24 March 2006


WARNING: This is a major brain dump.

This post ("Parents") really got me thinking about what next weekend has in store for me. There are so many forces at work: the dynamics of having visitors, the somewhat strained/tenuous/explosive relationship I have with my in-laws, the cross-cultural factors, GH's illness, the impending arrival of the twins.

I have so much to say about all this that I don't even know where to begin.

I guess the best place to start is to say that next weekend, both my dad and GH's parents will be in town visiting us, my dad from Oregon and GH's parents from Michigan. Their reasons for coming are very different. My retired dad visits us all the time with no specific agenda. He just hangs out, tags along for whatever we have planned, experiences our life with us, takes us out for nice meals, and does little things around the house for us. GH's parents come for relatively infrequent, brief visits that are very goal-oriented. The goal of this trip is to buy our baby furniture for the twins' room. (More on that later.)

They were not supposed to come at the same time. GH's parents bought their tickets at the last minute (as is their habit, even though they'd been planning on coming for AGES), and then for the wrong weekend. Our condo is not big enough for all those visitors, so we told them they could either change their tickets or stay at a hotel since my dad had booked his ticket well in advance and had "dibs" on our spare room.

So. They elected to come at the same time as my dad. It's a good weekend for them, and the marriage-of-the-two families idea is important to them.

But it creates many headaches for me. Due to some unfortunate experiences with in-law visits early in our married life, I get all bunched up for a few days before they come, worried about how their visit will be. The good news is twofold: (1) We learned a lot from those early visits and now have groundrules regarding their stays; (2) The visits always go better than I expect. What gets me all worked up is that I don't really like the rules. The rules are that they get free rein in our house while visiting, but I can get rid of/change anything I don't like once they leave.

It's all so complicated. I know that as a good daughter-in-law, I should be respectful of my in-laws' age and wisdom. I have no problems with this when I'm at their house. But when they're at our house, I get very upset when they redecorate (they have thrown away some of our artwork--literally taken it to the trash--because they thought it brought bad karma to our house) and criticize what we wear, eat, etc. I'm proud of our house, and so it GH. I know that they are well intentioned, and I also know that they show love through their criticism (they want us to be our best, so in their eyes, the criticism is a caring form of advice and love), but it's not what I'm used to and not what my fragile psyche needs.

Then there is the constant implication that I'm not doing enough to take care of GH. They hate the fact that we both work and really think we should both be home focusing 100% on fighting cancer by reading, researching, getting second (third, fourth, fifth . . .) opinions, preparing macrobiotic foods, etc. That's what they would do. That's not what GH and I--as a team--have decided to do. It's very difficult for his parents to accept that we are doing things differently than they would. They have said to GH that they don't think we take his illness seriously, an assertion that is very hurtful to me. I take nothing more seriously than the fact that GH is dying. What could be more serious than that? They accuse GH of taking "my" side and tell him that because of me, he no longer listens to them. They cannot accept the fact that it's not that I force-feed him this stuff, we talk about it and come to joint decisions that work for us as a couple.

To be fair, I can't imagine what it must be like to have a sick child. I only know what it's like to have a sick husband. And since GH got his diagnosis a mere three weeks after our wedding, we never had a chance to negotiate the difficult in-law transition without all the illness stuff getting in the way. We never had a chance to set our limits and boundaries as a couple before cancer threw us all into a major tailspin.

So next weekend it's baby furniture. GH's parents are insisting on buying us baby furniture. On one hand, that's very nice of them; clearly the twins will need a place to sleep, and I know they will buy us something lovely and extravagant that we would never buy for ourselves. On the other hand, they have never once (OK, there was one time, but really only once) asked us what we need. We could get a perfectly serviceable and perfectly acceptable hand-me-down crib from friends. The baby industry kind of freaks me out--I hate that all this stuff gets made and put into the world and barely used, so just on principle, I'd rather use hand-me-downs for furniture and have GH's parents help us out with things that can't be reused: diapers, childcare payments. But for them, the furniture is important and so I'm trying to just enjoy the fact that it will be beautiful.

Ultimately, a lot of my feelings are just selfish. GH's parents were the most important people in GH's life for years and years. I've only been lucky enough to hold that position for three years. In fact, 5 April 06 will mark the three-year anniversary of our first date. Because I know that GH and I are on borrowed time, I want to make the most of it, of us, and I resent having to share him. I resent anyone questioning how we spend our time together, handle his illness, decorate our home. I don't want to share him. I know I have to, but I don't like it. At all.

I know I haven't always been the daughter-in-law that they want me to be. How do I know this? They've told GH. I know they don't feel particularly welcome at our house. Again, they've told GH that. I feel a lot of guilt about that, but I also feel like with everything that's going on, I just can't give them what they need right now. GH supports me on this; he has his own issues with his parents. And my awesome sister- and brother-in-law have run a lot of interference for us. We've all just gotten into a bad place where the in-laws don't respect what GH and I need, and therefore I am not motivated to respect what they need. I can take care of me, GH and (soon), the babies. I do not have it in me to be emotionally supporting other people. I just don't.

The sad part is that we all have the same goal: we all want GH to get well, or at least feel as good as he possibly can given the circumstances. Our ways of accomplishing that are so, so different, though, that we have a hard time working together.

As I said, the visits always go better than I expected, but I do have to go through all of these emotions every time a visit comes around. Writing about it here has helped. Maybe I will be able to be a little more calm than usual leading up to next Friday.


Yankee T said...

Oh, dear, Snickers, what a shame. Your feelings are obviously well-founded, and all I can hope for is that it DOES go better than you expect. I cannot imagine being in any of the shoes you wear-fearful wife, excited mama-to-be, anxious daughter-in-law. I'm glad the sister- and brother-in-law are helpful. I'll be thinking of you. Concentrate on enjoying your dad.

Leggy said...

I'm actually amazed that you can be as fair and generous to your inlaws as you have been. I've had my share of inlaw issues and its hard sometimes to recognize that they do what they do out of love/concern for either my husband, my son, or me.

But, that doesn't make them any less annoying. In a way, its a good thing that they can't stay with you, as they will be less in the way. And having your dad there may help deflect some of their criticisms.

I hope next weekend goes well. And I hope you can keep your brain from obsessing about it beforehand. You are in tough situation all the way around, and I think you are handling it amazingly well.

Dorcasina said...

As always, I feel so sympathetic, and so much of your frustration is so very familiar to me. I think you are being very loving to them and to GH, and I hope you can find ways to let off steam so that the entire toll for all of the pleasantness doesn't get taken out of *you*. Can you and your dad sneak out to a movie or something? Shoot skeet?

I got lots and lots and lots of the "you're not taking good enough care of him" stuff from my in-laws; my m-i-l nearly drove me crazy with recipes, nagging, reminders, and "suggestions" about radical diet makeovers that would involve nothing less than overnight international flights to Asian specialty food bazaars...okay, maybe not quite that bad.

But as you clearly know already, this is just what *any* of us do when we feel helpless; for me, it helped when m-i-l started doing some of the chemo trips with my husband. I found myself giving her prepackaged and labeled snacks, and chastising her if he missed a calorie boost or any meds. There's just so little we can control about this wretched disease, and you are smart (and strong, and aren't I sorry that you, too, have to be "strong") to realize that it isn't personal.

And now I feel horrid; my husband's diagnosis was a year after our marriage, and I had felt so cheated. I am so sorry that this dark cloud has hung over so much of your and GH's time together.

Sending wishes for serenity for you, GH, the babies, and the extended families--

lct said...

Snick, you and I have talked about this one on multiple occasions, and being the emotional twins we are, I empathize with your befuddlement. My own parents have not tried to tell me what to do for years. And knowing your parents, I'm guessing they don't try to control your life either. I'm sorry you have to deal with this kind of emotional/relational stress on top of everything else; it seems so unnecessary. However, you deserve A LOT of credit here -- your ability and willingness to see it from their perspective and to cut them so much slack is AMAZING. Your generosity of spirit and ability to forgive under such circumstances are astounding. And I'm glad to hear your sis/bro-in-law are running interference. Hopefully, that helps some.

I wish I had some more helpful advice for you, but really I think you are doing an amazing job already. If I were there now, I'd insist on taking you out for ice cream or some other treat today. In my absence, perhaps you will consider treating yourself?

Much love.

OTRgirl said...

I can't believe they threw away your art! I'm sure that's just one small example but I would be furious! So, yeah, in light of that degree of micromanagement you are being very generous emotionally. It took me 7 years or so before I stopped doing the massive emotional tizzy before each in-law invasion. I'm sorry that your life circumstances magnify the tension way beyond 'normal' levels!!