Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Open Letter to My Future Mother-in-Law

Dear Mrs. C--

It was lovely to visit with you on your recent trip to Chicago, and to spend time with your three sons. You must be so proud of the way they turned out, three accomplished men, hard workers with a strong sense of duty and responsibility.

And now your eldest son has found a woman he wants to marry. I can imagine this step in his life, and in your own, fills you with a flurry of emotions that almost anyone wouldn't know how to handle, but that you seem to be doing your best to ignore. It occurred to me recently that perhaps you're frightened of something about my relationship with your son; perhaps you have an inaccurate and disturbing perception of who I am and what I want with him. Perhaps you'd like some reassurance as to who I am and how I relate with your boy.

Mrs. C---, I love your son with my whole heart. I love the generosity of spirit he has, and the humor, and the ardent profound affection he feels for those closest to him, and the need within him to take care of them. Surely you can acknowledge these things in the way he treats you and Mr. C--- as well as his brothers. You may not know that he treats me with the same care, the same thoughtfulness and consideration. He is a funny, open-hearted, hardworking incredibly kind man. Not only that, but he is a talented artist. This, Mrs. C---, is perhaps the part of your son which you and your family appreciate the least about him, and I say without exaggeration that it is this part of him with whom I fell in love first. His writing has taken my breath away before; he is so pensive, and so provocative, and so subtle and subversive as an artist, and listening to him talk about art, or read his own writing, always causes me to reflect on the truth he illuminates that I never saw, as well as to reconsider my own truth that I posit. I pity you, Madam, for not knowing or rejoicing in this part of your son. It is as rich and verdant a part of his heart as any other, and your ignorance of who he is as an artist and a writer gives you only a truly shallow awareness of his self.

Mrs. C--- I want nothing from your son but to love him and build a life with him. I want to stand beside him and watch him create, and hear the call of his voice over the din of words in my own head as I create. I want to lie beside him and listen to the echo of my heartbeat in his chest. I want to travel with him, to experience the things he know of which I am ignorant, and to show him the places I have been that he has yet to see. I might want to raise children with him, watch how he will joke with his son and teach his daughter; I don't know yet.
I do not want to sit in his home and allow him to take care of me. I want to work as hard to support our family as he does. I want to earn enough money so that he can quit the jobs he hates--jobs he is encouraged by you and your husband to continue working--and write, happily, wholly, with dogged focus and furrowed brow. I want to knit my life to his. I want to promise him that if he is ill, or in an accident, that I will spend all that I have and all that I am taking care of him.

I can promise him all of these things with a light heart, Mrs. C--- for I know without doubt that your son has already promised them to me.

I also want something from you, Mrs. C---. I want you to care that I am here. I want to matter to you because your son matters to you, and whether you like it or not, whether you understand it or not, I make your son so happy he could cry. I want to be acknowledged by you as a useful, viable, functioning source in your family dynamic. I want to be considered a member of your family by you, not just "that woman who is married to my son." I want you to treat me with love and kindness, with respect and consideration. I feel that these things must be possible; after all, your boy treats me with these things: he had to learn them from somewhere. I would like to consider you a second mother, and not just my husband's mother. I would like for us to enjoy each other, to consider each other, to care for and listen to and engage with one another, and to hold each other in a special place in our hearts.

I believe, Mrs. C---, that these things I desire are impossible. I believe that you will probably never care about me the way I'd like you to. This challenge makes it quite hard for me to feel kindness, affection, affinity for you. Truth be told, I struggle often with impatience, with frustration, weary of waiting for something (I don't know what, God knows) to dawn on you and soften your heart and loosen your tongue. I want to bang my head against walls sometimes: spending time with a woman who treats me quite like she couldn't care less whether I was present or not, whether I was well or not, is incredibly difficult. Perhaps the kind of warmth and affection I speak of and ask you for is simply beyond you; perhaps your life experience has caused you to harden your heart and toughen your skin so thoroughly that you are unable to allow yourself any vulnerability at all. That would be sad, I think, for both of us. If a woman like you can raise such an amazing son--flawed, to be certain, but absolutely lovable, nevertheless--there must be something good in her. If a woman like me can love your son, there must be something good in her. If we were unable to hold each other in the kind of intimate way I hope for, we would both be worse for it. However, I fear that it is simply not possible for you to access the kind of feeling for which I hope. I have learned that it has nothing to do with me, that despite my attempt to soothe you, you will still be abrasive and apathetic, and that it isn't a response to me at all, but to something inside you that still tortures you. I am sorry for that also. I only hope that my love of your son can give you some comfort, that you can rest easy knowing that your boy has a woman in his life who loves him well, who takes good care of him in more ways than you can conceive, and who will continue to do so, despite whatever hardships may exist for the two of us.

With much sincerity and affection,
Jessica M. Young


Laura said...

Excellent! Well-written. Are you going to send this to her, or is this just for your own heart? And maybe CP's?

Jessica Young said...

Probably just for myself. Kicking around the idea of jotting something down to her, a combo of reassurance and asking for what I want, but not sure if it's really worth my effort. Dealing with family always just seems so exhausting.

Nyactorgirl said...

Dealing with family IS exhausting! My heart goes out to you Jessica, because I know what a genuine, intelligent and caring woman you are. Keep strong!

I watched my sister Eva weather a pretty nasty storm in regard to her mother in law. Her husband's mother, Miss Daisy, never felt that my sister was good enough for her son. I wish that I could tell you things got better and that Miss Daisy learned to love my sister, but that is not what happened. Miss Daisy spent her last days just as bitter toward my sister as ever. My sister watched her die of cancer. Eva walked with her husband through all his grief with support and love. She never allowed herself to gloat over Miss Daisy's declining health. This is what you must do...and I am sure you already are! Never allow yourself to return evil for evil. Its quite possibly the most difficult thing you may ever have to do, but keep your motives and actions clear of the desire to give tit for tat. Remember that how someone treats you is no reflection of who you are. If they are being evil or rude, then you just keep being sweet because thats who you are. You are a sweet person. Don't let their evil rub off on you.

One thing I can say about my sister's situation is this - its 10 years later now and my sister is happier than ever. She and her husband are just as happy, just as close, just as in love as they ever were! Couples who are in truly happy marriages don't have to fake it. They can't hide it. Everyone around them just naturally takes notice. What God has brought together no man (or woman) can break apart. To see my sister so happy after all these years brings such joy to me.

Storms come to everyone. And life does not wrap things up in a nice bow of conclusion, like we see in the movies. Sometimes we simply have to learn to deal functionally with areas of pain. But do not allow that to alter the love between you and your fiance. Don't give outside forces any power in your relationship. You both will come out on the other side of this storm, and your love for one another will still be strong.

Anonymous said...

Oh this made my heart ache. I'm sorry you're dealing with this. We dealt with a lot of family apathy in regards to our wedding/marriage, although it was on my side. It sucks.

But you are right when you say that you know this stuff is likely to never happen. I think it's more productive to learn to live with this disappointment than to reach out. Obviously this comes from my own experience, but when dealing with folks like this, sincerely reaching out has only ever caused me more hurt.

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