The Value of Family and Strange Potential In-Laws

Seven years ago, I was dating a lawyer from the east coast who, was not only perfect from a textbook perspective, his family was perfect too. His parents were friendly and sociable, and, although we didn’t see them that often living first in the midwest and then the west coast, when I did see them they would be able to have conversations, and that made me feel welcome and at home. They truly loved their son, it was hard to ignore that love. His mother would sing “I’m proud of you,” a song she made up when he was young for his accomplishments, at his law school graduation. It was a little cheesy, but it provided a clear picture into how much love his family had to share and show.

I Broke Up with the Lawyer… and his Family
Never in a million years did I think I’d end up in a situation where this were not the case. That relationship didn’t work out for a number of reasons (quite frankly textbook perfection edited out some of the details.) Still, I’m not the most social person myself, and I’m very awkward in social situations, but when it comes to social awkwardness, my boyfriend’s family takes the cake and eats it too. They’re nice, don’t get me wrong, but when you’ve moved across the country away from your own family, and as you age, you start thinking how lovely it would be to have a new family to feel part of, especially if you grew up with a large family.

That isn’t and shouldn’t be why you end up deciding to spend the rest of your life with a guy — plenty of people have worse situations (ie deceased parents, no family at all), but I grew up with a really big distant family with big exciting holidays, and I’ve lately realized how sad it’s going to be to — one day — bring up kids into a world without those kinds of family gatherings to look forward to. Meanwhile, there will be no “mother in law” who I can turn to for parental advice, and no extended family to invite us to those family gatherings.

Thoughts on Family While at a Wedding
This all came to mind this weekend when we were at his cousin’s wedding in central California. His father’s family are filled with really nice people who I like a lot, and my boyfriend likes too. But, because his mother and father were never married, and his mother is very, very strange (ie doesn’t shower and wears thrift store clothes that don’t fit and still lives with her 90 year old parents and doesn’t talk to people at all strange — I try not to judge) my bf rarely gets invited to these events on his dad’s side. They used to invite him for Thanksgiving (I was even invited one year) but they just ran out of room with all the new kids being born, and we are the easiest to cut.

Their family actually lives close, though you wouldn’t know it. In the same city I live in are two of his cousins’ and their kids. They are in their 30s, so there’s a little age difference, and seem older since they each have 2-3 children and we’re still unmarried, but it would be nice to have a relationship with them. If that’s ever going to happen, now, or in a few years when we do have a family, I know I’m going to have to go out of my way to develop those relationships. My boyfriend doesn’t talk either. Well, he talks slightly more than his mother, but not to his family.

His family on his father’s side reminds me a bit of the family I grew up with back in New Jersey. Granted, they aren’t Jewish, so the holidays are different, but they’re still friendly and — well, rather normal. I wouldn’t say my parents are normal, that’s a whole other story, but my extended family that I grew up with — 10 cousins and 10 aunts and uncles, give or take a few that moved away, plus my two grandparents who I loved dearly — were a huge part of my life, and I miss them a lot now that I’m not around for all the family gatherings. It was my own choice to move far away, but now that I’m getting older, I see the true value in having family near by — whether that’s blood family or family through marriage, it’s still so important in one’s life. The only family I feel I have right now is my work family, and that’s not good, because last time my job ended I got really depressed about not seeing my coworkers, even though I didn’t even know them that well, and I haven’t seen most of them since!

At the wedding this weekend, the father of the groom (my bf’s father’s brother) gave a long, dramatic, sweet speech about how their family has welcomed the bride into their family with open arms. They are now her mother and father too, and she is their new daughter. Afterwards, my bf’s parents and I joked about how we will need to find actors to play them at our wedding – they’ll never be able to talk in front of a room full of people, and, they wouldn’t know what to say.

On the other hand, it’s really nice to not worry about what his parent’s think of me. Had I ended up with the east coast lawyer, I’m sure my life would be filled with judgements over how I’m living and how I’m raising my children, even if it was passive aggressive and never directly told to me. I’ll get enough of that in my own family! With my bf’s parents, I can be myself, or not be myself, they wouldn’t really notice. That’s definitely a plus. I just miss that extended family, especially around the holidays. This year, I’ll be going back east for Thanksgiving with a few of my cousins and grandparents, which will be nice. I don’t even know why I like those events so much — they rarely provide enough time to talk, and, even back when I was growing up and we went to holiday events like clockwork, I never felt deeply connected to my relatives. There was enough time to say hello and goodbye and fill each other in on the updates in our lives. But I’ve never had close, close family.

If You Don’t Have a Big Family, Should You Make One?
When I tell my boyfriend I want three kids it’s not because I want to deal with the hell of raising three children. It’s because I want a big family — if not a big extended family, then one where we can have a real feeling of being part of something when we have our dinners and spend time together. A small family is lovely, and I’d be happy if I’m able to have just one child, but something deep down tells me 3 is the right number. I’ve felt that way since I was a kid. Realistically even one freaks me out, but at this very moment I’m convinced I want kids. The question I have is, without tradition and without religion, how does one build a real sense of family, before or after having children?

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