Monday, October 26, 2009

In Laws

I hate those TV shows where people constantly hang out with their families and everyone is best friends. The kids tell their parents everything from the first time they have sex to who they think the cutest boy in their class is. All the siblings love each other and hang out together even though they are years apart. I don't know if I would say that I envy these people, I am definitely intrigued by them. I had those friends in high school and college whose parents were super cool and ended up hanging out with us. On one hand I was jealous that they had such a great relationship with their parents but on the other hand I thought it was a little creepy having your parents in all your business.

I did not have a traditional upbringing. My father was too sick to parent for most of my life so most of his influences on me were indirect. My mother had a difficult time coping with having two children and a sick husband which prevented her from being available to us emotionally. She provided my brother and I with a lot of material things to make up for the lack of parenting. We were spoiled rotten but there were no real boundaries or discipline in our lives. When we were younger I stepped in and parented my brother when I thought he needed it. We also experienced the normal sibling rivalry and fighting that most people go through.

Now that we are adults, my brother and I get along great. We have very similar personalities and keep in touch regularly. I still tend to provide "parenting" when its required but he doesn't need it nearly as much as he used to. My mother and I have more of a sisterly relationship than a mother-daughter relationship. We talk on the phone at least once a week for a couple hours and talk about everything from her joining a dating site to why my husband and I don't want children. I tend to be the big sister in the relationship, giving her advice and a push when she needs it. I think this is the role that my father filled in her life so I think she will continue to lean on me pretty heavily until she gets into another relationship.

I think my unique relationship with my mother and my brother makes for pretty relaxed in-law relations for my husband. When we visit my family, we can stay with my mother and still enjoy ourselves. My husband and I can go out and do things on our own without worrying about hurting her feelings or her guilting us into taking her along or not doing anything at all. She will join us when invited to go to the movies, bowling alley, etc. We can sit in her house and have a conversation with her without censoring ourselves. She neither smothers us nor ignores us. And if she does get on our nerves we can just tell her because she is no thin skinned. We see her more than some of the other relatives because its only a six hour drive and we don't have to spend a lot of money on a hotel. She is not religious and is politically fairly moderate to liberal so we share most of the same views on current events. Admittedly, she usually has a list of projects for us to complete when we come to visit since she lives on her own and the closest relatives are pretty far away. And my husband does have to listen to me complain when she's been leaning a little too heavily on me during our weekly phone conversations but, for the most part, I don't think he has a lot to complain about.

My brother and a few of my cousins are just like good friends to me. My husband and I can hang out with them like we would any one of our friends. There is no strain and they dislike members of my extended family as much as I do. Along with my mother, they make up what I would consider my immediate family. These are the people that my husband and I must visit and talk to regularly. While any travel is a bit of a chore, I usually look forward to these visits and am in good spirits after them. I cannot say the same for my husband's family.

He has one sister who I blatantly refer to as my favorite. She is married with two kids and we always have a lot of fun when we go to visit them. We do stay in a hotel when we go to visit them because we enjoy our personal space and neither of us has the patience to spend a long period of time with children. We always enjoy our visits with them and keep in touch regularly through social networking sites and the occasional phone call. While they are very religious and conservative it doesn't affect their ability to have fun. They are capable of being true to their faith without being too strict with their children or too repressed in their daily life. They seem to realize that there is nothing in the bible that says being faithful is equivalent to being miserable.

My husband also has another sister and a brother who are much older then him. My husband has fond memories of fun times that he had with all three of his siblings when he was younger but something happened to two of them after they got married. They both went from being mildly religious to being cult-like in their faith. My husband also has an aunt who filled the mother role for him in many situations in his past. Her and her husband are essentially my mother-in-law and father-in-law. All three family members warrant individual blogs for me to thoroughly explain their personalities and why they drive me crazy. But the common problem is that they all have selective memories where my husband is involved.

Much like my relationship with my father, my husband's mother was sick for much of his life. The main difference is that my husband was stuck living with and taking care of his mother because he was the youngest and all of his siblings had moved away to raise their families and live their lives. When my husband came to visit them he was happy to be free of the burden of taking care of his mother for a few days. When they came to visit him and his mother the impact of her illness was reduced because there were multiple people to split the tasks among and because she was in very good spirits because she had company that she didn't see often. While I am confident that my husband enjoyed these visits I also know that none of them really know who he is as a person even though they like to think that they do.

My husband's mother died four months after we met. While she knew me as a family friend my husband never had the chance to tell her that we were dating. Her death prevented the much warranted outburst that had been building in my husband for years. He never got the chance to tell his family how pissed off he was at them for deserting him. He had his own apartment near his mother for a few years before her death but he was still responsible for many of her daily needs. They know that he quit his job and moved to another state to start fresh to be with me a year after we met but they do not know that he was planning on making this change long before he met me. He never got the chance to take a stand and put himself first while his mother was still alive. They do not know the full extent of the substance abuse that my husband suffered through when he was trying to cope with this life that he did not chose. They barely know his likes and dislikes because their point of reference is the boy that he was 15 years ago, when they last spent significant time with him, and not the man that he is today. While my husband has become extremely skilled at biting his tongue around his family and putting his needs second I am not okay with this.

I try to be supportive of my husband but it is difficult not to point out how selfish many of his relatives are, how delusional they are about their relationships with my husband and how much they take him for granted. Part of me feels bad that we see my family more than we see his family but a bigger part of me knows that he can only handle his family in small doses because he can rarely relax and completely be himself in their company. So we will continue to visit the good sister and hope that the rest of them eventually come around. Because if they don't one day they are going to push my husband too far and he is going to unload years of anger and frustration that they are not ready to deal with.

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