09 February 2007

O Blogging, How I Miss Thee

GH has the twins out on a late afternoon drive, so I'm finally stealing some time to blog. It's been so long that I don't even know where to start!

As mentioned in the previous post, I've been rather overwhelmed at work. Tasks keep getting handed to me, and none of them are things that I find particularly interesting. This is frustrating. While some of the tasks actually offer some fairly significant opportunities for growth, they all also come with the privilege (or so she'd have you believe) of working with a colleague who is the ultimate in condescending. She's an awful combination of know-it-all, bad listener, terrible communicator, and narcissist. She's smart and experienced, but her way of sharing her wisdom is just horrible. Combine that with my extreme sensitivity to people talking down to me and it's a really bad combination. Argh.

So work is taking its toll on me lately. That's kept me away from blogging just because I've been too busy during the day to sneak in postings. The other thing that's kept me away is that I've just needed a mental break. Not from the blogging, per se, as I've actually really missed it. But since I haven't been able to blog at work, that leaves me the evenings to get a post up. And lately, I've needed the evenings to myself. This week, once the twins have gone to bed, I've taken care of the essentials around the house and then it's been about the big glass of wine and a DVD. I'm getting hooked on Grey's Anatomy.

The mental break is partially from the stress of work. An even larger part of it is from the aftermath of my mother-in-law's visit. She was here for two weeks. She left last Saturday. Overall, her visit went like most of her visits do. We were polite to each other, but there was an undercurrent of tension that you could cut with a knife. On the day before she left, I just couldn't take it anymore and we ended up in a screaming match.

It was awful on one hand, but cathartic on another. While nothing was really resolved, the air did feel more clear after it was all over.

What set the screaming match off is of no consequence--it was minor thing on the surface, the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. The undercurrents at work are mostly cultural. Coming from a Korean perspective, where she has the wisdom of age on her side:

1. She honestly can't comprehend why GH and I would not do what she says. We are the children. She is the mother. It is not our place to question, it is our place to do.
2. The idea that she is a guest in our house is quite literally foreign to her. She is family. In her mind, it's her house, too, and when she's here, I start to feel like a guest in my own home.

There is another, noncultural element at work too, a problem that I think most mothers- and daughters-in-law struggle with. It's one that's embarrassing for me to admit, but it's true. I want to be number one in GH's life. I want him to love me best. I want him to love me more than he loves his mother. Rationally, I know this is crazy--it's not a matter of loving her more or me more. I'm his wife, she's is mother. It's different. But there's still a part of me that wants to know that he loves me more. I know she feels the same way. That creates it's own tension, which, because of our situation with GH's cancer, is even more acute than it is for most couples.

Regarding the cultural stuff, I really don't know what to do. I like to think that I'm very respectful and aware of cultural differences. At the same time, I am a born-and-bred American and we're living in the United States. The idea that my home is my space is very, very important to me, as is the understanding that I'm an adult who makes her own decisions. My own parents are very respectful of both of those boundaries. While I may ask them for advice, they know that I--or GH and I together for couple-type things--ultimately make decisions on my own. When they don't agree with those decisions, they accept them even if it's hard for them to do so. When they visit, they make themselves at home and do things to help us, but in the context of asking us what it is that we would find helpful and only getting so comfortable as to not invade our privacy.

We have a small house. It's a two-bedroom, one bath, 1,100 square foot condo. We have two kids. I work full-time. GH and I don't get a lot of couple time and I get virtually no alone time. Having someone living in our living room (oh, the irony of the room's name!) meant that I really didn't get any alone time at all while my mother-in-law was here. Couple that with the stress I was under at work and I was wound pretty damn tight while she was here.

So we screamed at each other. As I said, it cleared the air in its own way. But it didn't resolve anything. I can't change her culture. She can't change mine. I feel like I'm willing to meet in the middle, but she's said that compromise is not a part of her game.

How can it be so difficult for us to get along when we both want the same thing? We just want the best for GH. Us not being able to work on that together is causing him stress that makes me feel awful. I feel like it's my mother-in-law who is being unreasonable. I'm having so much trouble seeing my part in this. The only "solution" I see is to let her be in charge, even in my own home. That's a bitter, bitter pill to swallow. Is that my only option?

What I wish could happen is that we could play by her rules at her house and GH and my's rules at our house. Another aspect of this problem is that when GH and I make decisions that she doesn't agree with (about medical treatment, kids, whatever), she thinks that I'm the sole decision maker, that I push GH do do things he wouldn't do if I weren't around. This is patently not true, but I make a very convenient scapegoat. (You can extrapolate that to the idea that if GH dies, his parents will blame me, but that's a post all of it's own.) If GH asks that she not send us so many care packages because we can't possibly eat all that food, for example, she hears me talking, not him. This, of course, only serves to make GH feel all the more trapped in the middle, which is stressful to him and counterproductive to the whole situation since we are all working for the same outcome.

Madeleine's physical therapy is a part of Early Intervention services. As part of EI, we can talk to a counselor about family stress. I met with the counselor for the first time today. Maybe she can help me with some of these issues. I'm probably going to be seeing her weekly. GH can join me if he wants. Hopefully she can help me work through some of these issues.

I want to end by saying that I don't mean to sound ungrateful to my mother-in-law for all the things she does for us. She is an amazing cook. She is very intuitive with the babies. She loves GH and I know that she also loves me. And I know that everything she does for us she does because of that love and because she truly believes that she is helping us. Ultimately, what I don't know how to resolve is that she's never asked GH or me what kind of help we want. She makes that decision on her own. When we've tried to guide her, she just does her own thing anyway, and then she gets mad if we ignore her advice, throw away what she sends us, etc. That kind of "help" creates stress for both me and GH. How can we balance her needs with ours? How can we all work together? I asked these questions during our screaming match, but that was hardly the circumstance under which to have a productive discussion. I go around and around and around in my head about this and ultimately come back to what I said earlier: If she's said flat-out that she's not going to change, all I can change is my attitude and my reactions. I'm just getting so worn out and stretched so thin that I don't know if I have the strength to do that. I'm so tired of managing other people's needs. So very tired.


LeggyP said...

Argh- I want to scream on your behalf. I hear you, on multiple levels (including the dynamic re: cancer, although ours is in the past, not the present).
Yes, there is nothing you can do to change her, but it doesn't mean its okay for her to run you over in your own home. She may think she doesn't need to try to understand your POV because she's the "elder", but in your own home, I don't think its unreasonable to set some groundrules. I hope you and GH can find a way to balance her needs with yours. I hear you on how damn hard it is to do that- I struggle with it too.

Rachel said...

That sounds so hard, especially on top of everything else you are going through. Maybe it would help if she got a hotel room? Can you say, "Uh-huh" and then just secretly do things your own way? Email me if you want to talk more about the cultural stuff. I can relate.

DoctorMama said...

"The only 'solution' I see is to let her be in charge, even in my own home. That's a bitter, bitter pill to swallow. Is that my only option?"

From everything you've said, yes. You will never, ever change her. But it will only work if you see it as a solution, not a "solution."

I have some mother-in-law issues too, so I know where you're coming from -- though not where you are, given twins and cancer. You're in an awful position. But I know that once I quit trying to stop my MIL from bringing/sending crazy packages (do you know how many ugly green towels she's given us? A dozen, at least) and feeding crazy things to the child and taking it personally when she makes comments about being a good wife or mother, life is muuuuch more relaxed. It would be one thing if she were living here, but I can do it every couple months. Remembering that she does love my husband and son but is just a little nuts keeps me from wanting to throttle her.

Anonymous said...

Sorry it's been a rough few weeks Snick...on the MIL front, I have very little to offer. I don't have one, don't have that dynamic really in my life. Dealing with difficult people, or should I say those very set in their own ways, is just that, difficult. I admire your willingness to continually try, at some point I agree that your efforts to let go of the stress will be the only option really. I hope things at work settle down soon.

Lots of love to you and family:)

Marie-Baguette said...

The thing that usually works is having the hubby put his foot down and take the defense of his wife. I have seen it several times, and it works! DOn't drive yourself crazy, but ask that your hubby have a talk with his mum (or his dad, who will report to his wife). And I don't buy the "culture" excuse: annoying MIL are a pain, whether or not they are from the same culture! Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Delurking here... I just want to write and tell you that I can empathize. I'm full Korean, but was born and raised in America, and lived my life (and still do) with a lot of conflicting idealogies and customs. I can (or at least, I think I can) relate to your frustrations. My mom (who has since passed away) would probably have acted and said the same things that your MIL does. I know how hard it is to feel protective of your life and space with your husband and family and not feel invaded when she comes to visit.

My SIL (married to my brother), had similar issues. She tried to swallow that pill too but was definitely hurt at times by the things my mom did or said to her. I felt awful for her, and even though I know that my mom loved her, I know that it hurt her, and what could I say to that? At times, my brother (and/or sometimes I) would tell my mom to back off and she would be surprised and then feel very very badly that her words hurt my SIL. And then try and explain how cultural tendencies can be miscontrued. I guess she tried to listen, but in the end, she got defensive.

Sorry this is rambling on and on... I guess I just wanted to say, hang in there. I love my mom and miss her so much everyday, but I do know how much her words and actions could hurt too, and even though I know she loved my SIL (and honestly, my SIL loved her very much too), I know how merging into other people's families—and especially into their cultures—is very difficult. And frustrating.

On top of that, you are dealing with your husband's illness. Which I'm so sorry to hear about.

Anyway, just wanted to chime in. With what, I'm not really sure. But, your post made me feel a little sad and I wanted to write and tell you that you're not alone. Sometimes dealing with those other customs don't seem very fair, especially when you have so much else to deal with. It sounds like things got better at the end and hopefully your relationship with her will get better too.

Amy said...

Ugh... :(

My MIL is a dear. I wish you had the same. When visiting our house I am the matriarch (albeit one that wants to satisfy her guests). But at no time does she stomp her foot or try to dominate OUR home. Never.

Cultural differences I understand, but what you went through? EXTREMELY hard to bear..

amy at amyinbc@gmail.com