Is Being Family Enough?

I go back and forth about whether I find it appropriate to voice family frustrations in such a public forum. On the one hand, most of my family doesn’t read this, so it’s not like they’ll be offended. On the other hand, I think there’s a special kind of dignity that comes with being “family.” A unique bond that makes you as a unit special and should make you willing to defend the integrity of any individual member of the family simply because they are part of your family. (Ha..maybe that’s why I love mob movies so much. Despite their “shortcomings”, they most definitely get my definition of family.) Venting about them on the internet just doesn’t seem conducive to supporting that kind of  relationship. Unfortunately for me, a portion of my family doesn’t seem to have the same sentiments on this topic. And that’s where the problem comes in.

Long before I met my husband, I already had a pretty clear idea of what my future family would look like. I expected to have a fantastic relationship with my inlaws, calling them “mom and dad,” and being loved and accepted by them in the same manner a parent loves and accepts his/her biological children. I envisioned hosting huge holiday parties with both sides of the family coming together to celebrate, eat lots of delicious homemade food and have a great time together. I thought my family would be so close-knit that one day my kids would say something like “Wait a minute, is Nana Daddy’s mom or your mom? Is Aunt or Uncle so-and-so your sibling or Daddy’s?” Needless to say, since I have an overwhelming desire to get a few things off my chest, this is not the situation that I’ve married into.

I’m not quite ready to unload a laundry list of offenses and hurts that are so contrary to what I wanted my family to be. I feel like doing so would only contribute to the lack of family ties, although it may make me feel better momentarily. I just get so frustrated that I could quite literally scream. I had no idea there were people who valued family so little. People who thought that the definition of family means “We’re your parents, you’re the kid, no matter how old you get, and you need to bend over backwards to do what we say or we won’t talk to you anymore. In fact, we won’t just not talk to you, we’ll be rude to you when you call, refuse to cultivate a relationship with our grandchildren, insult your beliefs, have no concern for what you value and refuse to congratulate your accomplishments. ”

Okay, okay, okay….I’m definitely heading towards that laundry list. I’m still not quite sure that’s appropriate, but I’d be lying to say I’m not dying to expose every hurtful action and get a few consoling comments in reply.

I just really can’t fathom how we got in this situation. I know I had pretty high expectations. And I think it’s pretty obvious that I’ve reached a point where forgiveness isn’t coming naturally to me. But that doesn’t explain how we got here.

To further complicate the situation, my dear husband is totally nonchalant about the whole matter. He shrugs his shoulders and says something like, “This is how they’ve always been. They’re not going to change. Don’t get so upset about things you can’t change.” While he may have a point, I find his sentiments equally as baffling. In my experience, children have and inborn drive to be loved and accepted by their parents. Somehow, perhaps because of my initial expectations, my drive extends past my biological family and includes my inlaws. I just don’t understand how I can repeatedly be so hurt by their actions, yet time and time again Josh just shrugs his shoulders and moves on. Maybe I should try to respond similarly?

But I find that concept to be so sad. It’s so contrary to what I envisioned my extended family to look like. I don’t know which is more honorable, continuing to fight for a family I may never actually get or letting go and making the best of the incredible family members I do have. How do you choose between the potential of an amazing extended family experience and your own sanity in the meantime?


85 thoughts on “Is Being Family Enough?

  1. I know what you mean, many of my relations spouses and their separate families just don’t see life and family in the same light. It’s a shame but with so many similar experiences to what you are having, I’ve grown to support and cherish the brilliant family members, and the others seem to prefer to be left to their own devices anyway. You’re lucky your husband isn’t so upset about it all really I think.

  2. Hey there,

    As you carry such a strong expectation of what the extended family ‘should’ be like, I would suggest that significant honour, and I think personal growth, can be found in acceptance of what is.

    Best wishes on your journey!

  3. Your in-laws sound exactly like my boyfriend’s parents, and I have a similar definition of family as you do. My mother loves my boyfriend, but worries about what my life will be like if I end up having in-laws like them. I’m a little worried myself. I already find myself dealing with situations where I am so hurt and offended by my boyfriend’s parents that I can’t even fathom how or why he would ever go out of his way to speak to them again, yet he just shrugs his shoulders and says “that’s how they’ve always been.”

    Wish there was an easy solution!

  4. You need to see that you are holding up others to what YOU feel is the ideal relationship. Well why is YOUR ideal family relationship the right way? Everybody is different. Every family is different. The only way you will be able to get past it and enjoy the life you have with your husband and kids is to ACCEPT his parents for who they are. Quit trying to make them into who you want them to be.

    It’s like any other relationship. Women/men who try to change their partner always end up frustrated and the relationship always ends. No one wants to be forced to change. Can you blame them?

  5. People only hurt you as much as you allow them to.
    With that being said, there is something to the family loyalty but (and I have struggled with this as well) if your family is making you feel inadequate in any way or form, they lose those privileges. Family is about respect, but it must go both ways. Without knowing any details of the offenses, or knowing you or your husband, I’d say start standing up for yourself. Next time someone says something rude to you or your children, stop them. Ask them why they said that. They may not see it as rudeness, after all.
    Also, just cultivate better relationships with the members that you do like. And try to ignore the ones that bother you so much (passively ignore; don’t start a feud).
    good luck,

  6. Unless you prefer to wallow in your misery you probably have friends who are as good as family. Redirect your desires or be unhappy. Which ever one suits your personality. You have a lifetime to decide. Good luck.

  7. It sucks that it’s that way for you. I think that when you come from a close-knit family it’s good to make sure that you marry someone who also comes from a close knit family. Like, I’m still young and one of the things I do because family is so important to me is find out if the guy is close to his family by asking about his siblings and parents. If he doesn’t start talking about them fondly and instead just gives the brief description and moves on, then I know they’re not close and I usually get worried. I’m close to my family and always have good thing to say about them. So I can understand your frustration. I hope things will change for you for the better.

  8. I don’t know if this is similar to how you are feeling and I guess on that note I can’t really vouch for how my poor mum feels, but we were just as you hoped your family would be where in-laws are concerned. Typical Italian family. My mum was so close with my dads whole family, called them ‘ma’ and ‘pop’ etc. Then, as my dad leaves. He takes his family with him. Just like the past 25 years didn’t exist. I just feel like thats disowning your own family. I wish you were closer with your in-laws, its always easier. But again, I guess being only 21 and not in exactly the best position to give advice my opinion doesn’t account for much. But good-luck doll.

  9. There are a few things I’ve learned about life.
    1) Take quality over quantity. Always.
    2) People are how they are, and you can’t change them.
    3) If you could change people, it would be superficial because they’d only be changing in order to make you happy.

    It’s understandable that you’re bothered by how unwelcoming the in-laws can be, but really… There are so many different types of people in the world, and not everyone can be expected to get along perfectly. Just look at a person who commits a horrible crime like murder: they, too, have family. They, too, are someone’s family member. But will that person fit the expectations that one may have of a close family member? A brother, or sister, or parent? Probably not… Take that in mind when you look at the in-laws. Realize that they have their own lives, and their own personalities, and regardless of what your unrealistic expectation is of them, they’re going to have their own view of the world, and of you. All YOU can do is talk to them about it. If they won’t have any of it, than just accept the situation for what it is and learn to adjust to it.

    One thing I saw in a girl that I was friends with a while back, was that she constantly tried to manipulate people and situations to suit her little “story book” image of how life should be. She even went as far as to say that she wanted her now-husband to be a certain way, and that it wasn’t fitting her “image” of how she wanted things when he acted a certain way… (This girl is a little psychotic though, hence the “was friends with” statement… She thought she could adjust everyone to what she thought was ideal… Tsk tsk tsk…) I can’t imagine how stressful a life of un-met expectations would be! That would take WAY too much energy to constantly have to deal with…

    Anyways, best of luck in learning to cope with an unhappy situation with the in-laws! It would be a not-so-great situation to not get along with them… :(

  10. It doesn’t matter what kind of culture that you are in, there are rifts in families that are caused by those who don’t know what family really means.

    I come from a very close-knit family…at least that is what I thought when I was a kid. I did what you wanted your kid to ask. I quite literally had so many relations that Sunday lunch was not a family event, it was a clan event. I am not saying that numbers change the game but I ended up not really liking everyone in the family as I grew older because they fought over the weirdest and pathetic reasons. Envy is the root of most of it.

    So having a family who call each other all the time and see each other often is not necessarily a great thing. Although when people get sick everyone drops what they are doing, checks their savings balances and puts everything together in record time.

    Still, birthday parties are a riot.

  11. I have been married to a man whom I love for over 35 years. Try as I might, I have not been able to get used to his family. I now realise that is simply the way they are – they do not mean to be rude or hurtful. Part of the problem is me: they are not the way I want them to be.
    Please don’t get the impression that I am calm about this! As my m-in-law has become old, frail and nervous, she spends an increasing amount of time with us. While I truly know that she does not intend to be rude, I still feel insulted by her behaviour at least once a day! But I continue to try to be good to her, although my own bad behaviour sometimes bubbles to the surface.
    My own family (those still alive) live a very long way away, so I tend to treat close friends as my ‘ideal’ family.
    The summary of my advice: you married your husband, not his family.

  12. I have the opposite type of in-laws. My in-laws feel that they are ENTITLED to know everything that is going on in our marriage, with our finances, with our lack of children. And when we don’t tell them every small detail, we suddenly “don’t love them.” My husband’s mother thrives on stirring up trouble, and we are very NOT like that. This has gone on for so long that we have cut them from our lives completely, because they didn’t know their boundaries. So it was interesting to read how much you want your children to know their paternal grandparents and be close with them, because we REALLY don’t want our children to be a part of the drama, to the point that when I deliver our first child, I doubt we’ll even call them until the baby’s out and I’m rested up. We’ve been pushed to the edge and have put up our fences.

    Refreshing to hear the other side.

  13. It has been quite easy for the modern family in America to blow itself apart –and this was BEFORE the tough economic times which we are all now beginning to face. I hope people are able to work things out. More than ever now, families need to work things out and survive these tough times intact.

  14. Pingback: Is Being Family Enough? « My Buddy

  15. Hi. Thanks for the thought-provoking post. I’d like to make a comment about your concern over publicly airing hurts and irks. I just lost my husband of 26 years and have spent considerable time thinking about what we had that was good and what wasn’t so good and most of all, what I would have done differently.

    One thing that would have been different is that I would not have vented my frustrations about our relationship with anyone except a close confidant whose wisdom I was seeking. We tend to share negatives much more than positives, which isn’t fair to those we seek to build relationships with. Since my husband’s death and the way my sorrow has brought back so many of the good memories, I find that some family members look askance at me, as if I’m viewing my husband through rose-colored glasses. They don’t know the wonderful side of him. I never painted him as horrible, but I did gripe and I rarely bothered to share all the good stuff.

    You don’t know what the future holds. Relationhips can change and improve and you don’t want to place roadblocks along the paths of possibility. Throughout my husband’s illness and since his death, I’ve vented my frustrations and hurt feelings (and there have been some deep ones) on paper then ripped it up and thrown it away. I do need to vent, but not at the expense of potential relationships or at the expense of hurting others for things they cannot help.

    I was fortunate in having the opportunity to become my husband’s protector, advocate, encourager and nurturer and absolutely loyal friend for the last six years of our time together. I wish I had done it much sooner.

    May your family grow closer and your love deeper.

  16. You are not alone in your hopes for a better relationship with your extended family. Many of us have been there and done that. The only person who will change is you, and it’s your choice whether to endure the rudeness. The golden rule applies in this case and I learned long ago to treat them as I wanted to be treated. It was a good lesson for the kids also. Including them in your big family parties gives them the option of participating or not. We can’t change others, only our reactions to them.
    Good Luck, it’s a long, fun, bumpy road training in-laws!

  17. My husband’s family is exactly the same way, but not only will the offended party not talk to you, they will stop at nothing to ensure the entire family doesn’t talk to you. My husband’s brother has even gone as far as attempting to make his best friend upset as well. They can never just be a happy family, not a situation I grew up in at all.
    I have since cut them all of them out of my life.I grew tired of the hurtful comments and the lies they told about my character, while my husband just say and said he didn’t know what I was talking about. He barely has a relationship, but not by my doing, but by theirs. It’s not worth our time and energy to save a relationship that is doomed to fail so we are just happy we have one good side to our family.

  18. “letting go and making the best of the incredible family members I do have. ” I vote for this option. It’s hard, but bitterness can negatively affect the “incredible family members”.

    Forgiving, and then combing your hair and going on with your life is usually the best option, I’ve found.

    Here’s one of my favorite verses (and the hardest to live out):

    “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. ” Colossians 3:13

    Congratulations, btw, on being picked for the “Freshly Pressed” page! Gloris

  19. People have the power to hurt you because you give them that power. Whether it’s family (for you) or some kid who cheated me out of something important in grade school, their hold over us is no more or less than what we allow it to be.

    Ultimately, it’s not about them, or your husband, or anyone else. Ultimately, it’s all about you.

    The great, huge, ginormous upside of this is that you have the power to change things. As I wrote in my latest book, though: Like embezzlement, change is an inside job.

    Michael Rosenbaum
    Your Name Here: Guide to Life

  20. I am not married yet, so I’d see it from a kid’s point of view. My mother has had problems with in-laws ; she thinks his family is just way too outspoken about so many things, that is quite the opposite of my mom’s family. Let’s just say extroverted family meets introverted family- this is hard. The introverted side is often offended.
    I have a boyfriend, and his parents and family seem to love me. I hope this will continue to be like this since we are from different countries.
    All I am saying is that- 1+1 is never 1. It is always 2. So I guess one should be prepared with any problems come out of it.
    Thanks for sharing

  21. The hubs and I was discussing family just last night. I made the comment that I try to let things roll off my back but it’s hard not to be upset by certain comments. And he simply replied, “I’ve had my whole life to sort out how my family is and I’ve only been OK with it for the past 12 years. You’ve been with them for less than 10; it may take some time for you to understand them and understand how you can cope.” And while I was peeved as this comment, I think he has a valid point.
    We tend to look over our own family’s faults because that’s all we know; we’ve only experienced our parents, our siblings and grandparents and cousins. Dropping a new family in your lap doesn’t always end up peachy keen but with time, we learn to accept people.
    In the meantime though, I send my well wishes your way. I understand how things can completely suck. Be strong – it builds character.

  22. Great (and HONEST) post! love it!
    You are exactly where I am except that it is MY family and not the in-laws! I have been toying with the idea of writing a post titled “When Family Becomes a Stumbling Block” but am afraid of opening another can of worms if they ever happened to see it.
    Someone posted this Bible verse earlier: “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. ” Colossians 3:13 but in that context, Paul is writing about how Christians deal with other Christians. It’s quite another thing when unbelieving family members want nothing to do with Christ or your faith! The Bible says in Genesis 2 about husband and wife coming together that “For this reason a man will LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” I stress “leave his father and mother” because I believe your spouse and children become the most important family to be concerned about. My main point is that if your sanity and well-being are being affected by family, then there may be a time to cut them off. This is part of what Jesus was referring to in Luke 12, verses 51-53: “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. 53They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” Another verse to consider is “If it is possible, AS FAR AS IT DEPENDS ON YOU, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18) If you have done all that you can to make it work, and they are still “rude to you, refuse to cultivate a relationship with your kids, insult your beliefs, and have no concern for what you value and refuse to congratulate your accomplishments”, then I believe the best one can do is to distance oneself from such family members, pray for them, love them from a distance and pray that God will do something to change their hearts. God bless you and your family during such trying times. Praying it all works out. Will be checking on this blog from time to time as it’s refreshing to see such honesty out there!

  23. Thankfully you started life in a loving supportive family. I am fortunate to have in-laws who are more like my parents than my parents actually are. Isn’t it funny, partners seem to fill the gap for the other. Your partner did not have wonderful parents (if I may be so bold to assume) and now he’s lucky to have your parents in his life. Same for me, now I have a positive relationship with my in-laws.
    I also second the commenter who’s spouse said he’d had 20+ years to learn to cope with his parents’ behavior, you may just need some time to learn where your boundaries are with them.
    Good luck and blessed be!

  24. I like a quote I read in Reader’s Digest. It was something about what in-laws won’t tell you… it doesn’t matter- but here it is: “when you married my son, I didn’t lose a son, I gained a daughter.” I guess maybe your in-laws see it as having lost a son. I’m sorry they’re like that, and it isn’t wrong to vent. If you kept it all inside, that’d be destructive to your immediate family. I think you it might help to just back down. If your in-laws are uncomfortable with this whole addition to the family, then let them alone. And what can your husband really do? they’re his parents.. he’s been their child since forever, I can’t imagine it’s easy to go against your parents, or talk to them about how to treat people. Anywho- just my opinion. :]

  25. Pretty soon I will be marrying into a family that doesn’t exactly “like” my shade of skin color. Granted, my future mother and father in law have no problem with it..but her extended family (grandmom..some aunts and uncles) surely do. The way I look at it is this: There’s practically nothing that you can do to change how your in-law family acts. It’s sad, but true. Be happy that your own family is so good, and make sure you raise your children in the same way that your own family raised you…so you one day become the mother in law to your child’s spouse that you always wanted.

    Maybe your husband should at least try to talk to his parents and change their ways…at least a little for your benefit and the benefit of the family. At the same time, these are his own parents, and he’s been with them his whole life, and may have tried to change them in the past to no such luck. His reaction might be coming from a place of past failures to change them.

    I hope things get better, though.

  26. Pingback: Is Being Family Enough? (via ~Just Another Day in Paradise~) « eeburrah vision

  27. Have you met my family?I had the same hopes and aspirations for my in-laws but they have no desire for any of it. They just have different ideas of what a family is and it’s sad. So, we focus on the positive and spend more time with my family. It’s sad but I suspect he may even be closer to my mother than his own parents.

  28. I think your husbands got it figured out. He recognizes that his parents are “elephants” and treats them as such. You so badly want them to be “penguins” and when they act like what they are you get upset and frustrated. So I guess the moral of the story is LEARN to love penguins.

  29. I totally hear you on this topic as I’ve experienced the same conflict myself. Recently, I did write about a situation in which my mom really upset me with something she said (I didn’t mention it was mom in the blog). I didn’t think she’d read my blog. But she did and then felt so bad and apolgized profously for what she said. I guess on one hand, it was good because my writen words got through to her. But on the other, was that right to put it online? Shouldn’t I have just talked to her? It’s a fine line in terms of wanting to express oneself and wanting to keep family sacred (especially if they do read the blog).

  30. Oh that is such a tough situation. I would kill them with the wonderful person you are around them, and it will become contagious.

  31. Wow! I’m am overwhelmed by the outpouring of personal stories, opinions, and lessons learned. I am sincerely grateful to everyone to took the time to share their situations and thoughts with me!

  32. While I have different circumstances with my in-laws, I can totally 100% see where you are coming from, just for slightly different reasons. I think you are possibly like me and you probably think too much and have an overwhelming desire to fix things. (Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just really frustrating when the “thing” is not fixable.)
    I don’t know how to not do that either. ;0)

    Honestly your post reminds me a little of what I was blogging about yesterday “How do you reconcile the life you want, with the life that you have?” That is something I roll around in my mind quite a bit. In various aspects, not just the in-law category.

    If you ever figure out the perfect answer, Please let me know. :) In the meantime, know that you are not alone.

  33. I have a group of close-nit friends (both male & female) that I consider true family compared to some blood relatives that I am unfortunately have to see at family get-togethers. At times, rather have them at a family party.

  34. i have such a nice and honest friends who can never leave me alone in problems.
    so i see a family in my friends……….my friends are rocks

  35. I have friends that are more ‘family’ than my actual family. In my mind, extended family is whatever you want it to be. You decide who makes you happy and keep those people in your life. Family does not have to be an obligation for a relationship. You always have a choice.

  36. Pingback: What I Hoped My In-Laws Would Be « Feelings From The Attic

  37. Here’s an idea. Why don’t you focus on the good things in your life? If you spend all your time agonizing about things not being perfect and just the way you want them you will go to your grave an embittered and friendless person. Just a thought.

    • Jim, I don’t think that’s what she is doing. Just because something bothers her or upsets her or hurts her (whatever it may be) that certainly does not mean that she “spends all of her time agonizing about things not being perfect and just the way she wants them”. I didn’t see anything in her post that leads me to believe that of her. I’m not sure why you would make that assumption.

      • Well, she invested enough time in it to write the post and (I assume) read our comments. That’s a pretty big chunk of time to spend feeling sorry for oneself. Do you blog about things that aren’t important to you?

      • Jim,
        It seems like you are being harsh towards her for no apparent reason. I write about lots of things, some are important, some are not. But that’s really not what this is about.

        Why the assumption that she is “feeling sorry for herself”?

        Clearly it matters to her, but just because something matters to her doesn’t mean she “spends all of her time agonizing about things”. Surely, you can see the difference.

        I mean by your logic, since you “invested enough time” to read the post, and the replies and comment more than once, I could say that you’ve spent a decent chunk of time on it. Should I assume that you are spending all of your time agonizing about this blog post?
        Do you see the holes in your theory when I flip it around and try to apply it to you?

  38. sometimes it is family that hurt us the most… but the great thing about family is you forgive and move on a lot easier than those who are non family…and you do that not necessarily for the family member who hurt you but for the other family memembers who did not….to keep the family together and in tact…. i guess that is what family is…. but hey…what would we do without them…


  39. We are now living in the Aquarian Age. Everything is about the individual now. How did that happen?

    Well, we’ve all been re-writing our list of what we value most.

    That list used to start with family. Now it starts with becoming who we really are.

    This is not a reversible change in attitude. It’s come to stay. It’s of our own making.

  40. I have the exact same family relationship, on both sides. And my husband is (bless his heart) equally non-chalant. I worked at a family relationship that you describe for 20 years. Now I have a major illness that no one on both sides of my family ever ask me about. I should have adopted my husband’s attitude (again, bless his heart) a long time ago. All that anguish you are expressing, is going deep down inside you and will create a major illness within you, as well. Walk away from them, Walk away from them, Walk away from them all (and don’t look back, ever).

  41. sometimes, things don’t always turn out the way you want it to be! but i think you have more wonderful things to look into? i think its human nature to actually notice the defects in self, and think over it. notice the beautiful things instead!

  42. I think we set our selves up for disappointment when we don’t get what we wish for or if our childhood visions and dreams don’t come true, then hold on to the things that are missing. I say accept them the way they are and let it go. Trying to dwell on what you don’t have is taking your energy away from the things that matter and the blessings that eren’t getting your attention. Besides… family does not have to be blood or married into.

    Another thing with family… you can love them without liking them you know.

  43. Pingback: The Plight of the In-Laws « Belle of the Carnival's Blog

  44. I agree it is difficult to leave a message here as it feels like telling tales and you dont want people who know you to find it.

    Yes we have similar issues. In fact probably more people than we realise have similar issues. And its difficult to find someone to talk to as the brief moments I meet other mothers at school gate etc are not the times to start moaning or being down otherwise people will just not want to talk to you.

    However there do also seem to be numerous people who manage to have this “perfect life” – they have brothers and sisters who maybe actually have kids and who are the same age as your kids. they may still have all the grandparents – no-one has died young and these grandparents help out etc.

    However as you say I dont have that life either and can relate to yours. I like what the guy says about forgiveness. I think we can at least give that a shot for a while although as he says at some point we need to stick up for ourselves and state what we want. I would say in our family there is also that expectation that people can say what they want as you are family and wont leave them. However I must admit I am not perfect either. In fact with regards to actual marriage I heard an interesting guy on the radio – here is his website. He had a lot of sensible things about marriage like not scoring points, not opting out etc
    I will link to your blog – hope all goes well.

  45. I think I quite understand.

    My mother’s family, while they don’t see much of each other and live kind of scattered, have this very genuine warmth when they do get together. They like each other, they congratulate the people who’ve graduated, gotten new jobs, gotten married, had babies, so on. It’s not a family that gets together every weekend for dinner, but it is a family of people who I think are interested in the wellbeing of each other. There’s a lot of teasing and a lot of laughter, and we come together when we need to grieve.

    My father’s family…they’re bewildering. They see more of each other, but the FIGHTS. For years, one of my aunts and one of my uncles couldn’t see each other without a HUGE fight. My oldest uncle would have cut off ties from his parents years ago except that my grandparents have a fairly substantial amount of money and he wouldn’t want to risk his inheritance. My youngest cousin knows he wasn’t the girl his parents wanted and that they find him a huge disappointment. My grandfather is prone to making truely mean remarks about his children, their wives (the only daughter isn’t married), and their offspring. We get together, the lot of us, every Christmas, but it’s stressful, at least to me. I can’t remember a Christmas during my childhood that didn’t involve at least one fight or one kid being threatened that he/she was going to be spanked with a spoon or a brush or a belt or not allowed to spend the rest of the holiday with the grandparents (thank god my parents weren’t among that lot!). All of the adults from that side of the family expect absolute obedience.

    And it continues. When my boyfriend met my mother’s family, they reminded him of his mother’s family – a lot of teasing each other, but all in good fun. When he met my father’s family, most of what he remembered was my father’s sister controlling the conversation and letting no one but my grandfather and my father have opportunities to speak. (My poor boyfriend – after that uncomfortable evening, my father asked him what he thought of his family. The boyfriend thought for a moment and said they were…interesting? He’s too kind. My father laughed – he doesn’t care much for his sibs, to the point where if they weren’t related, he wouldn’t have anything to do with them, but that side of the family there’s this sense that you have an obligation to be there, even if you don’t like anyone else.)

    I wish I could say that all is well with even my nuclear family, but my sister and I do not get along. It doesn’t seem to matter what I do, she’ll find something to take offense to. And I wish I could do something about that, because it upsets my mother, but in my sister’s eyes, I can never do right.

    Family is such a difficult topic. No matter how much we might wish they were who we want them to be, no matter how much we care for them, no matter how much we try to be who we think they want us to be…in the end, you have no control over other people, and some people just aren’t the warm and welcoming folks we’d wish them to be.


  46. It stinks, but you can’t win them all. Or blame them for not fitting into your notion of what a “family” is. I’m not saying cut them out, but just redirect your focus and energies towards the portion(s) of the family that want it. Keep it cool, don’t go tell the kids that grandma so-and-so doesn’t want to know them, but spend your time with whichever side of the family you feel better with. And don’t take it personal, it sounds as if your husband has come to terms with them over time.

  47. It stinks, but you can’t win them all. Or blame them for not fitting into your notion of what a “family” is. I’m not saying cut them out, but just redirect your focus and energies towards the portion(s) of the family that want it. Keep it cool, don’t go tell the kids that grandma so-and-so doesn’t want to know them, but spend your time with whichever side of the family you feel better with. And don’t take it personal, it sounds as if your husband has come to terms with them over time.

  48. I, too, hoped for a better relationship with my in-laws. It didn’t bode well when my mother-in-law-to-be announced that she was having a wedding shower for me on a day when she’d known that I’d be away and told my fiancee that they’d have it with or without me. I could never understand a person who could hurt their own children. For years, I tried to have that relationship with them while my husband only wanted to ignore them. He was tired of their crap. But I wanted my children to know their grandparents. Finally, I gave up. I decided not to care what they thought of me, and when they do hurtful things, I explain to my kids that sometimes that’s how they are. Some things we protect them from, but I think they deserve to know that not all people – extended family included – are thoughtful human beings. I choose to spend my time with people who “get” us and treat us with respect and love.

    • By the way, I liked your post. And family is tricky – I don’t have the relationship I’d like with my own parents, either, but I accept them as they are, too. You are not alone.

  49. I have the same expectation as you about being a family. But sadly both my parents-in-law are passed away. I knew them for short time only. There was time when I had my “uncomfortable” moments with my father-in-law. but after he’s gone, I just focus on the good times we had together. We still have gathering now and then with my sisters and brothers in law, since my husband is the eldest, i always remind him to call and make sure that they are doing ok.
    But thanks for sharing your thoughts, i think just continue to do what you believed!

  50. Nicely written post.
    Family is a strange thing, we can’t pick our first family, sometimes they bother us so much we wonder how we can bear and deal with them, but then you wonder can you live without them?
    then there is the family you created. I would say stick with the amazing family you have now, if you have tried with your in laws so many times but each time you get shut down then so be it. At least you know you’ve made an effort. Treasure what you have now rather than go for something you tried so hard to get but never seem to. It’s something out of your control, it’s them that are loosing out at the end of the day!

  51. Very interesting post. I have a tiny, cold family. My fiance (with whom I’ve lived for four years) has a medium-sized, very close-knit family. I am still adjusting to spending time with them, to the lack of constant criticism, to the fact that family is the #1 priority in their lives, to being listened to with interest…it is extremely hard to go the other way, when you were raised in a family that was completely tied up in knots and treated their child like a hindrance. I’m so sorry that your husband’s family isn’t what you expected – but if I can learn to deal with people who are actually interested in me for me, you can learn to shrug it off and realize that, much to their misfortune, they just don’t care about you as much as you’d like. It’s their loss, not yours.

    I am sort of in the same position as Audrey, above, in that they are SO interested in our lives that I feel smothered. With love. Big, pillowy, totally foreign love.

  52. My wife and I have had similar struggles with both sets of our families. After a few difficult years we made the decision to separate ourselves from them and their negativity. We have learned to focus our love and energy to those people in our lives who are positive and love us in return. I agree with the sentiment already expressed: Quality over quantity.

  53. Thanks for sharing. There are so many of us who share similar frustrations with family – it may not be in-laws, but we share your feelings of frustration. As many have said, you aren’t going to change your in-laws. You’ve tried, you have expressed your hearts’ desire to your husband and his family. So, now, just leave it in God’s hands and spend your energy units on your own nuclear family.

    Use your energy units to hold close those who reciprocate to you. Invest your energy units in those people. And while you seem to be the type of woman who will be courteous and kind to your in-laws…don’t invest anymore into those dead relationships. They aren’t going to change. Be blessed and know that many good thoughts are coming your way!

  54. I totally agree that families are strange and I can relate , but love is unconditional. Understand that just because they are not in your life does not mean you don’t care & love them, unfortunatly they are not behaving appropriately for you or your family, whatever it is that they are doing. If it’s negative it needs to be removed. For your sanity & the healthy upbringing of your children, I suggest you remove the negitive in your life and focus on a healthy positive life.
    think about this
    negative attracts negative & more negitive. is this how your life is going.

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  56. How hilariously sad that this sounds just like me. Having a small family I ALWAYS envisioned my wife and I joining together two families and having amazing gatherings… instead conflicting personalities have led to no celebrations together and everyone being on pins and needles about EVERY subject… good post.

  57. I know exactly how you feel. When I met my husband’s mother I thought she would love me like all my other boyfriend’s mother’s did. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case and still isn’t after 10 years of marriage. At first it was kill them with kindness but that didn’t work and then there was indifference. That seemed to do the trick for a bit. Now it’s sad to say we rarely see my husband’s family and when we do see them it always ends up in an argument. They accuse us of spending more time with my family, but how can we not spend time with my family when his is never available to spend time with us or our 2 children. We have a very happy home life. I have resigned myself to the fact that I will never have the extended family I always wanted. I am thankful that my kids have 2 grandparents, an aunt and cousins that love them and are always there for them. I suggest you do them same. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks…

  58. My mom always told me “not to air dirty laundry in public” how the modern and internet times have changed! it is good to vent out at times! Family can mean so many things to so many people… mostly I find that most families are (somewhat) dysfunctional but almost always priceless.

  59. Unrealistic expectations are the greatest cause of unhappiness. Adjust your expectations to something more realistic with respect to your in-laws, and you’ll be a lot happier.

  60. Oh I really enjoyed reading this…I’m not married, but I have the same expectations you had or have, that my entire family, in laws and everyone, will all just get along. I guess really, that is the ideal…However, I see more and more that not every family is like my own (Where people love each other despite flaws and countless other issues). The guy I’m with now has a family similar to the one your husband has…And I see many times that his outlook on ‘family’ and what that means is entirely different to my own.

    I guess in one way you can give up and forfeit something that would one day be very nice, and ultimiately the most gratifying, and by doing so, illiminate pain and trouble within yourself…However, I dont think many of the good things in life come from giving up, and usually its by acting in the opposite spirit or, manner, when people are changed…So maybe, who knows, even in years, your in laws will begin to change just a little, to the point where you can enjoy their company…And maybe things won’t be entirely different, like your husbands outlook on his family, or even his families outlook on their family, but I think its possible for you to bridge the gap and try and conquor some not so good relationships….By being a servant to them, loving them despite their issues and mean comments, and treating them in a way you would like to be treated…Thats usually something that can change the people around you….Who knows! I encourage you, be brave :)

  61. I was telling a friend yesterday. That God totally made up for what I may lack in family quality by giving me a great group of friends. Sometimes the family you chose meets your familial needs much better than the family you are born or married into.

  62. My mother had a similar experience with my father’s family, who were also prejudiced towards her because of differences in culture and religion. You know what? Even though it might’ve hurt her being in a new country with little to no welcome, she was a strong enough woman to accept it and move on. She didn’t need them, and I’m sure that though it might hurt you, you can live without them too. You’re probably better off without their company anyway, if they’re cold and rude.

  63. Mary, I agree that family carries a special dignity and relationships different than any other – sometimes good, sometimes not so good. Either way we have to put up with it just because it’s family. Doing it with grace puts you a step above them – that “kill ’em with kindness” concept. And, it sets a good example for your children.

    That said, on a somewhat lighter note, albeit small comfort now, I’m a genealogist junkie and can attest that it’s the interesting tidbits (dirty laundry) that make the story interesting:-)

    I have a year-long blog project going on my family history. In doing so, I decided to keep the tone positive and protect people’s privacy. I get a few public comments here and there. But I get LOTS of private emails from siblings, cousins, etc., who have remembrances and interesting scoops. Oh, I’d love to publish them! They’re fascinating. And they would add the reality of family drama to my story. But, alas, there’s that dignity thing…

    Check my project out here:

  64. there was a song during world war II that said, “you always hurt the one you love, the one you shouldn’t hurt at all.” it seems like family is the group that will tear you down and stab you in the back quicker than anyone else. most times friends you made in high school are closer than actual family. i don’t understand people either. some things you said remind me a lot of the way my grandmother was. sadly, at her death we were more relieved than grieved.

  65. Yes, it’s not enough to have a banner outside your house saying “we’re a family”. But your expectations may be the reason why you have been suffering so much pain in the past. Two things: you can be a bitch about it and ignore them while moving on with your life or you can sit down and talk to them about your issues. For all you know, they may also have issues that they might want to present to you. There’s nothing wrong about hoping for something to go well but in your case, you have to act responsibly for yourself and for the people around you.

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  67. If they were mine and they were hurtful to me or my husband or children, we would not make any special effort ever to see them. If they were interested enough to ask, I would tell them why I was never around. Have the holidays and good times with those who love you. Friends are the family you choose.

  68. I come from a broken home and have never expected much from family members. I love that you have the concept of what a family should be and how it should function. Your family is lucky to have you, and your point of view alone is critical to keeping some semblance of connectivity there. Build on that. It will never be perfect, but it can improve with the smallest of positive interactions. Decide what is best for your household core, and unfortunately any one that interferes with the happiness of the core, should be dealt with on your terms. And a public forum is a great place to air your laundry, we all take comfort in hearing each others problems and realizing that we are not alone with our troubles. If you are offending others, you’re doing it right!

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