I used to date someone long ago whose mother was… well… weird. And by that I mean really, really odd. Her concept of reality was so skewed that you never knew where she was coming from. Her children used to make fun of her behind her back, which made me extremely uncomfortable, but I tried to view it as the coping mechanism that it probably was. I can’t even imagine what growing up with that woman must have been like. It was probably akin to waking up every day in a different abstract painting where the rules of perspective are constantly in a state of flux. And she completely controlled that clan by pretending to be utterly helpless, which got on my feminist nerves.
I would have never married into that family. Not in a million years. When there’s that level of fundamental dysfunction, there’s bound to be a legacy. They say that you can determine how a man will treat you by how he treats his mother, and I firmly believe that. But you must also take into consideration how that mother has treated her son. You can only get past a certain amount of emotional scar tissue.
Like it or not, when you marry someone, you’re marrying into a family, too, so you should be strongly advised to take a hard look at your in-laws to be. (Because of this, I think I’m a great catch. Both my parents have passed away, so there’s a certain level of complexity that can be entirely overlooked. But then, I’m pretty freakin’ complex all by myself.)
I really like how the Australian Aboriginals deal with this situation. They have certain cultural avoidance practices, and one of the main ones is that daughter-in-laws and son-in-laws are not to speak to their mother-in-laws. Period. If they show up to the same party, for example, they sit with their backs to one another. If they do need to communicate, the do so through the spouse. It’s not a hostile situation. It’s not born out of anger or dislike. It’s actually viewed as a form of respect. But I can imagine that it goes a long way toward promoting family harmony.
I have to say that I love this idea. Love it, love it, love it! Can you imagine how much nicer Thanksgiving dinner would be if this practice were put into place? Okay, a lot of people get along with their in-laws. If so, they are lucky. They also seem to be the exception, not the rule. So I maintain that some ancient traditions are really worth perpetuating.
Avoidance, by Robin Wiltse