Here it comes: the mother of all mother-in-law posts. I feel a need to get the whole story out there.
The key things to know about my MIL are:
She is Korean and moved to the US when she was in her late 20s knowing no English.
She is a perfectionist.
She is incredibly intuitive about people.
She fights dirty and she would be the first to admit it.
She sees the world in absolutes: all or nothing, black or white.
She does not know the meaning of the word compromise.
When we first met, I think she genuinely liked me. For starters, she and GH's dad were both thrilled that one of their three kids was finally getting married. At 31, GH was past his prime in a Korean parent's mind. She liked that I was an editor (she's a writer) and that I had an interest in and respect for Korean culture. She liked that I was close to my family. She loved that I loved her son so much.
At first, our relationship was fine. She was then and still is on a quest to make me over; I don't dress stylishly enough for her or wear enough make-up. To try to fix this, she's always gifting me really nice shoes and handbags and clothes. I'm not going to argue with that, and I'm a strong enough person not to take that kind of things personally. So the reason that she bought me a Coach handbag is that she was horrified by my REI mini-backpack? So what? It's still a gorgeous Coach handbag!
I initially found her quirky. She's an intelligent, strong, well educated woman with no life skills. She is completely helpless when it comes to money or anything else practical. I think it's a learned helplessness--she's plenty smart to understand personal finance. She chooses not to. I found the juxtaposition between her uncanny book and people smarts and her complete lack of street smarts odd and kind of funny.
Fast forward, but just a few months because there was only eight months between when I met GH's family and when we got married. We get married. He gets his cancer diagnosis three weeks later. The day after he gets his diagnosis, his mom and dad show up at our house. At this point, GH is still working. He's actually transitioning to a new job. (Hello, can you say awkward? But that's another post.) I've taken a few days of unofficial, off-the-books leave from work because I am a complete and utter mess. This leaves me at home with GH's parents all day while GH works.
What happens in a nutshell is that they take over the house. They clean. They cook. They rearrange the furniture. They throw away things they don't like, including a painting done by a friend of ours. They buy us a new mattress and a few lamps. I'm so completely out of it that although I find their actions intrusive, I just don't have the wherewithall to stop them.
Meanwhile, GH and I are trying to make decisions about his treatment. We're talking to doctors, we're reading. So are his parents. GH and I are coming to different conclusions than his parents regarding action to take. This creates friction.
I dwell on this early stuff because from it emerge two themes that haunt me in my in-law relationship:
1. As Korean parents, they feel it is their duty to right to run their children's lives, especially in a time of crisis like this. To them, the home that GH and I share is just as much their home to do in as they please. They see no problem with taking over the kitchen, redecorating, etc. I find this almost impossible to deal with.
2. As a Korean son, it is GH's place to be dutiful and do what his parents tell him to do. When he and I started to make treatment decisions that they did not agree with, they could not accept that their dutiful son would not do what they said. So I became a convenient scapegoat. And thus I have remained.
When I say "they" in reference to GH's parents, I really mean his mother. Honestly, GH's dad is not so bad. If I had to boil down my beef with my MIL to one core issue it's that she shows no respect for me, my home, or my relationship with her son. I readily acknowledge that much of this is cultural--she is the elder, she is my MIL. OK, I get it, I really do. But I am not Korean and we are living in the United States. The cultural thing has to be a two-way street. She has to be wiling to acknowledge that as an American daughter-in-law, my expectations are going to be different. And she steadfastedly refuses to see that. I cannot be the only one to compromise here, I just can't.
And thus from that beginning we have had a two-and-a-half year spiral of GH and I making joint decisions that, if his mother doesn't like, she blames on me. Meanwhile, we're struggling with the usual mother/daughter-in-law stuff, the "You took my son away from me" stuff that I think the majority of MsIL and daughters in law go through, we just have it layered on top of this horrible cancer situation.
I feel like what I want is so simple. I want her to respect me and GH as a couple. I want her to stop trying to run our lives. I know this is not nearly as simple as it seems since she's just doing her job as she sees it.
I wish she could see how much her constant badgering wears on GH. He's exhausted after he talks to her. It's nothing but "Do this! Eat that! Wear this! Drink that!" She's really into alternative medicine and some of her suggestions are really ridiculous, too. (In fairness, some are good, but some? Crazy.) She sends us nearly a package a day. She'll Express Mail us boxes that cost $30.00 to send and contain a Ziploc bag of almonds. We have almonds in Boston! So we have to open the package, deal with recycling the box, find somewhere to put the almonds in our tiny house. She once sent us a five-pound Tupperware of seaweed salad. I love seaweed salad, but we can't eat five pounds of it! Especially five pounds that has been SENT THROUGH THE MAIL.
I don't mean to sound ungrateful. Why can't I just open the boxes, trash what we don't want, and move on, you might ask? That's what we do, but I still resent the time I spend doing it. It may not sound like much, but the sheer volume of stuff she sends creates a time drain in the processing. I barely have enough time to think, much less open endless boxes of stuff I don't need or want. I'm also bothered by the udnerlying control issue. I want to control my own life. Every box she sends is a reminder of how she's trying to do this job for me.
I know she's terrified of losing her son and she's just doing what she needs to do to deal with that. She sends stuff and bosses GH around. GH's dad goes to church for hours and hours each week. His sister talks and talks and talks and engages in some self-destructive behavior. His brother tries to keep life as normal as possible. We all have our ways of dealing with things. His mom's just happens to have a direct impact on our day-to-day life that I find draining and intrusive.
It's so tiring to write about and I'm so sick of thinking about it. I'm sick of accommodating her needs. I'm sick of the packages. I'm sick of her wasting GH's precious energy. I'm sick of being the scapegoat. I'm sick of her childish behavior. When she comes to visit, she expects that we will drive her to the mall, to Barnes and Noble, so she won't get bored. I need all my reserves to care for me, GH, and the babies! I cannot be running her all over tarnation!
This whole situation is exacerbated by the fact that I have a great relationship with my parents and welcome their visits. When they come to visit, they do everything they can to take care of me, GH, and the babies. They shop for groceries, they ask what we want to eat and they cook it, they ask what they can do to help and do what we request. They encourage GH to rest. They respect us and our home. That's the bottom line.
Writing about it makes it sound like it's not that bad. My MIL is not here much. I suppose I should be able to grin and bear it when she is. I just don't like being treated like a child, even if I'm married to her child. I'm used to being treated like an adult. I don't know.
This is a long, somewhat senseless post. There's really nothing to do. I am her scapegoat. GH telling her to back off just sounds like, "Snick told you to tell me to back off" to her. I'm behind every decision GH makes that she doesn't like. I can't change that. She won't compromise, so there's no meeting in the middle, and I'm too tired at this point to meet her on her side.
I am a problem-solver, but I've gone around and around on this one and I can't find the solution. I've asked her how we can work together to help GH. She won't discuss it with me. What else can I do?
We want the same thing. We want GH to be healthy and happy. She refuses to accept that GH and I are the ones to decide how to make that happen. She wants to make those decisions that aren't hers to make. She keeps trying to control.
It's exhausting. If anyone is still reading, you must be exhausted, too, from the sheer magnitude of how much I've written.
I think I'll go get ready for bed and snuggle with GH. I need a hug.