Now we are in-laws


My sister got married at the weekend.  However, other than saying that yes, she looked stunning, yes, it was a fantastic occasion and no, it didn’t rain, I’m not writing this post about the even itself.  It is about a new facet of my identity which perplexes me somewhat.

What is the role of the brother-in-law?

The role of the mother-in-law is very well defined, and the father-in-law almost as much.  But what about the sibling of the newly married man or woman?  We get to add -in-law to our list of titles, which is a privilege denied to uncles, aunts, cousins and so on, but why bother?  If the two of them ever decide to start a family (which is, sadly, fairly unlikely, but I will not apply pressure), then uncledom would be the state entered into, and the role of the uncle is quite clear.  The role of the uncle is to lead the little darlings slightly astray by being crazier than the parents, and also to introduce the wee ones to activities they might otherwise miss as their parents have no particular fondness for a particular sport, craft, genre of film or national cuisine.

But what of the brother-in-law?  I suppose if a sister’s husband started being unpleasant to her, a brother-in-law might step in and say ‘oi!’  But as my sister is more capable of looking out for herself than I am of looking out for her, this doesn’t apply in our case.  And her husband is a very nice, gentle man (as well as a gentleman, I suppose) and I’d be shocked if the issue ever arose.  The only other thing I can think of is that the brother- or sister-in-law is the in-law who you don’t have to put on any airs for, who you don’t have to try to impress.  The in-law who you feel comfortable with and who won’t over-criticise the standard of your cleaning, cooking or DIY.  The good cop to the mother-in-law bad cop.  Hopefully, given time, the friend.

  1. I congratulate you on your decent brother-in-law (and your sister). It’s interesting, isn’t it, the line between ‘friend and boyfriend of sister’ and ‘member of MY family’.

    My brother-in-law’s role at the moment is limited to being annoying and leaving me wondering why in heck my sister hasn’t divorced him yet. We are speaking of the man, who, having dropped out of University after two months because it was ‘too boring’, likes to tell me how pointless having one degree, let alone two, is. And that I can’t write, and that I’m a lazy house-wife. Also, despite the fact he thinks knitting is ‘women’s work’, he tells me regularly I am doing it wrong (ie not like his mum) and just as regularly that I should be knitting him socks. If he were a friend, or even sister’s boyfriend, I’d like to think he wouldn’t dream of saying any of the above. But he’s ‘family’, so he thinks he’s entitled. Oy vey.

    I think I envy you just a little bit.

    But I am whining. Apologies.

  2. Whine away! Of course, I might loathe my new brother-in-law by Christmas, or he might wish his wife was an only child. I am determined to be a good brother-in-law, though.

  3. I adore my brother-in-law. My sister married him when I was only 13, so he has been a member of my family for most of my life. It’s just like having an older brother. Your situation is totally different.

    Since you live far enough apart not to see them on a regular basis, I would imagine you will miss out on requests to help spade the garden and paint the kitchen. I don’t know if there actually is a set function for a brother-in-law to serve. Each family is probably different.

    If/when you do become an uncle, you should enjoy it. I have one niece and one nephew. I have always been close to them, and it is a satisfying relationship for me, especially since I never had any children of my own. I also have two great nephews now and they are both loads of fun.

    Reed, he sounds like a great bore. And rude. He needs smacked.

  4. I do not think that there is A Universal Role (tm?) for brothers-in-law. And what Reed and Hyp say seem to confirm it, doesn’t it – pointing in opposite directions as they do…

    For me personally, having two brother-in-laws and not being one as I am an only child, it’s been the odd mix of helping hands, fun, and family-being.

    It’s actually quite a coincidence – Mrs SG V is one of three girls, so the three b-i-l’s (now, there’s an absolutely horrible abbreviation if I ever saw one – fell free to misuse it ;)) are as brought together as can be. And we get along just very fine.

    Nice work if you can get it.

  5. Reed – your brother-in -law sounds most horrible! I agree with Hypatia.

    Singing Librarian – I’m sure you will be an excellent brother-in-law. I’m not sure there is a particular role the brother in law should fulfill. I don’t see mine very often, and Mr C sees my brother even less, so it’s hard to tell by their example. (They do get on ok, they just live miles away from each other – and from us!). It is quite weird to think of people you’re not actually related to as family, but if they’re good people it’s kind of a nice thought.

    By the way, I was your 2,000th visitor. Do I get a prize? ( =

  6. A prize? Hmm, well, here’s a party popper to celebrate! 🙂

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