I accompanied Donald to his job away from home this week, which was a real treat for me and for him. While the visit itself was full of learning more about our possible future home, I learned so much more from a conversation we had in the car on the way there.
At the dinner table sometime last week, something about materialism came up and Donald launched into how my mom is so anti-materialistic. All I could do was shoot him a look and change the subject, which his parents may or may not have noticed. I was mortified and embarrassed and a little hurt. One of the things we learned during our pre-marital counseling was that I'm responsible for handling my family and he's responsible for handling his. I felt like that rule had been a bit forgotten.
I didn't bring it up until our car ride a few days later. I didn't want to address him about it at the dinner table in front of his parents. I started by reminding him of the event and expressing that I thought he shouldn't bring up my mom in a negative light like that, especially when he didn't have first-hand information. I reminded him of the pre-marital counseling. I was calm and asked Donald not to talk about my mom like that anymore.
He resisted a bit, understanding my perspective and also wanting to be able to express his own frustration about the choices my mom has made. I felt stuck in the middle of them, trying to defend my mom and being angry that she didn't simply accept Donald, and feeling protective of Donald. Then, it dawned on me.
With a quivering voice, I changed the direction of the conversation slightly. This was actually about me. I explained that I am ashamed that my mom cannot embrace Donald into her family the way his parents have included me. I am embarassed that my mom cannot support our marriage the way Donald's family has. I see the disparity between the way our families have accepted us as a married couple.
Donald immediately understood my perspective. He didn't want me to feel ashamed; I am not responsible for my mom's actions. At the same time, I want so badly to give him a wonderful family-in-law and I'm not completely able to do that. I think my mom will come around and luckily the rest of my family is wonderfully accepting, in their own understated way, even my dad.
So Donald and I are both more connected about this now. I don't really have any action items on this; it may just take time for my mom to sort out her life enough that she can see what is most important. It may be that she never stops judging. Donald and I know, at least, that we are on the same page together, and that we will come up with ways to respond to her judging attitude in ways that open the door for conversation and also stay in alignment with our own values.
We also know that now is the time to practice, before children become yet another thing that potentially incurs disapproval. To think that I spent so much of my childhood seeking my parents approval and had it, and now, when I have stopped seeking that so much, I don't have it from my mother anymore, at least not in everything that matters to me.
I just wish it weren't quite so painful.