Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Meet the Parents: Avoiding Being on the Outs with Each Other when the In-laws Come to Visit

You’ve seen a similar plot in many a holiday movie: young newlyweds are excited to be spending their first Christmas together. Only thing is, the groom’s parents are flying in for a visit. Staying with them. In their overheated one bedroom apartment. For two weeks. Bad enough? No? Well, let’s not forget that mom and dad are divorced, making things quite awkward. Embarassing situations occur, nickpicking turns to annoyance, and in the end, hilarity ensues, right?
Maybe in the movies, but when I found myself in the role of the young bride this past Christmas, I found nothing hilarious about the situation. Oh, before my new in-laws arrived, I had somewhat high hopes, despite my nerves. I had only met Keiron’s parents once, a week before our wedding. His mom lives in Trinidad, with his dad currently residing in Belgium, working as a diplomat from the Caribbean nation. Although things had gone fine that first time, I was feeling some uneasiness about their extended visit. First, while I knew his parents are civil to each other, calling each other from time to time, they were still divorced and had not spent so much time together under one roof since before they split back in the 90’s. Would they treat each other coldly? Barely speak? The thoughts kept running rampant through my head.
I also worried about my cooking. I will not pretend to be a chef here. Heck, I’m not even really a cook. Sure, Keiron happily eats the food I prepare, but for him most things are delicious compared to his bachelor/ college years eating ramen noodles and canned ravioli. Other worries floated through my mind, like “what if they get bored while staying with us?” “What do they like to do?” I also felt irritation every time I thought about not being able to sleep with K. And I’m not talking about sex, either. I literally could not sleep in the same bed with him since he’d be bunking on the air mattress in the living room with his dad and I’d be sharing ours with his mom (I still sigh when I think about that).
When I brought my concerns to K in the weeks preceding their arrival, he seemed to not have any. “They’ll love you, don’t worry!” I felt brushed off, but I knew he had other things on his mind, including some big projects at work. And after I got sick for 5 days a couple of weeks before their arrival, I decided to not focus on potential problems. And on December 21st, his mom arrived first, sweeping in like a tornado. Three days later, dad came, shaking up our home even more.
Do understand, there were no big fights, teary eyed arguments or screaming pronouncements of hatred. Although the premise of our holidays was like a movie, the pacing and action, or should I say, inaction was not. Instead, an awkward silence dampened our apartment. His parents spoke to each other quite cordially, talking about politics, Trinidad & Tobago government, and President-elect Barak Obama. But the lulls in their conversations left voids that couldn’t be filled. I noticed Mom mostly spoke at me- telling interesting stories from K’s childhood, and about their rich culture. But these weren’t conversations so much as lectures; I was there as an audience and not a participant. His dad barely spoke to me at all. Not that I said much to him either. Dad busied himself with the incessant task of opening personal emails which were funny (at least to him) PowerPoint forwards with bird sounds, music and jokes written in Portuguese or French. We would find out a little later those forwards were also packed with cookies that slowed our computer down, but that’s another story. K seemed the most uncomfortable. He would flip open his laptop and get lost. I, in return, got mad. I felt deserted. Here I was being lectured to by his mom about my over-processed American food and lack of kitchen supplies (yup, yup, folks, please refer back to the third paragraph in which I admitted my shortcomings in the kitchen, and considering I didn’t even have a dining room table until nearly a year after moving into my apt., I wasn’t crying over my lack of serving dishes), and he was reading software blogs and scanning for laptop batteries online. NOT FAIR!!!
And so began our silent battle. I snapped on him about not wanting to open his Christmas gifts in front of his parents. They wanted a photo-op show; he felt that was a spectacle. He wanted to open them quietly; they felt he was not being a good host and moody. I dragged him out to do it. Another night, I began to read alone in the bedroom while K and his parents were doing things in the living room. He came and snapped on me for my apparent rudeness. I wailed back at him, “You know this is my vacation, too! We barely get time off from work and now we have to spend it working as hosts with no breaks!” I was furious. He got quiet as he walked over and closed the bedroom door. “I’m sorry, you have every right to be in here reading if you want. It’s our home and it’s our vacation, too.” Yes, it was our vacation, and it was during that conversation that we realized we needed to relax, too. We felt, for the first time in our new marriage, disconnected. And we became determined to fix it.
So through our not-so-happy holiday, we learned some important lessons, some of which I would like to share with you here:
Communication is key! I had some nagging concerns about my in-laws coming. Unfortunately, I believe my expressing them to my husband came out more like nags than concerns. Keiron tried to assure me, but we both neglected to actually address the legitimate problem of what we would do while his parents were with us. We should have sat down and really expressed our feelings and began to make a schedule before they ever stepped foot into our home. Which brings us to number 2:
Plan, plan, and plan some more! If my close friends and I were to play “Sex & The City”, I certainly wouldn’t play the part of Charlotte. I am not so organized, neat & pulled together. But even I had the feeling we should have a few things mapped out for our visitors to do while they were with us. Unfortunately, the Carrie in me threw caution to the wind and it wound up leaving us stuck a number of times. Take the time to make at least a short list of to-do’s- museums, shops, restaurants, and theatres in the area. Be aware of cost and your guests’ likes and dislikes.
Stick Together! Interestingly enough, the more awkward things got in our little apartment between the 4 of us, the more his parents came together! They managed to make an unexpected alliance towards the end of their stay to nag K about some perceived oversights he was making. At the time, I was taken aback. Now, I know the best way to get through a sticky situation is to stick together. Remember your partner is not the enemy!.
Make time for just each other. On New Year’s Day, I did something I never thought I would. With K, I went to Pt. Pleasant Beach in the brisk, thirty degree weather. And had a blast. This, fair readers, was not planned at all (thank you, inner-Carrie). We had just dropped his mom off at yet another mall (and lest you think we just coldly dropped her off with no regard, she made the request- I think she was sick of us by then), when Keiron asked what should we do with our free time (and no, after all the stores we had been in over that week, we were not going in). “Let’s drive to the shore,” I suggested. It was a strange idea, but my equally quirky husband agreed, and we wound up at Jenkinson’s Pier playing arcade games (I rock at shooting up bad guys with machine guns) and shooting hoops for tickets (um, I don’t rock so much in this area). This was one of the best times of the whole two weeks. I’ll never forget it.
Don’t drop important appointments or events. My nephew Justin turned seven on December 29th and had a birthday at Chuck E. Cheese’s and both me and K were there (playing games, he he he). We were also at my friend Lori’s New Year’s Eve dinner and made time for coffee with my brother at Starbucks one night, too. While for the majority of the two weeks were with my in-laws, we did spend time with others, too, which helped keep us balanced.
Do not linger on the shoulda-woulda-couldas. In hindsight, there are so many things we could’ve done better. Things we should’ve tried. Time we would’ve spent better if we had only known. But time has kept moving, and so we must as well. Don’t get hung up on mistakes. Obsessing on the past does not make a better present. You will grow stronger together by learning from your mistakes. And hopefully, you have learned a few things from our merry mishaps. It might not have had a ..Hollywood.. ending, but our first holiday together was certainly an adventure.


Love Abounds At Home said...

Wow! What an exciting Christmas season. After reading this, I know for a fact that my life is boring! Lol! The thought of divorced in-laws staying under one roof, my roof.....couldn't comprehend!
Have a Merry Christmas :)

Alisha De Freitas said...

LOL! It was a challenge, but it turned out to be a wonderful gift for my husband. And you know what, I'd do it again now if it would make him happy!

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