After yesterday’s beautiful graduate post where Brianne talked about learning that her wedding was deeply important and emotional for her mom, and what that meant for her as a bride, I thought it was an excellent time to dig this blending families question out of my mailbag. As always with Ask Meg posts, the answer is partly for Jen, and partly for all of you (with thanks to Jen for kicking off the discussion).
With all the talk of birthing new mini families and coming together as a new unit, I never realized quite how hard that could be. My fiance and I are a great couple and I have no worries that we’ll be able to handle whatever marriage brings our way. What I am worried about, however, is the joining of our two families.
Most of what I’ve read involving in-laws and such relates to reprehensible behavior, usually from mother-in-laws. Well my story doesn’t involve that – my future mother-in-law has been nothing but welcoming to me. She’s great, but she’s just not my mom, you know? This particular problem comes in with my own parents and their sensitivities – just tonight I’ve had yet another crying, “I don’t know what to say” conversation with my parents. Their biggest worry is that I’ll completely leave them and go off with my fiance’s family. (The context is that my partner and I were dating “only” a year before getting engaged and it definitely took my parents by surprise – and for two people who HATE surprises, the transition has been quite tough for them. Add to that a future in-law family that loves to get together almost every weekend, they worry they’ll never see me after we get married.)
I would never let that happen. I love my family – Mom, Dad and older sister – and couldn’t imagine them not being in my life. The core of the problem seems to be a perception issue. I cannot for the life of me get them to see that both my fiance and I love them and will see them as often as we possibly can. I for sure can’t convince them that my fiance likes them and wants to spend time with them. I’ve tried the “actions speak louder than words” technique, but that never seems to work out for an extended time period.
It’s hard because we’re not married yet and I still definitely feel more of a connection to my own family and I’m sure he still feels more connected to his own. And to be honest, it’ll probably always be that way. You feel more loyal to where you came from than this new family you might not know as well. I can’t get him to understand how my family is – I don’t want to overwhelm him and have our married relationship start out negatively.
Any thoughts or pieces of advice? I’m so excited for our future and am scared that this will always hang over our heads. It may be an irresolvable issue, but just learning how to cope with it would just be wonderful.
My first reaction when I read this letter was, “MAN! Jen is totally lucky.” Which sounds crazy, right? But here is the thing: I get a LOT of mail, and I think half of the family drama around weddings has its root in, “I’m scared I’m loosing you.” Half the time when a mom is screaming, “But I don’t understand! The pink flowers are so much PRETTIER and also why are you doing the flowers yourself what a disaster and d*mn it I said we should go with this florist and I’d pay and I think this centerpiece idea is the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen and I said I liked the PINK flowers,” what she’s really saying is, “You’ve always been my daughter and our family has always been your first family, and now you’re getting married and you’re going to have your own family, and I’m excited for you and I love your fiance but I’m scared and this is hard. At least the flowers are a concrete thing to fight about.”
I mean, come on. You didn’t really think brides were the only ones with the rambling and emotional interior monologues, did you?So. What advice do I have? First, I’d say, it’s not an irresolvable issue, but it’s going to take time. In some ways, when parents freak out about the huge family transition going on during the engagement, parents are right on the money. They have, after all, been through this before. They’ve seen what is to come, which is a gentle and slow re-aligning of how you define the term “my family.” Which is to say, starting a baby family is hard for everyone, but starting a baby family is also why weddings are so explosively joyous.
Your parents want to see you happy, they are just a little scared and sad right now. And happy. So that’s complicated for them. But at least they are in-touch with their feelings enough that they are telling you that, instead of telling you, “But you need to get the ball gown wedding dress with the sparkles, that’s what I’ve always imagined you in, that’s the one that makes me happy, I hate this sleek minimalist dress you bought, waaaaaaahhhh.” (Though they might say that in the future too.)
So. Let your parents help. Give them jobs and tell them to run with it. Start showing by example that while your life (and wedding) is now focused on you and your partner, your life (and wedding) still very much includes them, and that you want them to have an active part in it. Give them programs to design, or a menu to plan. Tell them you trust their judgement. Call them and chat with them about it. And realize this is a complicated transition. You have a few months to fight over centerpeices, which is training for fighting over where you’re going to spend the holidays.
As for you and your husband, this is part of the learning curve. This is part of the grunt work of making a family. Because TRUST me, this is not the first time you’re going to be freaking out saying things like, “I’m so mad at them!” or “Why is my family acting all crazy?” And he’s going to take his turn at that game too. So, consider this practice. Consider this part of building something real. The upside your parents haven’t seen yet is that now you can yell, “MY MOM IS MAKING ME CRAZY” at your partner instead of yelling it at your mom. There, they definitely win.
I’m not telling you it’s going to get easy any time soon, but I am telling you that your parents are sane, you and your fiance are doing the real and difficult work of becoming a family, and that all of this will be worth it in the end.