Sometimes, it’s like my life has a theme. Lately, my theme seems to be “Thank God For My In-Laws”. Several of my girlfriends are at absolute odds with their husbands’ families, making me raise my hands and give thanks. (In my agnostic way, of course.) My in-laws have always welcomed me. I have never felt awkward or outcast at family gatherings, and I have never questioned their love for my children. Never. Not once. And that’s priceless.
Similarly, my parents welcomed Scott from day one. My sister, not so much. But then, she never exactly welcomed me, either (never mind that I was born first). By the time I brought Scott home for the first time, I had met everyone in his family except for maybe his sister Susan. (And I seem to think I had met Susan and I just can’t remember it. I can’t remember my first meeting with Susan, and I can’t remember my first meeting with Scott’s Dad and stepmom. I just remember liking them all and feeling the emotion reciprocated.) He had met all of my family except Amye.
I had warned him what to expect from my sister, and she stayed true to form. It was November. We drove down the driveway in Scott’s car, and she flounced out to the car in a pair of daisy dukes and a string bikini top. She was seventeen years old with a supermodel’s physique. She knew perfectly well that we were coming. She walked up to the car, eyed Scott up and down, then turned away, the queen dismissing an unworthy subject. “Oh. It’s with Jessie,” she said. It’s with Jessie. Not “He”. “It”. The message was clear. He had chosen the wrong sister and would not receive a second chance. He was now subhuman, just like me. (But he could gaze at the gift he had missed by arriving with the peasant in his car.) He was openly disgusted. I was so used to it that I didn’t even bother to be surprised.
Also unsurprisingly, the longer she rejected my husband, the more distant she and I grew. (Again, not that we were ever very close. I didn’t have much patience with someone who was simultaneously jealous and judgmental of me.) And by the time she died, we had no relationship to speak of. The tension she created with Scott was only part of that fracture, but it was a very real one.
My own parents had similar problems, only the breaking point worked in a different way. My Mom and paternal grandparents always got along. They clicked right away, and even now that my parents are divorced, my Mom sends my Dad’s father a Christmas gift every year. But my Dad and Maternal grandparents? Yeah, there’s a different story.
As deeply as I love my Mummum and Poppa, I do think a lot of the trouble here stems from the relationship they created with my Dad. He was never good enough for them, he could never support their daughter appropriately, and (worst of all in my grandmother’s eyes) he took that daughter North of the Mason-Dixon line. (My grandfather got so sick of this complaint that he managed to convince my grandmother that since the original Mason-Dixon line is somewhere around Pennsylvania, her Ohio grandchildren were actually born in the South. Well played, Poppa; well played.) Oh yeah, my grandmother was a Southerner.
Anyway, after my parents married, the relationship kind of stagnated at neutral. But then, Dad accidentally drove in the final coffin nail when I was born. Two years previously, in 1974, my uncle Bishop had died, leaving my grandparents crushed. My birth in 1976 was probably the first good truly thing to happen to them since that time. But Dad was a musician, living on the road, who only had that first week of my life to get to know me before he had to leave again. So he refused to let my grandparents come see me in the hospital. Ouch. They never forgave him.
Family gatherings, he would hole himself up in the upstairs of their house, barely emerging from an upstairs bedroom (Bishop’s old bedroom) to socialize. When they came to our house, he retreated upstairs into his music. When Dad did emerge, Mummum lobbed veiled insults in his direction, and cross-generational conversations were landmines. My grandmother’s naturally morose nature, exacerbated by my uncle’s death, left her with almost no room for conversational kindness. I’d have hidden, too, in his shoes.
The guilt ran both ways by the end, and it was nearly impossible to sort out who was really to blame. But where my sister’s dislike of Scott increased the gulf between us siblings, the end result of the tension between my father and maternal grandparents was that it contributed to the gulf in my parents’ marriage. Was it the whole cause of their divorce? Oh hell no. But, since my Mom was very close to her parents, when it came time to choose up sides in any argument, she went with them nearly all the time. Not that they noticed. My grandmother was convinced Dad forced Mom to live in poverty in a house that barely had heat and running water. She would never have believed that Dad wanted to move to California at one point but Mom dug in her heels. After the divorce, they could not understand why my mother stayed in Ohio, since they never understood why she wanted to be there in the first place.
I could give a thousand more similar examples, but I think you get the idea. I have good reason to be grateful for my in-laws. And I have good reason to make my own efforts to keep a positive relationship with them. (Not that they make it hard. Like I said, I have fantastic in-laws). And if I didn’t have examples from my own life to help keep that in the forefront of my mind, my friends have them in plenty.
One friend’s father-in-law, who is really a step-father-in-law, likes to parade around naked. He claims to be a nudist, but he’s really just an asswipe. My paternal grandfather is a nudist in the right situations, but I somehow never saw him naked once in my entire life. This guy has paraded nude in my friend’s backyard before. Can anybody say ugh? She and her husband ride a constant line between expelling this father-figure from the family and trying to make sure their own son has a relationship with his paternal grandmother.
Another friend’s parents think their son-in-law is controlling their daughter just because their daughter’s lifestyle is drastically different from their own. (And even significantly different from her own just a few years ago.) These parents actually like their son-in-law pretty well, and he likes them. But they constantly undermine the relationship by doubting the choices my friend and her husband make as a couple. They assume that since my friend has chosen to leave the workforce and become a stay at home Mom, her husband is forcing her to do so. In spite of having raised this woman, they have forgotten that she is, like me, the sort of person who never does things by halves. And that makes everybody tense when they’re all together.
Finally, and this is the one that is most strongly fixed in my mind these days, one of my dearest friend’s 9 year marriage nearly dissolved this year at this holidays due to her rocky relationship with her in-laws. I’m not sure who is at fault in that one. It sounds like a situation with a lot of closed minds and thoughtless words. But it was enough to nearly drive apart two people I love dearly. That one comes home the hardest for me because the winter holidays are just the most awful time of year in my own house.
If I didn’t have a good relationship with my in-laws, I’m sure they would want to murder me about six hundred thousand times every Christmas Season. I mean, these folks are Christmas people. It’s their favorite holiday (Scott’s, too), and yet I have never been much above the level of a bah-humbugger. Yet I always feel peaceful with them at that worst time of the year. I don’t feel forced to feel as they do about the season, and yet I feel welcome to bask in their enjoyment of it. I have absolutely no idea how they create this environment. All of them do it. And we’re talking about thirteen people here. I never feel anything but love from them.
And I think I’m rambling now, way off topic and out of time for writing. So I’ll just come back to my original point and say that my life lately has a theme, and it’s this: If I had been forced to choose my husband by first picking my in-laws, I’d have still wound up married to the same man. And that’s a rarity.