Monday, December 27, 2010

In Which In-Laws Feature Prominently

When Dr. S and I were first married, my in-laws detested and disapproved of me. Now, we enjoy a quiet détente punctuated by irritation on my part. As far as I can tell, they are not capable of consistently behaving like adults.

They spend their money on toys and shiny new cars, and then complain that retirement has left them poor. (Their retirement income is over twice our income, and is, along with cheap health insurance, guaranteed by the state.) They act petty when thwarted; most recently, Dr. S's mother told him to not call, only email, because we weren't coming for Christmas. They offer to come here, and then are miffed when we expect them to actually do so. They tell Dr. S what to do, and are annoyed when he doesn't, because he's an adult and hasn't lived with them for 15 years, thank you very much. When the inconsistencies are pointed out to them- by Dr. S; I'm not getting involved- they are even more miffed.

My parents, by contrast, are perfect! No, not really. But capable of taking responsibility for their own actions. Also, although they very, very occasionally offer unsolicited advice, they don't expect me to follow it. And aside from my mother's recent foray into Insane Sarah Palin territory (what came OVER her???? my mother, not Palin), they vote Democrat.

Dr. S loves his parents. And they are, in addition to being annoying, kind, generous, loving people. As long as we stay away from politics (poor people are not 'all lazy'; people of color are not 'inherently different', at least not in the way they mean, and tax cuts for the wealthy are not 'sound economic policy') we can mostly get along.

My problem is, there is this underlay of... well, contempt... in my interactions with them. I don't trust them to respect our choices for our family. I think they behave like spoiled children on many occasions. On a very fundamental level, I don't respect them, and I don't respect their choices.

This is the same problem I've been having in my relationship with my friend C. How can you build an ongoing good relationship when the foundation is rotted away?


  1. I think you can't. You just have to try to appreciate what you can about them, and enjoy what you have in common. For me and my in-laws, that's my son. We all agree that he is wonderful.

  2. I find I can have a perfectly happy superficial relationship with a friend like that, but nothing too deep. You know, just spending time together doing activities you both enjoy, but not bothering with soul-baring heart-to-hearts.

    Also, it sucks to have an imbalanced relationship with the two sets of parents. That has happened to two of my sisters and it seems really hard.

  3. Darcy8:53 AM

    I found this post deeply moving. Suffice it to say, I have similar situations in my own life.

    Scaling back expectations sometimes fosters harmony. It may feel ridiculous to confine conversations with close relatives to topics such as pets, toddlers, and the weather, but if that's what you can discuss harmoniously, then maybe it's best to leave it at that--and you can still share a laugh. A lot of our cultural expectations about families and parent-child relationships don't apply well to many families. I've schooled myself to let go of cultural expectations about how one is supposed to feel about, rely on, or confide in one's parents, and doing so has relieved a lot of tension in my life. I get along with them better when I expect less and when I make some conversational topics off-limits.

    Beyond that, I think all you can do is practice assertiveness: state calmly but firmly what you will do, and do it. If the in-laws choose to pout, let them. If they choose to express displeasure when you and Dr. S. fail to do as they instruct, let them. Their displeasure is beside the point; it's not important information. In general, the more unreasonably they choose to act, the more they lose their potential moral and emotional influence.

    I think that if I found my respect for someone withering in a relationship that was optional--e.g. with a friend who was not a colleague or next-door neighbor--I would choose to distance myself. I wouldn't make the decision quickly; I'd let it simmer for a while; but in the last analysis, maintaining close ties to people you don't respect is intensely stressful. With blood relatives and in-laws, you need to do it if you possibly can, but with a friend, you might ask yourself (a) Is my maintaining this friendship doing either of us good?; and (b) What impact does maintaining this relationship have on my blood pressure? I know that sounds harsh, but you do need to take care of yourself, too. And Dr. S, and Bug.

    Good luck.

  4. ohh thats a tough spot and i won't pretend to have anything other than a sympathetic ear for you!

    thank you so much for the elastic belt pic!! when i first saw the elastic i thought it was a knit trim that would be perfect for a tennis dress or 20s sheath type of dress, now i'm going to have to get creative!

    good luck and happy new years!!


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