joined the Facebook page.
8. Keeping us in the family loop. Lots of things happen in an extended family during deployment. Just because the servicemember is deployed doesn't mean the spouse or partner stops caring about the news of the family. Perfect In-Laws let spouses know who is getting married and when they are celebrating Christmas this year and whether or not someone has to be hospitalized. It is nice to be included in the flow of information.
9. Your care packages. Perfect In-Laws send care packages to their sons and daughters in uniform. But Ultimo Perfect In-Laws have been known to send care packages or even an Olive Garden gift card to the spouse and kids at home. Talk about your surprises!
10. Your patience. Military couples marry young. We think we have everything it takes to get through deployment. Usually, we are wrong. We falter. Your patience with us as we learn how to be married and how to deploy and how to handle all the things that come with the military is the kindest thing a Perfect In-Law provides. Your comforting words (and the blind eye you turn toward our mistakes) is so very, very welcome. And will make us tell strangers about how perfect you really are.
Editor's Note: We would like to publish a list from parents of servicemembers about how the spouse at home can be an equally Perfect In-Law. If you have a suggestion of what should be on the list, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.