Marriage and In-Laws
By Janey Womeldorf
I love my in-laws. I almost feel guilty.
The truth is, whether you like it or not, when you marry your husband, you marry his family. Regardless of what you think of them, they are part of the package and part of him; and let’s face it, he’s known them a lot longer than he’s known you which means they are not going anywhere soon. This is cause for celebration for me. I won the in-law lottery and like a good marriage, the relationship and times we share get better every year. There is nothing more magical than being at your in-laws’ with your husband and his family, sitting around the table crying with laughter as they reminisce about that one Christmas when Mom forgot to label all the presents so nobody knew if they were about to open a doll or a truck.
Times like these are so priceless and heart-warming; it saddens me to imagine the alternative.
Dr. Laura – the radio talk show host – regularly fields callers whose question starts something like this: I really love my fiancé but…
The caller, usually female, then spews a litany of jarring examples of how his family is a bunch of mean-spirited people she plans to spend as little time with as possible. More often than not, the hostility is focused between her and her future mother-in-law, sounding more like a competition than a battle. She then asks Dr. Laura what she should do.
Dr. Laura’s opinion and answer is simple yet harsh: Don’t marry him. The caller, now speechless, then listens as Dr. Laura explains that if she marries this man, whose family she already detests, every birthday, anniversary and family get-together will be nightmarish. Not only is she setting herself up for a lifetime plagued by misery and family friction, but her husband will be stranded in the middle – a situation ripe for marital discourse no spouse wants to be in and in which there are no winners.
I always feel so bad for the caller as you know it was not the answer she was expecting. This in itself is odd because I wonder what answer she was secretly hoping for. Did she think Dr. Laura was going to side with her and suggest she tell her fiancé to choose her over his mother and family? (Sometimes I suspect this is exactly what the caller is thinking!)
But the main reason I feel sad for the caller is because of what she will miss: In-law brothers and sisters gathered around the adult’s table joking and laughing as they finally confess to Mom and Dad how they broke the bed that one year. Cousins growing up together eating hot dogs on paper plates always served up on the green fold-up tables that Grandma and Grandpa keep specially. Spouses and siblings developing friendships as they journey together through the for-better-and-for-worse times of their lives. Holiday gatherings so large that even with the extra leaf, there is more food than table. And finally, quiet evenings sitting around the table playing cards with his parents, just like they did with theirs.
Although I feel blessed to enjoy all of this now; 23 years ago it all had the potential to take a much uglier path.
The first time I announced to my own parents that we would not be with them, but instead were spending Christmas in Michigan with his parents, I told my Mum in July; I figured she would need six months to calm down. Within moments, she declared that if I was going to Michigan then everybody was, and she wasn’t joking. What made this even more unbelievable is that my family does not even live in the USA; they live in England. Two families, one house, ten days – I feared it might pre-empt another war between our countries. The British are coming, the British are coming!
That Christmas, 22 people sat down for dinner; grandparents, parents, and siblings from both sides of the Atlantic spanning four generations and two different cultures, all putting aside their differences to share the spirit of the season in harmony and togetherness. The effort, consideration and respect his family showed to mine brought tears to my eyes, and the Christmas proved to be one of the most magical in our 23 years of marriage. How could I not love them? As overjoyed as I was about the success of our international Christmas, I must confess that having five thousand miles and an ocean between each other’s families comes with benefits.
First, British people do not celebrate Thanksgiving; phewee, that’s one holiday solved. Second, the Atlantic Ocean means my husband and I will never have to juggle either of the following: Eat two Christmas meals on the same day, or pack everything up on Christmas Day morning for the long drive to the other parent’s house – a blessing not just for our waistline, but our stress level and our marriage.
Over the years, I have been elated whenever I discover other people sharing similar feelings and stories about their in-laws. Sadly, this is not necessarily the norm which makes me wonder if they keep it to themselves because they also feel guilty. Besides, when you gush happy-in-law stories in public, you never know who might be listening; it might be the girl who just called Dr. Laura – talk about adding salt to the wound. Maybe it is better to keep quiet just in case.
But then again, there are too many sad thoughts in the world not to share those that are happy. My in-laws are a beautiful family, and I love them all.
There, I’ve said it.
About this writer
- Janey Womeldorf is a freelance writer who thrives on writing about the humorous, the poignant, and the continually-surprising sides of everyday life. She drinks too much coffee and scribbles away in Memphis, Tennessee.