Saturday, October 25, 2008

Your new family: finding the balance

Not long ago, a dear lady who emailed me shared a difficult situation: her mother was ill and needed extensive care, which she felt obligated to provide - to the extent of neglecting her husband and children, as she described. Whatever she would do, she fet, she would be torn apart.

Incidentally, this lady had siblings who didn't quite pull their share in taking care of their mother. In such cases, splitting the responsibility might provide a solution. However, some of us (like me) have no brothers or sisters to "fill in" for them. Some of us live much closer to our aging parents or grandparents, and so brothers or sisters who live far away naturally assume it's easier for us to take up the challenge.

It is said in the book of Genesis, "a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh". Marriage is always an enormous adjustment to make, in this way as well as others. Only yesterday, your parents and siblings were your family, and in your humble, loving heart you tried to put them first; suddenly, your husband becomes your first priority, and you must now put him first! How does one accomplish this, without hampering your own family, and without hurting our parents, which we all of course still love and respect?

While the home of our parents ceases to be the main axis after we get married, our parents still deserve the utmost respect and attention. Helping one's aging parents is honorable. However, it must be clear that our husband and children are our first priority - even though it might not be easy. I have seen families where this gentle balance was not maintained, and it had devastating consequences on marriages - new, and even some years down the road.

I remember there was one time, in the second month of my marriage, when my Mom asked me to clean her windows - something I used to always do during spring. I would gladly do it now, too - but I was already newly pregnant and tired, and had our windows to clean. This meant Mom's windows had to wait... did I feel guilty? Yes, a bit. I know it's a very trivial example. Some people feel literally torn apart between two families who both seem to need them desperately.

Then, there's also the matter of frictions between in-laws. If you speak Russian, no doubt you've heard countless jokes about husband and mother-in-law who can't stand each other. I suspect this is a largely cultural phenomenon, because of how common it is (or at least was) in Russia to continue living with parents after marriage. Fortunately for our family, so far there haven't been any negative feelings between me and my in-laws, or my husband and my mother.

So, clearly, there isn't always an obvious solution, and each new family must find its balance. I'm not sure what life will hold for us some years down the road, but I do hope everyone will feel they are treated fairly, with love, respect, and care.


Kelly said...

Well put Anna. I've seen too many married couples still put mommy and daddy first.
Once married you form a new family and that family must be first. Sometimes it means telling mom or dad sorry but I can't do that for you anymore, or not when you want it done.
Sometimes I think there is more of an adjustment for parents to learn to not expect so much from adult married children.
Even when parents need care adult children must be careful to still put their own family first.

Anonymous said...

If it's a cultural phenomenon,it certainly spans many cultures, as mother-in-law jokes abound in Hebrew and English too. Americans have lots of mother-in-law jabs, and they don't live together, so I think it has less to do with distance and more with an innate tension.

Anyway, taking care of aging parents is a complex issue. I would say if your parents are in relatively good condition, obviously your family comes first. You don't need to wash your Mom's windows when you haven't done your own, especially if you're pregnant and she can still get around.

But once parents are hospitalized frequently, and you are called hysterically to the emergency rm at 3 am in the morning time and again because your aging father has breathing problems, or your mother is writhing in pain and no one is by her side....well, I think they come first. Others may have to watch your kids for several days or weeks, your personal family life may turn upside down for months, but you will never forgive yourself if you weren't there for a parent in a time of dire need. And your children will learn a crucial lesson in what sacrifice and love mean, and how important it is to stick with someone to the end.

Heather said...

I have to say that I agree with Tammy. Yes, with day to day things your family should come first, but in times of need parents/grandparents come first.

We are dealing with ailing grandparents now, and my husband hasn't been home one night in the last two weeks, so that he may go to the hospital after work to be with his grandfather. Even though it is hard on our children and myself it is more important for my husband to be there now.

Mrs W said...

According to the Bible I have to disagree that in certain situations (ie if it is bad enough) your parents come first. No, they don't. When you got married you transferred your allegiance to your new family. I know of someone who outright neglects her kids because her father needs help, and that is wrong. Our own families must always come first.

Anonymous said...

I came across your blog recently. I really enjoy reading your blogs. I think U are right, your husband should come first. My mother in law lives far away. My husband seems to put her needs first while she is here. I have a mother in law that is very mean to me. Also very demanding, and will not take no for an answer. I try my best to be nice to her. It hurts me, when my husband puts his mothers feelings before mine. I have forgiving her, and my husband. Although only prayer can do the rest.

Laura Brown said...

Hi Anna,

Actually, those mother-in-law jokes are by no means limited to Russia -- you hear them all the time in Britain and America, and involving daughters-in-law as well as sons-in-law. (And I bet they're every bit as funny and original in Russia as they are here!) I sometimes have trouble convincing people that I actually get along quite well with my MiL.

I'm glad everything is going smoothly for you!


Rose said...

I think, my dear Anna, that you know what you must do right now. Mr T, baby T and you must come first.

Don't worry about the future and let your heart lead you to what needs to be prioritised. I am 53, my 81 year old Mum is first and foremost now. This is a natural progression. It is occurring without guilt or thinking.

When parents need us most, they ask least. That is the time parents must come first.

Friction happens between all generations. Prioritise the one most in need, not the loudest.

Look inside your heart for who truly needs you. And sometimes that will be you.


Anonymous said...

My MIL was a wonderful friend to me and MY own mother was the same to my husband. I made sure to remember that the man that I married was raised by this lady and she should be honored as the one who shaped his character. I sent my MIL flowers on valentines day thanking her for raising my own valentine. Still miss her.