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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Relationship I Chose

I'd better start this post with a disclaimer.  I've been wanting to write a post like this for a long time.  It is not pointed at anyone in particular.  If it helps you great.  If it doesn't apply to your situation, which I hope it doesn't, that's great too.  These are just some ponderings I've had on this topic....

You will notice that I don't call the Warden's mother my "Mother-in-law."  I am also not her "Daughter-in-law."  She is my "Mother-by-marriage," and therefore, I am her "Daughter-by-marriage."  The term "in-law" has such a negative connotation to it that we decided to change things up a bit.  We didn't feel that either of us deserved that title.

I write this for anyone who struggles with this relationship.  I might even go so far as to say that this tie between in-laws is the most difficult relationship there is.  I don't think I feel about my husband's mother how others feel about theirs.  I have to say, though, that it was a conscious decision. Forgiveness is a conscious decision as is working to repair things.

At one point, early in our marriage, I think this relationship could have gone either direction, but I decided that when I chose to marry the Warden (20 years ago on the 21st), that I also chose his parents as mine; unlike my parents, these are the parents I selected.  Since that was my choice, it was also my choice what to do with that relationship.  I could make it or break it.  I couldn't just expect it to work out and leave it alone.  I also couldn't look at it as "oh, they're just my in-laws" and expect it to be all that that term entails.  I had to DO something to make it work and work positively.  I owed this to my husband and my children but mostly to myself.  As a result, this has ended up being one of the most rewarding relationships in my life.

I will share that it hasn't always been sunshine and roses, but I would also assert that they have never earned the name "in law."  They are great people.  They are also VERY different from my own parents.

I know that there is nothing I can do to change anyone else's behavior toward me, but I can choose to forgive, and I can choose my own behaviors toward them.  This is especially true in a volatile relationship such as this one.  I have to give them the "benefit of the doubt;" if something happens that offends me, I need to believe that they didn't mean it the way I took it and quickly forgive them--even if they did mean it the way I took it.  I can't judge them by their motives, I can only be responsible for mine.  If my motives are bad, then I have some changing to do.

When there have been down-er times in our relationship, most of the time it's either been because I have chosen to be offended by something that's been done or said, or I have been careless; I have neglected to send pictures of the kids (something I'm TERRIBLE at) or forgotten to invite them to join us for fun things we do or not sent a little note or called from time to time.  Like with all relationships, I know that I need to make some thoughtful gestures from time to time, or that relationship will die.  This also goes along with the saying, "In order to have a friend, you have to be one."

I know I have friends who have "outlaws" more than "in-laws."  They try to do thoughtless and even mean things.  I'm grateful not to have this situation and feel sad for those who do.  I would say in this case, it's even more important to be the one who makes the moves in the right direction and keep trying.  Be thoughtful and overly kind, even if they still choose to be rude.

I wish everyone could have the Warden's mother as their mother-by-marriage or someone just like her.  The Warden's mom has made me her traveling companion a couple times--just the two of us--when I was a mother to a bunch of little, tiny ones and really NEEDED to get away; she saw that need and filled it.  She also, after #6 was born, hired a housekeeper to come in once a week for the first couple months knowing that that's probably what would be the best baby gift for a recovering mom of many.  She's AMAZING, and I love her!  Who knows, over time, if your side of the equation tries extra hard, maybe it could become this way.

I am grateful that I have forgiving, loving parents-by-marriage, but I want to encourage anyone who might struggle with their in-laws to try something today.  It's never too late to start; today's as good a day as any.

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