I'm about to acquire some new parents through marriage. Thankfully, mine are lovely (hi guys!).
But what if they were downright awful? You want to support your partner, you want to show you care, and if you don't want to pay for a babysitter every other weekend, you want to make sure mum- and dad-in-law are comfortably ensconced in your pocket.
Yet there is a line. There is a line when tolerance becomes impossible - when bending over backwards to please actually breaks the back. How do you know you've reached that point? And what do you do if you get there?
I know of a woman who enjoyed fairly reasonable relations with her man's clan. Yes, the getting-to-know-you phase was shadowed by the standard shade of cloudy grey; the whole "who are you, where do you work, and what are you doing with my child's heart" charade doting parents mete out when dealing with a new playmate of great significance.
Many have been there, some survive, and others do not. Some, meanwhile, simply do not give a crap.
Are they the real winners?
I digress. When it came to prospective in-laws, our heroine did give a proverbial poo, and so she was glad when she was measured, and found satisfactory. Her bosom swelled reciprocally with budding familial affection. Which was lovely. Especially as her path to approval was complicated by some cultural differences and language barriers.
So, when the relationship progressed, and it was clear that this man was The One, accepting his offer of marriage was all too easy. Our new bride-to-be felt, come wedding day, she'd gain a husband, and a bigger, happy family to boot.
How wrong she was.
The wedding bells had barely finished tolling when a crack appeared.
"They wanted money," she said.
"They wanted a lot, and they wanted it now. And they went about asking for it in a way that struck me as strange. Suddenly, it seemed, their attitude towards me had changed. Long-gone was the getting-to-know-you-niceness. Now, I was just another family member, and they could treat me how they wanted."
But isn't that the point of marriage? Isn't that what she wanted? Wouldn't it be counter-productive if, even after she'd taken their name, they acted as if she was somehow different?
"I am different though - I'm not really their daughter. I'm their son's wife. There's a difference."
In any case, news that her in-laws were in financial strife was indeed news to our new mrs. Her husband tried to explain that their request for help was a sign of respect. They wouldn't have come to the newlyweds if they didn't trust them completely - if they didn't completely accept them as a couple. So, he said, it was their duty to help, as they would help her parents, if it came to that.
"Except it wouldn't," she said. "My parents love and accept us, but they would never dream of asking for so much money. We'd have to take out a loan! We're trying to save for a house! And the way they went about asking - and expecting - makes me feel uncomfortable. I'm worried it sets a bad precedent."
Still, she could see it was important to her husband. And, while she wanted to maintain family harmony, she also wanted to make him happy, no matter what. So should she acquiesce, or stand her ground? How far should she go to keep her new parents satisfied?
It's an interesting dilemma; one that is made more complex by a world in which kinship is so open to interpretation.
Years ago, brides deferred to their husbands, and a husband respected his parents' wishes. Today, it's more likely a couple will create their own family, define their own terms, and operate as a unit largely independent of their families, except for the aforementioned child-minding facility.
This is partly the result of a generation that prioritised children far above elders, and emphasised the need to have exactly what they wanted, when they wanted it, now.
Some might say our bride is being selfish in not wanting to do whatever she can for her new parents. Others might say it is important she stand her ground. I say it's unfortunate she was so badly shocked by her in-laws so soon after binding herself to them. But, as they say, it happens, and the only way not to get stuck in a river of it is to discuss the problem, openly and rationally, with the concerned parties.
The line is drawn at the point you can all agree on. And if their requests are unreasonable, then it doesn't matter - nothing you can do will make them happy anyway.
So long as you and your lover are in harmonious unison, it's all roses.
- Sydney Morning Herald
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