Today I was sitting at my desk in work having lunch that I had packed from home. It was leftovers from Sunday lunch that my mother-in-law had cooked, and delicious, to say the least. My husband and I often go there on Sundays and she always cooks a lovely lunch for us, my father-in-law and my brother-in-law. They eat a lot of pepper in their food, whereas I am allergic to it and eat none at all. So my mum-in-law stopped cooking with pepper when she knows I’m coming, or she would cook the food separately for me. In addition, she always cooks enough so that I would have enough to take to work the next day. If all of this wasn’t incredible enough, she would prepare a half cooked casserole and freeze it for me to take home so that I can cook it during the week. She even bakes bread for us just because we love it. These things are just the tip of the food-iceberg that she shares with me. So as I was having my wonderful lunch today, it had me thinking about in-laws.
My husband and I had a lot of external factors working against us when we started dating. As a result, his parents were always conservative and cautious not knowing me very well, at the time. I suppose their greatest concern was that their 30 year old son wanted to marry a 40 year old divorcée. On any level, no matter how liberal parents may be, this would have been a hard pill to swallow. Yet, not one day did they ever make me feel that this was a concern for them. I know of so many other families with lesser issues, where parents refused to be a part of their union. I often asked myself, why his parents were so accepting of me and of our marriage, even after knowing they would be getting no grandchildren from us!
The relationship between parents and their children-in-law is not exactly a straightforward one and there seems to be no formula for ensuring a healthy one, much like parenting itself, I suppose. I see and hear so many horror stories between my friends and their in-laws. Yet, there are so many beautiful relationships that have developed in other families. It is always extremely saddening to hear people I know speak ill of their in-laws, especially when nothing malicious was done to them. I have heard complaints of how annoying and foolish they find their husband’s mothers to be; and others complain about their hygiene and how poorly they babysit the grandchildren. I have even heard that they can’t relate to their in-laws because of the self-proclaimed disparity between them, in class, education, culture and upbringing. I understand that there are genuine circumstances of bad relations and bad habits and even ill intentions between younger and older in-laws.
What resonates the most with me is the consequence of our choices in how we treat our in-laws and the effects they have on our marriages. As I have said numerous times in various articles before this one, I cannot speak for anyone else. I can only share my experiences and my humble opinions…and sometimes I share my not-so-humble ones, as well. Completely understanding and accepting on no level, that I am anywhere close to perfect, it goes without saying that neither would my or anyone else’s in-laws be. They are a completely different family from the one in which I was raised, with similar or sometimes different values and customs and certainly with their own unique personality, just like my family.
It would be unrealistic of me to think that I was marrying into a family that was exactly like mine or that my role in my husband’s family should ever be the same as the role I play in my own. One of the most important lessons I learnt in being a daughter-in-law, is my place and role in his family. It isn’t a role that was bestowed unto me, or told to me, or taught to me. It is a role I adopted after much reflection on possible consequences. I haven’t been married for long, this second time around, but I’ve learnt a thing or two along the way:
– My role isn’t to control the route his family takes or to dictate their pace. At the end of the day, it’s their family that I met that way. My addition should be an asset rather than a liability and I should be there as an accessory rather than an entire gown. It isn’t for me to tell them how they should do things or to disapprove of how they run their family.
– If my husband chooses to share information with me about his family, it’s his choice, just as it is his choice not to. As I said, it is his family, and he is not mandated to make me a part of decisions that they need to make. If he shares occurrences, problems or opinions about his family, it is for me to listen and support him. I do not feel it is for me to swagger myself on to a high horse and tell him how his family is wrong and how they should do things, because I say so. My role is his support, not their dictators.
– They are my elders, my new surrogate parents, and people who have a whole lot more experience than I do. So I listen when they speak. If I agree or disagree, I am respectful of how I express either to them. They do know more than I do and they know better than I do with most things. I may not agree with their generational customs and advice, but neither will my nieces and nephews agree with mine in twenty years. So I listen as attentively as I can, and try to understand who they truly are and why and hope that I can learn something along the way.
– I am not and will never be better than them. We are different…everyone is, but these are people who have feelings and problems and similar experiences just like me. They have been educated, raised and succeeded in their own right, whether differently from me or not. But I am not better than them and if I ever treated them like that, it would be sending a very bold message to them that they aren’t very good, and therefore, neither is their son.
– When I do feel the need to stand my ground…and that’s really only when the ‘baby’ talk starts; I try to do so as humorously and as respectfully as I can. It is funny really, how parents-in-law find very clever ways of slipping in the topic, adding a dash of guilt and a pinch of sadness. It is the one thing I had to decide that I can’t give to them, and I love how they are coming to respect that.
– I will never insult my husband in their presence. In fact, it’s not a habit that I want to develop in the privacy of our home either. But then again, with a husband like mine, if you don’t have a very broad and varied sense of humour, suicide or divorce are viable options at times. His and my parents need to see how I love and respect him, rather than just assume that I do, and vice versa. As my father-in-law said at our wedding, respect and tolerance are the keys to a healthy marriage. For me, it wasn’t just him saying that. It was seeing him and his wife live like that all the time. They embody what they advise, and in doing so, set the bar at a beautiful level to which we can aspire to reach.
– I love being able to go there any day and at any time and be offered home cooked food. My dad passed away fourteen years ago and my mum and step-dad live abroad. My in-laws’ home is like going to my parents’ home, with people there who are always willing to provide, please and protect. They became my parents in this country while my husband and I have parents in another one as well. It doesn’t get much better than that. They love if we spend the night, wake up and have coffee with them, or just come home for a meal and some drinks…usually a lot of drinks (another reason they are awesome sauce).
– They help me to understand my husband, which on my own, often feel like a self-taught PhD. I see him in them. I see my brother-in-law in them. I see how they work as a unit. I see how they think. I see how they see things. I see my husband through their eyes, and he starts to make more sense to me. They are like a magnifying glass through which I can see not just who he is, but how he is made up, how he thinks and see things, and of course how he feels.
– Joining a family through marriage is like immersing yourself into an entirely new culture. It can be overwhelming, a bit irritating to get accustomed to, entertaining, enlightening and dazing. However, immersion into any new culture means you learn things you never thought existed. More so, the entertainment value is extremely high, especially at special occasions. I was a little but traumatised for the first birthday celebration I attended there. Of course, my husband NEVER prepared me for it in advance, because it was so utterly normal and natural for him. With no notice or previous knowledge, after then meeting them for the sum total of the second time in life, I realised that they all went around in turn and said something about the birthday celebrant. So I had to do it as well, in front of everyone, after meeting them only once before. It’s funny now, not so much then, and my husband and I did have a very long chat about it on the way home. But I am now a part of this new culture, and I love it.
Marriage isn’t always easy and it isn’t made any easier when relationships with in-laws are strained. At the end of the day, parents, especially the smart, more evolved ones, would choose to love their children more than they will ever allow themselves to hate their children-in-law. This helps them to tolerate and accept us easier and respect the choices of their children. It is only parents who are willing to chance losing their children, by hating their children’s mates, decide to not be a part of the union. This is a real lesson to me. I understand that loving my husband is much more important to me that disapproving of his family, even members who may not adore me. The door swings both ways.
The most important thing that my husband and I try to remember, and it really isn’t very hard to, is that these parents gave to us the person we love most in this world. His parents raised a most amazing man who would not have the kindness, generosity of self, honesty and ability to forgive, if it wasn’t for them. They created and helped to shape a man that amazes me and astounds me almost every day that we are together. They did that. I cannot possibly love and respect him as much as I do, without understanding the extreme ramification the love that he gives to me would have been impossible without them. So if for no other reason, other than the fact that they gave me this most precious gift, THEIR most precious gift, I will always try to make them happy by making him happy.