Some people like their in-laws. Some hate them. And some simply tolerate them. I love Bob’s family. Always have and always will. It’s not because they are perfect. Who is? It’s because I have a natural chemistry with them, which unfortunately I cannot say I have always felt with some people in my own family.
Some people like their in-laws. Some hate them. And some simply tolerate them. I love Bob’s family. Always have and always will.
Yet, let me be clear, my family means the world to me… even though they sometimes make me crazy for one reason or another. Whose doesn’t? My mom and dad are two of the most genuine people on the planet. You have no doubt they are who they say they are and mean what they say. They are honest, hard-working, loyal people who just want the best for their children. And they’ve sacrificed much in their pursuit of that goal. It’s taken me a long time to really appreciate the depth of the love they both have for me. And certainly that was made more difficult by my decision to move back to Ohio from Houston when I was 20 years old, leaving my parents behind.
So being on my own in Ohio, while even at a distance of 1200 miles, my parents were and always have been there for me. Yet, it’s denied me the simple pleasures of enjoying casual family dinners, playing cards, or just having a cup of coffee together on a cold winter weekend morning.
When I met Bob’s mom, I felt an instant connection with her. Sandy shared many similarities beyond her astrological sign, Sagittarius, with my mom – solid values, unwavering honesty, refreshing authenticity, and a mother’s protective attitude toward her children, which she extended without hesitation to me. In effect, Sandy was my “local” mom. So while my parents lived far away, Sandy and her husband Dick along with Bob’s dad and stepmom Charlotte lived within a reasonable drive. This made it easy to join them for dinner, holidays, and other family gatherings both planned and spontaneous. And it never felt forced or awkward with the exception of the many times we arrived after we had fought in the car on the entire drive to their house.
Bob’s sister was still in high school when he and I first started dating. I remember attending an orchestra performance watching sister Debbie as she played first chair all city flout. I was so proud of her. She was beautiful, very shy, kind, and straight-laced. She also seemed to really enjoy having someone to call sister in her life. Through the years, we laughed and cried with Debbie as she graduated high school, lived with us while she attended college, broke up with boyfriends, and then eventually met and married the love of her life. In fact, Debbie and I were so close that I was the matron of honor in her wedding. This meant a lot to me as of course I didn’t have a sister either and was never terribly good at keeping female friends. Of course, I thought I had ruined that friendship forever when only a month after her wedding, I announced my separation from her brother.
A Life Unlived
When our son Ian was born, the bond with Bob’s family continued to grow – especially since Ian was the first grandchild in the family. He was showered with love and gifts enough for ten kids and enjoyed his “only grandchild” status for a long 7 years. Of course for us, it meant we had eager babysitting options in Grandma and Aunt Debbie. This should have truly afforded us the alone time needed to continue building a solid bond as husband and wife. Yet we didn’t do that. We both were very good at focusing on Ian and being good parents. But somehow we couldn’t beyond our own egos enough to focus on being the best to each other.
Meanwhile, I couldn’t quite shake an undeniable sense that I was leaving some part of my life unlived. I felt like every decision that determined what type of life I would have was being made by someone else. What type of job, house, friends, and hobbies we participated in were being dictated primarily by Bob’s preferences and priorities. That wasn’t all bad, though. Bob encouraged me to get back to singing, something that was my personal passion and talent. He even hooked me up with some guys he was friends with to jumpstart the idea. Of course, it felt like even that couldn’t be left to me either. Bob formed a band to play one year at his self-arranged birthday party. And of course, he one-upped me as parent on that one having given our son backing vocals duties at the age of 4, which Ian handled quite well. Why didn’t I think of that? This is how we both were toward each other as a married couple – ultra competitive, more concerned with being the best “whatever” and being right or having the last word than with being thoughtful or kind. Or maybe we both just took some of these actions way too personally.
I felt like every decision that determined what type of life I would have was being made by someone else.
If it isn’t obvious yet, I was very tormented by the idea of decimating my much loved family unit by declaring my own independence from all of it. What would become of me? I lived five states away from the only family with whom I communicated other than Bob’s. They were the ones I celebrated most holidays and special occasions with. It was Sandy and Dick who shared in our joy as we watched Ian eat his first birthday cake, collect Easter eggs for the first time, and beat on his first drum kit. They were my local support in times of crisis or despair. Who would be that support if I struck out on my own? Who could get to me in a 10 minute drive if I needed them? Who would be my emergency contact? Hell, for that matter, what type of social life could I hope to have with no one to babysit? I didn’t have any real friends to call my own and would most likely lose all of our shared friends to Bob in the divorce. I had coworkers who I barely knew and an aging Yorkshire terrier. That’s what I had. I was a mom working a 50+ hour-a-week corporate job. I was no longer in a band with people I had come to call friends, but rather was trying to form a new band with a bunch of guys in our basement that neither Bob nor I knew well. They were all but strangers to us at this point. I had virtually no savings and was not sure if my parents were able to help me if something came up even though they always had. Bob’s family, while not rich but comfortable, supplied an added sense of security in this area should an emergency arise.
How could I do this? How could I consider this? How could I risk this most wonderful family? Yet, what choice did I really have? Could I continue going through life living according to someone else’s plan? What was I going to miss out on and was it worth it? All this support and security ironically seemed to be smothering me. What could I be? What experiences might I have if I took charge of my life? Oh so many questions. I couldn’t leave them all unanswered. They would drive me insane!
Divorcing the Extended Family
So the announcement was made and Bob’s entire family was of course, there for him. Maybe they were there for me too but I didn’t dare ask. Suddenly I saw myself as an intruder on their family. I felt like I had betrayed everyone’s expectations. They were devastated by my decision and really didn’t understand what was so awful about my life. But the truth is it wasn’t awful. It was just unlived. And my life I felt couldn’t go like a Christmas package that never got opened. It wasn’t something I was going to have much luck explaining to anyone. Not Bob and certainly not his loving almost-perfect family.
But the truth is it wasn’t awful. It was just unlived. And my life I felt couldn’t go like a Christmas package that never got opened.
Of course, life after marriage felt at times more like a game show than it did a Christmas present that I was finally going to get to open. In the first round, behind door #1 was a group of new friends which would become my new surrogate family and bring joy to my life for years to come and still to this day. In the second round, behind Door #2, I discovered more failed romantic relationships and a couple less- than-lucrative career moves.
I liken the early days of our separation to feeling like Bob’s entire family had been killed in some horrific accident. I really thought it would just be too hard for them to remain in my life. I certainly wouldn’t expect them to betray their family member for my sake. And didn’t associating with me mean they would have to do just that? Or did it? Could Bob find it in his heart and everyone’s best interest to give his family permission to allow a continued relationship with me? I don’t know how those conversations might have went but somehow through all of the hurt and pain he found a way to show me this mercy.
Putting it all back together
As the years passed, Sandy and Dick as well as Debbie babysat for Ian when I needed them to. Sandy continues to send me Christmas and Birthday cards to this day. In fact, I received the card pictured above from her yesterday. Now that’s what I’m talking about! We call each other occasionally just to catch up and I try diligently to keep them apprised of significant events in Ian’s life so they don’t miss out on anything. Men just don’t seem to do that as well. We share pictures. We attend family gatherings together. And one year, Sandy and Dick even offered for me to join them one Christmas eve for a fun night of family cards. When any of Bob’s family attended Ian’s soccer games, school concerts, or other activities, I would always sit with them, and in fact, save them seats. I felt no need or desire to separate myself from them. It seemed so much more natural to be with them. It wasn’t me and them. It was us – Ian’s family!
Sandy continues to send me Christmas and Birthday cards to this day. In fact, I received the card pictured above from her yesterday. Now that’s what I’m talking about!
I’ve been there for Bob’s family too. When Bob’s Aunt Angie was dying with liver failure, I stood in the hospital room with the family surrounding her as she took her last breath. When Sandy’s sister and Dick’s son each passed, I attended their viewings and shared in the family’s grief. When Bob and Brandy had their daughter and needed a sitter, I watched her for them. When Bob was in a motorcycle accident, I offered whatever support was needed in the first minutes within which I was notified. It’s just what people who care about each other do. And why on Earth should I not care about my son’s father, grandmother, grandfather, or aunt?
I’m very thankful that Bob’s family has remained in my life and that I can still call them my family too!