The last few weeks C has been texting or we have been talking about this whole marriage and family thing and how it works. Now it’s come up with G and K as well.
First, with C and her husband, A.
They are good kids, normal with some debt and working out plans to pay it off and save for things for their home. Oh, and they bought their first home, closed a few weeks ago. It needs some cosmetic work, but structurally very sound. Sweat equity will happen.
Thing is, A’s family was very upset (to put it mildly) that they did not use family members for their real estate purchase and mortgage, and in truth, M and I were the voices of reason in this regard. My feeling is it’s far better to not involve family members in personal business matters, not if you ever want to maintain some independence and autonomy and remain on good and loving terms with your family. I have advised my kids on everything from buying cars and obtaining loans to their taxes, but my advice and thoughts are no strings, free of charge, and I do not profit from those transactions. I also understand and encourage their freedom to make their own decisions, free of pressure or stress from me. I also have no other family members to gossip with about their income, debts, taxes, etc., as is very common in A’s extended family.
A’s family is huge and boundaries are nonexistent; everyone seems to know everyone else’s personal information, financial standing, etc. C is not comfortable with that level of disclosure, and A would like to be able to not feel they are entitled to get a vote on his life and marriage. It’s been a few years and there has been some very modest progress in this regard, but his mother has hard a very difficult time letting him cut those apron strings. She is a lovely woman, but as previously noted, our parenting styles are very different. Setting boundaries can be difficult in the best of circumstances. For A, it is akin to a root canal without any anesthesia. He’s doing it, making slow progress, but it is not very easy for him.
So C feels embattled because she insisted upon using (*gasp*) total strangers to help them find and purchase their first home rather than A’s uncles in those particular lines of business. This is on top of their decision to use Vanguard for their retirement accounts on their own rather than allowing yet another uncle manage their embryonic retirement accounts, on a fee-based commission schedule.
My daughter’s influence on her husband is viewed with suspicion, yet C is following what feels to her like the correct path in marriage and setting appropriate boundaries with the extended family. With M and I it’s not an issue; we are not intrusive other than asking about how things are going or something equally benign and generic when calling or texting just to chat. To A’s family, it is as if they believe she has something to hide. What is going on with her? Why is she not opening up about their life so we can help? Is she concealing something from A and therefore us? C recognizes she may be exaggerating and being overdramatic (apple does not fall far from the tree there), but I do not think her feelings and intuition are far off the mark. While I roll my eyes in sympathy, it’s a real problem for A and by extension, C. As a couple they need to break away and make their own decisions, suffer the consequences of and learn from their own mistakes, and do so within the privacy of their own relationship. M and I – we are here if they need a sounding board, advice, help, support. We are not interested in running their lives for them, believing them both to be competent adults.
In other words, we are respectful of the kids’ independence and autonomy. It’s been years since I did anything other than offer an opinion or advice, and even then it’s when asked or in the context of a broader discussion. I am not the controlling mom who has to micromanage anyone. I have hands full tying to manage my own life and times.
Latest big bomb happened last weekend when it slipped out to A’s family that C and A do not plan to have children. Now, to me, this is a very private choice that every couple makes, and it is none of my or anyone else’s business. TI have had lots of conversations through the years with friends struggling to conceive, or with other friends who were pregnant with additional children after they considered their family units complete. Such is the nature of being a caring friend. I know and have known a fair number of childless couples, and if they desired to share the why with me I was open minded and curious to hear and to listen, but again, none of my business and not my place to pass judgment on a lifestyle choice so different than my own.
But as noted above, A’s family is VERY different. C and A told me about their decision long before they got married, and we were fine with it. I mean, as if what M and I think should matter at all to them? We are not the ones who will be responsible for the care, feeding, and raising of any children they might bring into the world. At the time, I was primarily curious about their decision-making process, if there was any particular factor that weighed more heavily than another. C remarked that it was a “selfish” choice, to which I replied selfish is to have children out of a sense of responsibility rather than a powerful conviction to be parents. They need not justify their choice and what they want for their future to me or anyone else. I want them to be happy and I trust their judgment. Besides, there are a lot of ways to be a parent should they ever change their minds.
A’s family? My goodness you would think the kids were contemplating something truly evil from the way the entirety of his extended family have reacted. There have been sobbing voicemails, weeping phone calls, stern/yelling phone messages and texts from stepdad and brother, and “why did you get married then?” type hurtful comments. My poor daughter has caught a lot of indirect flak and is angry and upset that the family as a whole are letting their awful all hang out. And I can do little other than coach them on their responses (“this is an extremely personal choice and none of your business”). Boundaries, guys – you need to start building them and then reinforcing them immediately. I have even gone so far as to recommending they call TM for help in learning how to live with the overbearing nature of A’s family while continuing to be part of it.
*sigh* It’s hard sometimes to be the normal, restrained parental units.
On the other side of the coin, K has an unusual family of origin story as well. Her mother and father were on drugs/alcohol when she was born and she was raised by an aunt and uncle. From what K says, the aunt and uncle were pretty good parents until she grew up and could/would no longer be completely controlled by her aunt. Power struggles ensued, seriously messed up power struggles, and K has been working on safe boundaries from this toxic aunt for the last 5 or 6 years. It has come to pass that they were not invited to the wedding, because of her aunt’s refusal to work on their relationship within the confines of a therapist’s office.
Anyway, that drama has been playing out for the last several months and was finally, definitely decided a few months ago when the save-the-dates went out and the aunt/uncle were not included. There have been some limited communications since then, but K is holding firm that the stress circus the aunt brings is not going to be part of her wedding to my son. It is her family and her decision – G has had a few tough call on his dad’s side as well – and we support them completely.
K’s second niece was born on Tuesday, in Michigan, via emergency c-section. Yesterday, K texted me midafternoon that her aunt and uncle showed up, unannounced, on her brother’s doorstep with plans to stay for 2 weeks. K’s brother and his parents have been estranged for almost 2 years. If the aunt and uncle would fly across several states, uninvited and without advance warning, K is now sure she/they will easily drive 2 hours to show up uninvited to the wedding. The thought has sent her on a spin cycle, which I find completely understandable. I immediately asked if she knew if the hotel had a company for security staff, because it is worth the expense to keep the emotions under control.
Also on K’s side of the family are very conservative Christian folks who are having difficulties reconciling themselves (aka keeping their opinions and thoughts to themselves) on their choice to not have children. While I have only met this branch of the family tree very briefly, my son tells me it comes up at every family gathering they attend and whenever K sees her cousins. At least they are both more practiced with firm boundaries and are able to deflect and redirect the conversation. Still, I wonder what is wrong with people and their sense of common courtesy and respect? M and I have our own ideas and opinions, some of which we ourselves do not agree with each other as well as with the kids and many of our friends. But we can be civil and polite about it, we can discuss without hostility, and we can agree to disagree. We also are not people to press or infringe upon another’s personal choices and opinions that differ from our own experiences and circumstances.
And I used to think I was the crazy one. My kids, all 4 of them now, thankfully, do not really see it that way or me in that light. In the clutch and when it matters most, M and I are the picture of sane sensibility. That, my friends, is almost unsettling to imagine.