Letting Them Off the Hook
In bed, post-spousal-argument, late on a Saturday night, I finally decided it was time. I needed to let them off the hook. For years I had been holding on. Holding onto expectations and resentments and bitterness over the fact that all my striving and wanting did not bring me the in-law family that I had imagined. I thought for sure, ten years into marriage, and twelve years into relationship, there would have been some breakthroughs. Surely by now, one of his brothers or maybe his mom would ask me questions about my life? Would want to get to know me. The sting over the fact that this just wasn’t the case lessened over time, but it still reared its ugly head now and again.
Like this night, after an argument with Brandon over his brother being a jerk to me. Had you been an outsider watching the exchange with his brother, and then watched my reaction, there is no doubt you would have been confused. My reaction would have seemed dramatic and a little overboard. You might have blamed memory loss or lack of sleep. But it’s all in the ten years. Ten years is a long time for things to build. And I’ve never been good at speaking my mind.
I should say now that Brandon’s family is a great family. He has three brothers who are his very best friends and his parents have been married for 34 years. His mom is one of the most generous people I know and she is fiercely protective of her family. His dad is smart and determined, a hard-worker. There is no glaring, horrible mess there. His mom has never belittled me or made me feel like I’m not a good spouse or mother. After all the in-law stories I’ve heard over the years, I know I got lucky with mine. But an absence of abuse or drama, does not necessarily mean happy-go-lucky either. The thing about Brandon’s family that has alternately irritated me or left me heartbroken, is that they don’t engage relationship.
I come from a family that talks a lot. We sit around and catch up on each other’s lives and dialogue about things and check in with each other. Certainly we aren’t perfect either, but I grew up emotionally connecting with people, and longing for that.
So when I joined Brandon’s family, albeit a family of almost all men, I was taken aback by how very little anyone said to me. We would make it through two hour family dinners without anyone saying a word to me. I would talk, chime in about something someone else said or ask questions of people (I’m nothing if not a good question asker), but never did anyone speak directly to me unless they were reluctantly answering my questions.
This really didn’t change much over the years. The event that broke my heart the most was the day we announced to his family that we were pregnant with our first child. He was the first grandchild on both sides. We had just told my family, to a chorus of screaming and dancing and excitement all around. It couldn’t have made for a better video. And then, after opening Christmas presents by the glow of the fire, we announced to Brandon’s family that we had one more gift for everyone and we passed out boxes with the ultrasound picture taped to them. His brother saw it first and let out a little cheer. His mom said “whoa!” and just looked at us, and if memory serves me correctly, his dad didn’t say anything. I think his brother hugged us. I was feeling a little let down by their reactions, but still okay, awaiting the questions that make a new mom-to-be glow a little brighter. But then his mom turned to the boys and said, “So are you guys playing basketball tonight?”
Not one person in his family asked me one single question about me, the baby, or the pregnancy. Not how I had been feeling, or when the baby was due, or when I had found out, or even how far along I was. Feeling slighted, I went ahead and offered some of that information a few minutes later, even though no one had asked, and clearly, they had moved onto other topics. I thought maybe if I started the conversation, it would prompt them to want to know more. But it didn’t.
So I went up to the room and cried my eyes out. In my mind, that night was the epitome of all the feelings I had about his family. No matter how hard I tried, no matter what I gave, they really didn’t care to know me. I was just the wife of Brandon, to be tolerated, but certainly not enjoyed. This feeling ebbed and flowed over the years. I got to the point where it didn’t bother me so much anymore, them ignoring me or talking over me or not caring what was happening in my life. I chalked it up to the fact that they were a family of boys with a mom who is also not overly affectionate or emotional. And to the fact that I tend to be sensitive.
But then, in a particularly hard year for me, his mom mentioned some things about me to my sister-in-laws (thank the dear Lord that some other girls joined the family) behind my back, and then his brother was rude to me on a couple of occasions and made me feel uncomfortable, and I found myself raging at Brandon. There was so much anger. Since having our two boys, I had tried to stop saying bad things about his family to him, realizing that it was mean and unnecessary. I thought about my sons’ future wives raging about me and it broke my heart. But on this night, I let it all out. I cried and I yelled and he was exasperated with me, which only made it all worse.
“Mel, they aren’t trying to be mean or ignore you. THIS IS JUST HOW MY FAMILY IS. We don’t ask questions, we don’t talk about deep things, and we like what we like,” Brandon sighed.
My usual response to this was on my lips: Well they should LEARN to do those things. That is what people do. When someone joins your family, you have to expand your world and get to know who they are.
But this night, I stopped. I didn’t say those words. I heaved a huge sigh and thought to myself, it’s time to let them off the hook. For all their faults and all their strengths, his family was never going to be the family I had conjured up in my mind. I was never going to wake up one day to a text from his mom asking me how I was or his brothers asking me what I wanted to do. And I realized in that moment, that I was going to be okay with that. In fact, I was going to be more than okay. I was going to celebrate the family that they were, not the one I once expected them to be.
This family, this beautiful and generous and crazy chaotic family is the one I married into. And sure, there is definitely room for improvement. But the resentment isn’t serving me. My fistful of expectations has not been met in some ways, but that’s okay. Those were never theirs to bear. It’s time to let them go. Sometimes a bit of memory loss is the best way to move forward.
This family is the one I married into. The one that buys you meals and hosts you all for a huge Christmas. The one that has family dinners and prefers hunting and fishing to just about anything else. The one that adores the grandchildren (the big reveal was not at all indicative of that). This big, beautiful family has its many share of faults, but it also brings me so much joy. I decided that night that holding onto all these things I wanted from Brandon’s family no longer had a place in my life. It was only holding me back from enjoying the things I loved about them. This crazy lot that I get to call mine.