Friday, January 10, 2014

In-Law Week, Day 5: In Praise Of In-Laws...And Hope For Damaged Relations

Dear Tazi:

I am a woman with a unique problem: I can't stand my parents, but my in-laws are the best! Growing up, my mother was judgmental and demeaning, and nothing i ever did was good enough to please her. When my first child was born, I saw the cycle begin anew - my daughter wasn't rolling over soon enough, she wasn't crawling fast enough, she's be certain to be a late walker if I didn't intervene - so I all but cut my mother out of my life, and with her my father who has never done anything to stand up for me (or himself. He just sticks his head into a bottle of Jack Daniels').

Every year I send my mother a Christmas card and a present, and will pay a short visit to her with my kids. As soon as the criticisms start, I pack up our stuff and leave.Mom knows why I choose to leave at this point, and always says that she is only trying to help me and that I will be worse off for not listening to her - just wait and see!

This year was Mom's first year without Dad. He passed away from liver failure this summer, God rest his soul. Mom is now upset that she did not receive an invitation to spend the holidays with my husband and his family. She called me to express her concern that her invitation was lost in the mail and to ask when she should arrive for dinner. I awkwardly told her that she had not been invited and that she should plan her own holiday because she would not be invading on mine. Mom, of course, played the part of the victim.

You can imagine my surprise when, Christmas Day, my mother showed up for dinner at my mother-in-law's house and played the part of the perfect guest! She had called my mother-in-law behind my back and asked if she could come. She charmed everyone, and my in-laws now think I am a horrible person for cutting my mother out of my life! There is talk about inviting her over for all of the holidays so she doesn't have to spend them alone! How do I get my family to realize that the woman they saw at Christmas dinner is not the woman who raised me?


Dear Duped:

A person can only hold up a mask for so long. Surely your husband knows what your mother is like and how she treats you? Let him be your rock, and lean into him for the support you need. Now, take a deep breath because I am not certain you are going to like what I suggest next:

Try to forgive your mother her shortcomings. You do not know what your mother's struggle was like, being married to an alcoholic. You say your father's alcoholism was his way of coping with your mother's criticism, but nobody forced him to drink. A long run, half an hour with a pair of boxing gloves and a bag, meditation, or any other form of stress release is a far more healthy and productive way of dealing with emotional hurts. Alcohol may have been the cause of your mother's harsh attitude and not the effect of it. In her hopes of preparing you for a better life she did the only thing she knew how to do - criticize what she thought the world would see as shortcomings.

And be glad that she is not a witch!

Now that your father is gone, your mother is free from living with his alcoholic ways - one of which may have been verbal abuse. Nobody knows exactly what goes on inside a marriage except the two people involved in it, so while you are asking God to rest your father's soul you may want to ask Him to heal your mother's...and yours.

I suggest that on your next visit to your mother you talk to her about her appearance at Christmas dinner and her plans for appearing at future holiday events. Tell her you appreciated the warmth and love she radiated, and would like to feel it more often - in your every-day visits, and not just at the holidays in front of an audience. Ask her why she feels the need to be so critical of you and your children when it is obvious that you are all doing quite well. Try for baby steps in getting her to open up to you. When things get hard, think about how much you love your own children, and know that this is how much your mother loves you. Work from love in order to rebuild your broken bond. If, in the end, this is not possible, you will at least know that you tried...but try before you give up altogether.


Ask Tazi! is ghostwritten by a human with Bachelors degrees in Communications and in Gender and Women's Studies. Tazi-Kat is not really a talking feline.

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