So last night was C’s birthday party, and my son and K graciously offered to host it in their home. Overall, it was a nice event. The kids’ paternal grandparents, great uncle, aunt/uncle, their two young adult daughters and significant others and small children all attended, as did A’s parents and two brothers. In truth it was the first time the whole of both families has been together in one room, and the first time in a long time I have seen my former husband’s extended family.

Let me just state clearly – I adore my former in-laws, all of them. But I have to admit I do not really care for my neice’s (for lack of a better term) husband; he is an arrogant, know-it-all asshole. Both kids had mentioned it to me, G more straightforwardly honestly than C, who is generally more of the diplomat, but I was completely unprepared for him in person.

We are the last to arrive, although we are only 2 minutes late. I hug my former mother-in-law and sister-in-law, delighted to see them, delighted to meet the new grandbabies. Both my neices seem genuinely happy to meet up with me again, and as L (unmarried, childless one) is K’s best friend AND her boyfriend was in high school band with G (weird coincidence only, no matchmaking involved), they are both comfortably familiar with M and I and strike up easy, relaxed conversation. Even A’s family is gracious and welcoming, his brothers in particular seem to really like us. My future sister in in-law-hood is outgoing, friendly, and very happy to both sides of the family is all together at the holidays. Thus far things are going swimmingly.

Then … and even 14 hours later this STILL boggles my mind … S, my other neice, is chatting with me about her two boys, talking about who in the family they look like, and her husband says to me, very abruptly, “Why are you here?” I kid you not. At first I am sure I misheard him, so I reply, “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you.” Because, obviously, no one is THAT rude. So he repeats it, slowly and in the most patiently patronizing terms, “Why. Are. You. Here?”

Okay, that time I did hear him clearly. But this is a party; I am not about to get into a territorial turf war with some youngster. I reply, “Because we were invited to celebrate my daughter’s birthday,” with a smile and only the slightest chill to my voice. I glance at my neice, and she has this deer-in-the-headlights look. I glance over at my son, who has heard the entire exchange and gives me the barest shrug of acknowledgement that this guy is a complete ass.

Then it gets worse. He says, “But you’re not part of this family anymore. You and G divorced a long time ago and now he’s dead. We probably would not have come had we known you would be here.”

My son and K stopped in their tracks with that statement. I put a hand up to them, to ward off anything they might have said in my defense. While I am disinclined to make a scene in someone else’s home, I figured I had better handle this as gracefully as possible. “I am a guest in my son’s home, for my daughter’s birthday party. I am sorry none of them bothered to consult you about who is family, who is not before extending the invitation. But if we bother you, perhaps it’s best you keep your distance and enjoy yourself despite our unwelcome presence.” Again, said calmly and with a smile, after which I moved into the kitchen to assist K with getting items out of the refrigerator.

Looking back, I was too shocked to be fully offended by his rudeness. I have heard from others that he is a bit of a bully, and watching him in action with the rest of the family makes me realize just how controlling his is with them. It seems like every time his MIL or FIL said or did something to correct or restrain their grandsons – because their parents were busy drinking and socializing – he would remark that “maybe they would not be seeing them on Christmas …” even though he and his family live under their roof. This is but a brief snapshot of their family dynamics, but I see an awful lot of enabling and tolerance of poor behaviors. I try to imagine M and I in a similar situation and simply cannot do it. C and G are not perfect people, but they love us and they respect us as people, as we do them.

As we were leaving – fairly early, all things considered – my former SIL apologized for her son-in-law’s comments. She has nothing to apologize for and I told her that, and I expressed regret if I caused their family any unrest because of the interaction. She assured me I had not, that it was wonderful to see us. M and I were talking about it on the way home, of course, and M thought I handled it beautifully and far more gracefully than he would have under similar circumstances. Thankfully he was across the room chatting with the other men and missed the whole exchange.

The whole event has me thinking about parenting and someday possibly grandparenting. In general, I think I will be okay as a grandmother. I am absolutely not above spoiling anyone – see our current obsession with stuff for the fluff buckets as an example – and I fully anticipate my ability to let my kids parent their own offspring. I hope and pray they do a great job at it, and that I can be the parent who offers advice when asked. The mother I was did not do too bad, but I had help from my former in-laws, from my parents, from great private daycare providers, and from M. I am hopeful they are not lazy or too progressive of parents, letting kids rule and household without boundaries, rules, discipline of any sort. I do hope they are clear about their expectations of proper behavior, and that their children learn to respect themselves as well as others. There is a role for us in this as well, and I suppose time will tell how that works out for us. Assuming there are offspring someday; in truth I am in no rush and merely hope I am ready if and when it does happen.

Observing my former SIL with her grown girls and grandchildren, I wonder where the more sensible woman went. Her son-in-law has lived with them since he was 15, when trouble at home led him to either the streets or being taken in by them. In my observation her anxiety about losing her daughter has led to sacrificing her home and principles to the tyrant that married into their family and holds them hostage with 2 little boys. I have not faced such a situation before, and maybe I would have done the same under the same circumstances. That said, I am a person who believes in consequences, something my kids both grew up understanding. When my daughter was 8 she shoplifted a candy bar from the grocery store, I took her back and made her pay for the candy bar, but also admit her apologize to the store manager. He was very kind about it, telling her in simple terms the cost of theft. She cried and promised to never do it again, and to my knowledge she has not. But thinking back on it, I am not sure who had a harder time of it – her for having to actually admit and apologize for her actions or me for being the parent who made her do it and had to witness it. When my son was 4 he threw a rock and shattered the read window of a neighbor’s car. He ran home and hid until the neighbor came home to tell me about it and demand that I pay for the cost of repair. I called my son to the door and asked him, point blank, if he did that. He nodded and I made him say it out loud – yes, I threw the rock that broke your car window. I asked him what he wanted to say to our neighbor. “I”m sorry” he whispered, tears rolling down his face, urine coming down his leg. I sent him to the bathroom to clean up, calmly apologized to the neighbor and told them to get an estimate and I would write the check. I was upset with the situation – the $227 for that window was money we could not really afford to spend – but I was more pained about making my son pee his pants in fear. My son spent 2 weeks in his room rather than getting to watch TV or play outside with his sisters and his friends. We never had another issue with him destroying property.

As a parent, it is easier to go along and get along with your children, especially when they become adults. I had a poor relationship with my parents and desperately wanted something different with my own children. Giving in to their every whim, not being clear in my reasonable expectations and following through with consequences when those expectations are disregarded would not get me what I ultimately desire and have right now: a loving relationship that is laced with respect on both sides. I occasionally disagree with my kids and their choices, but I respect their right and ability to do different things and follow their own paths. If they need help, they know they can depend upon me, and the questions I ask, any strings I might impose are not about control so much as about learning from our missteps. I believe every parents wants their kids to grow up and to thrive, but our definitions of “thrive” are as unique and as different as the parties involved. Mostly I recognize this, and mostly I try to not apply my own minimum standard requirements of normal behavior to the world at large. Sometimes there are examples to in-my-face to ignore and I wonder what brought the participating parties to be accepting to that degree.

Weighty matters for a Sunday morning.

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