author:Wayne and Tamara
Direct Answers Column for the week of December 27, 2004
My in-laws have continually treated me as a second-class person with respect to my husband, their son. My husband and I both have Ph.D.s, and we both are on the faculty at a research university. He is older, but I am a professor with a career and a purpose, also. I work full-time, cook every meal, clean our home, and I take impeccable care of myself because my husband deserves a fit, happy wife.
Still, from his parents, I am not as worthy as their son. I receive Christmas cards addressed to Dr. and Mrs. instead of Drs, and when I speak about a topic on which I am an authority, they pretend not to hear me. They wait and ask the same information of my husband, who they immediately believe. If the conversation is not about how wonderful their son is, they have nothing to say.
I am happy to brag on my spouse all day long, but the inequity of treatment hurts after seven years of marriage. As a result, when I see them, I am angry and resentful, overly loud and dogmatic, because I feel stepped on and undervalued. I am constantly mistaken on campus for a secretary (I am very young), and I handle that diplomatically and pleasantly, but these people know better.
Gabrielle, when we are young, we learn where babies come from. This knowledge is called “the facts of life.” As we grow older, we learn other facts of life, and sometimes these facts are unpleasant.
The unpleasant fact you are facing is your in-laws’ attitude. He is their son, and you are nothing to them. If you have children, they will be his children and their grandchildren. That is their attitude. You want a reasoned, kind way of changing their attitude, but you have been trying for years with no success.
Why not accept your in-laws and recognize them for who they are? Each Christmas card is not a slap at you, it is simply mamma writing to her son. You don’t have the ability to change who they are by your desire.
Wayne & Tamara
I love my fiancé with all my heart and spirit, but I am receiving mixed signals from my future mother-in-law. First, I want to say I never planned on marriage, and I don’t want children because I am selfish. I will not be a good little housewife and cater to my man’s every need, but I will love him the best and only way I know how.
My fiancé tells me his parents only want what will make us happy, and they want to see me at their house every week or two. But when my man is not around, his mother says things like, “You should give up being an artist and do nursing for the benefits.” Or she says, “I was a housewife and will soon retire. I need someone else to cook big dinners for the holidays.”
She got me to stay for Easter though I told them I did not want to. I even helped her cook dinner because she gave me this look that made me shrink inside. Now I don’t want to hurt her, but I need to let her know who I am. What should I do?
Caroline, for some reason good people have gotten it into their heads that they are not allowed to say the word “no.” When you let your fiancé’s mother have her way, you are lying to her about who you are. When you stand up to her, you are telling her the truth.
Some people will balk and say you should give in to your future mother-in-law, but you cannot sustain that for the next 25 years. You are who you are, and when you let false politeness dictate your actions, you diminish who you are.
Wayne & Tamara