Monday, November 26, 2007

In-Laws


There is a group of people with whom I have a dreadful time simply being. There is a group of people with whom I gather from time to time who cause me to choose to be vigilant and guarded. History has taught me that sharing my honest political and moral views, my most deeply held beliefs and spiritual musings, will result in heated arguments, uncomfortable discussions and, ultimately, judgement.

These are individuals whom I love and care for and truly wish I could find peace with. They possess the power to make me feel less. Less intelligent. Less 'cool'. Less important. When I am in their company I feel instantly transported back to the halls of my small-town high school and begin watching my every step for fear that I might make a mistake that will be noticed by someone waiting to pounce.

I am fairly certain that my guarded personality in some way contributes to the difficult dynamic in these situations, but I have been stung by hurtful comments in the past and the thought of letting go and simply disregarding their opinions of me as unimportant seems impossible. Inevitably at the end of each of these gatherings I am left examining my reactions. Why is it that I feel judged by them? Their habit as a group is to judge most other people. Why is it that I resist standing up to them? I know I won't change their minds and I can't hope to disrupt a dynamic that has been going on for decades. By stating my opinion I am painting myself with a bulls-eye and starting a chain reaction of arguments that will serve nobody's purposes. Even though it makes me uncomfortable, is it okay for me to spend these infrequent get-togethers shielding my true self from them in an effort to keep the waters around us calm?

I worry about the message my daughters will get from this. I worry that these people will never value me without truly knowing me for who I am. On the other hand, I value being able to spend a few days in a relatively calm state without fear of impending confrontation or being mocked. I know what my husband's advice would be: who cares what they think? My gut tells me it is important to stand up for who I am, but my head says it isn't worth the fighting and constant effort of justifying myself to others. The reality is, these people will be in my life in one way or another for a very long time. I chose to marry one of 'them'. Ironically, it was his love and devotion for them that was one of the reasons I found him so attractive. Also ironically, it is the fact that he is so different from them when he's not with them that gives me the most hope.

9 comments:

Michelle O'Neil said...

I think you just teach your kids that some things are worth taking a stand on and some aren't.

No reason to needlessly beat your head against the wall trying to convince anyone of anything. It never works anyway.

Let them duke it out and stand back as an observer, like you're doing a sociology experiment.

Hmmm...aren't these people fascinating?

Carrie Wilson Link said...

I agree with Michelle - it's important to teach your daughters to pick their battles. This is a battle you can't win, and you have to keep the peace as much as possible. I think as they get older you just tip your hand and let them know you love them, they are doing the best they can, but you struggle with how you feel when you are around them. They will encounter PLENTY of such people in their own lives, you are modeling for them.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, I have to do the same thing with my sister. She takes pleasure in mocking me with underhanded comments, but will deny it when confronted about it. I noticed the last time I spent time with her that her barbs were six years out of date because I hadn't given her any new ammunition lately. When I pointed out that her barbs were six years out of date - that shut her up! And she is still baffled by the fact that we're not close anymore.

Eileen said...

I read your post over and over because it is exactly how I have always felt about my husband's family. When we first started dating, everything about his family made me feel so inferior (sp?). It continues today, with a few members of his family are the worse. I have learned to let a lot go, and like Carrie said pick my battles. I use to and probably still do, complain to David later. He says, "I agree with you, but why does it bother you so much?" It does bother me, but I swear not as much as it use to. What is funny to me now is how my girls, who are teens now, are speaking up or questioning things being said. Respectfully, (ok, maybe not Melanie so much) but still speaking up and saying what they think) and inside I love it. What I have learned and really believe, having now spent 20 years married to this man, and having dated him since we were 18, that I am just as good as his family thinks they are, and my opinions, thoughts, feelings are just as valid and I still try to keep peace, but will speak up if I feel if it is too hurtful to me or my kids. Otherwise, I just consider the source and know they won't change. Sorry to rambling on, but this has been such an ongoing issue with me.
Love.

Michelle O'Neil said...

Came across this title today. Thought of you.

: )

Dina K. Poch's I [HEART] MY IN-LAWS: Falling in Love with His Family, One Passive-Aggressive, Over-Indulgent, Grandkid-Craving, Streisand-Loving, Bible-Thumping In-Law at a Time, a humorous guide to getting "in" with your man's family, from your first date to your first born. (Henry Holt)

MY OWN WOMAN... said...

You've been officially tagged! Write seven things about yourself and then tag seven other people. It's the law, you have to do it....and the law is the law!

MY OWN WOMAN... said...

I read your post and actually felt your discomfort. I too, am not close with my in-laws and I'm sure they have disapproved of me for the 30 years I have been married to their son.

I have to admit, that I can be an opinionated wench and most of the time have absolutely no problem voicing my opinion but when it comes to my in-laws, I generally remain silent on my feelings. I don't think I was ever intimidated by them, I just never opened my mouth to confront them.

I wondered a long time why I never spoke up since this is so out of character for me and then I realized that it was not that I felt "intimidated" by them, but I felt my husband deserved more respect from me than to just allow my "venom" to pour from my mouth at them. Perhaps there is a remote possibility that you feel the same way too.

There are so many things I would love to confront my in-laws with, starting with what they did to my husband as he grew up. But I will remain silent and trust that the "right timing" will eventually always present itself.

Miss Devylish said...

You already pick your battles better than they do, which you should realize. They're passive-aggressive and want more control than they have, which ultimately, is kind of sad. You've spoken up when you really thought you needed to and I was so proud of you. I wouldn't keep so quiet myself, but I'm not a good battle picker. Never have been. You see the bigger picture - and then go home and vent to S, which is overall, much healthier. :) He's who matters and your family. They only say things because they seriously don't understand.. and in their world, apparently ignorance is bliss. You and I know better tho. xoxo

Anonymous said...

You just described my relationship with my in-laws, mainly my mother in-law. You know this from what I have told you. I did the same and just did not make waves; if the comments were directed to me and not my kids then I will stay silent. When comments were directed to my kids I did step up and it was a disaster. As my kids get older being silent is not working. My son been asking why grandma say not so nice things to me and it is getting hard to explain why. I am lucky to have a husband that supports me and knows how his family can be. I feel if it were not for his father, my husband may not be the person he is. I love my in-laws, but it is tough to like them when some of them keep beating down the walls.

JLN

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